THERE are many moments when Nigerians wonder where their government is. This must be one of them. A 22-year-old Nigerian, Abdullahi Suleiman Ahman has been held against his will in Saudi Arabia since 7 September 2010.
His offence is indiscernible. His plight highlights the impunity with which some countries treat Nigerians, comfortable in their understanding that the Nigerian government will not protest the type of cruelty and discrimination that Ahman has been under going.
The beginning of his ordeal fits well into an irony. His mother, Saratu Ahman, a devout Muslim, a widow, took her ward on a pilgrimage to Mecca to reward him for graduating from university last June.
The police arrested Abdullahi at Jeddah International Airport, handcuffed him, and took him away to the consternation of his mother.
Abdullahi was accused of duping a Saudi prince in an airline business contract three years earlier.
Abdullahi was only 19 in 2007, and an undergraduate. His mother’s protests that he was wrongly accused drew no sympathy from the Saudi authorities, who have stopped Abdullahi from leaving since then.
Nine days after, Abdullahi was arraigned in court. It took that long for the Saudi prince, who lodged the complaint to be in court.
When the defence counsel confirmed in court that the ill-fated contract was with Abdoulaye Diori Hamani of Niger Republic, owner of Air Niamey and the Saudi prince could not identify the suspect in the case, the court discharged and acquitted Ahman. The judge asked that his travel papers be returned to him and a travel ban placed on him be lifted.
This has not happened. Abdullah remains in Saudi Arabia because the Ministry of Justice failed to tell the police in Jeddah he had been acquitted. By 1 December 2010, six week into his ordeal, the Ministry of Justice wrote the letter, yet when Saratu and her son tried to leave on 28 January, their third attempt, the computer at the airport still had Abdullahi’s name as a suspect in the fraud case.
Where was the Nigerian government in this? What was the role of the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia? There was none because like most of our embassies, it is an out-post that serves the interests of high-ranking government officials and others, who can afford to command attention of embassy officials.
Saudi Arabia is notorious for playing above international laws, except where citizens of its strategic allies like the United States are involved. Yet it is important that Nigeria protests the treatment of Abdullahi instead of taking it as the way of the Saudis. Millions of Nigerians, who make the annual pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia go through humiliating experiences.
They may not be as serious as Abdullahi’s, but they still diminish our people and add to a sense of government’s disinterests in matters that affect Nigerians.
The immediate task is to get Abdullahi out of Saudi Arabia. There must be further relief for him to punish those who incarcerated him without reason.