How my daughter escaped execution in Saudi Arabia —Habibu Aliyu, father of Zanaib Habibu Aliyu
Mr. Habibu Aliyu is an Assistant Director (News) with the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeri (FRCN) Radio Nigeria, Kaduna. That doesn’t ring a bell. However, as the father of Miss Zainab Habibu Aliyu, the undergraduate who was arrested, detained and was in line for execution in Saudi Arabia for drug-related offence, he will readily come to mind. His daughter, Zainab, literally walked through the valley of the shadow of death when she was arrested in Saudi Arabia, where she had gone for the lesser hajj known as Umrah, for allegedly entering the country with banned drugs, an offence which attracts the death penalty. Following the arrest of Zainab on December 22, 2018, the day after she arrived in the country, and was imprisoned, Habibu did all he could until his daughter was released after a presidential directive expedited the investigation of his daughter’s case and the arrest of the cartel responsible for embedding her name on a bag containing banned drugs. Habibu speaks with Newton-Ray Ukwuoma on how he was able to get to the President within two days of writing him. Excerpts:
Your daughter has eventually been released from prison. How do you feel?
I sincerely can’t express how I felt and how I am feeling now. It’s beyond imagination. But I only thank God for what he has done for us, because when this happened I took it as an act of God. I knew that God will see us through and he did.
How early did you learn about the situation since you didn’t go with your daughter to Saudi Arabia?
My wife and two children travelled to Saudi Arabia on the 21st of December 2018 for the lesser hajj, Umrah. They arrived in Jeddah on the same day and proceeded to Medina. A day after they arrived in Medina, security agents came to their hotel room and asked my younger daughter to follow them to their office, saying that she left a luggage bearing her name at the airport. My daughter told them that her luggage wasn’t missing. When they insisted, she followed them. My wife was not allowed to accompany them. So, she was the one that called me immediately they left.
What was your first thought the moment you were informed?
I knew my daughter was innocent, so I took it as an act of God.
What immediate steps did you take?
I didn’t panic. I am a journalist. I knew what to do. She called me around 2.00 am Nigerian time. Later that morning, I went to the starting pointing, where they departed from, Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano. Since they said it was a drug-related offence, I went to the office of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA). I reported my case, already written. Fortunately, at the moment the officers at the NDLEA office saw my case, they started working on it. They invited all officers who were on duty on the day my family went to Saudi Arabia.
You wrote a petition to the President on this matter. How did you do it that it got a response within two days? Who helped to facilitate the process?
I didn’t consult or talk to anyone. I am a civil servant. I work with Radio Nigeria Kaduna as an Assistant Director, News. I was able to reach Mr. President through the Office of the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora. This was after watching a press briefing by the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Diaspora, Mrs. Abike Dabiri, where she was telling Nigerians that some innocent people, especially Nigerians were being executed in foreign countries. I said to myself this could probably be my daughter’s case she was referring to. So, I wrote a petition to the President through the office of the Senior Assistant to the President on Diaspora the following day. Two days after I submitted the petition, she called me that I should come to her office, and I did. She told me that she had met with Mr. President and that Mr. President had directed her to liaise with the Attorney General and Minister of Justice, and the Minister of Foreign Affairs to see the quick release of my daughter. And that was how it happened.
When you learnt that your daughter was going to be executed weeks later. How did you handle the tension?
I didn’t feel good about it. But I told you that I had a conviction that Allah will not see her being killed. Secondly, I had a belief that if Allah is by your side He will open a door for you to see the light. God used Abike Dabiri to make that statement and I told myself that even though some people have been executed, my daughter will not be executed.
Some students from her school and other people rose up to protest for her release. Were you involved in this?
No, I didn’t know anyone of them and I didn’t engage them. This is why I must sincerely thank Nigerians. From the day I started the process to this day, I didn’t give anybody a Naira. I received calls from everywhere asking me how they could be of help to me. I didn’t know how the International Human Right Organisation heard about it. I also didn’t know how the students of the university also came to know about it.
With the awareness that followed the case, what would you say is the significance of this case?
That is why I said this is the work of God. God can use one person to protect other people. This case has made the governments of Nigeria and Saudi Arabia to understand that many people are executed for offences they didn’t commit. This case again revealed the cartel involved in this.
Your daughter has been released from prison. But have you seen her?
Yes, she has been released now. She is free. But there are some travelling arrangements and documentations she needs to do. Her visa has expired and they will have to open the exit for them. The documentation takes a few days. That is what they are doing now. However, my wife and other children are back in Nigeria since their visa expired. They came back three months ago.
Would you allow your daughter, or any other child to visit Saudi Arabia after this case?
Yes. God is in control. If she wants to go tomorrow I will allow her. That is why after she was released she performed the same Umrah.
You heightened the significance of the case. How do you intend to use it to promote issues relating to drug trafficking and capital punishment?
That will be after she reunites with us. She will be graduating this year from North West University in Kano. She is studying English Language. If she likes to do so, we will know when she comes back.
Who are you most grateful for?
I can’t mention all the names of the people that helped us during this matter. But principally I want to thank Mr. President. I want to thank the Minister of Foreign Affairs, the Attorney-General of the Federation and Minister of Justice. I want to also thank Mrs. Abike Dabiri. She is a mother. What she has done I am not able to express it, because when I remember her I go into tears. She took it up as though Zainab was her own daughter. The Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mr. Geoffrey Onyema helped in her release and every other engagement with the Saudi Arabian authorities. He was excellent. I thank him so much.