Nigeria could do more for some of our nationals implicated in crimes abroad

The disclosure last week that some of the eight Nigerians recently executed by the Saudi Arabian Government over drug-related offences were innocent was disturbing. According to the Chairman, Presidential Committee on Elimination of Drug Abuse (PACEDA), Brig-General Buba Marwa (rtd), investigations showed that those innocent Nigerians had their bags wrongly tagged by airlines in connivance with baggage handlers. Marwa cited an instance of a passenger who travelled from Kano Airport and was arrested in Saudi Arabia for drug, but the Close Circuit Television (CCTV) footage at the airport indicated his bag was wrongly tagged by an airline staff.

While we urge the federal government to follow up on this case with the Saudi authorities, it is also important that we pay attention to some of the unwholesome practices that go on in our airports. In this particular instance, questions must be asked not only of the airlines concerned but also of the security agencies. If those who are employed to keep our airports safe now collaborate with criminal cartels to frame innocent victims, then we have a serious problem on our hands. This once again highlights the increasing desperation of Nigerians in the narcotic trade which is reflected in the number of arrests being made outside the country. At several airports in Asia, bold signs forewarn potential drug traffickers on the grave price to be paid if apprehended. With such warning signs, it becomes impossible for arrested drug traffickers to plead ignorance before the judges and prosecutors.

The challenge now is that some of these victims might be innocent of the offence for which they may lose their lives if, as we are now told, there are criminal cartels at our airports. Sadly, from Saudi Arabia to Bangladesh, Thailand, Malaysia, China, Indonesia and India, many Nigerians are currently on death row, having been convicted for such offences as drug-trafficking, credit card scam or infractions on immigration laws. Elsewhere, there are others who are also in jail because of outright racism or what some have described as xenophobia, some of them convicted without legal representations. Some Nigerians in Chinese jail reportedly did not know why there were in.

Two years ago, the Legal Defence and Assistance Project (LEDAP), a human rights organisation, estimated that about 16,500 Nigerians were being held abroad while most of those on death row were convicted of drug-related crimes. However, LEDAP was particularly peeved by the quality of trials many of these Nigerians were subjected to. “Most of the Nigerians convicted abroad did not receive fair trials because most of them did not have lawyers to defend them; the trials are held in languages they do not understand and more importantly, consular support services are lacking,” the human rights body said.

We agree that Nigeria could do more to get justice for some of our nationals implicated in crimes abroad. LEDAP said it had litigated over 35 death penalty cases on appeal out of which about half the numbers were exonerated. This is therefore a clarion call on the relevant authorities to sit up by employing all diplomatic means to assist those who may have been wrongly convicted. Since the principle of reciprocity drives diplomacy, we must insist that other countries treat our citizens the same way we treat theirs.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs should ensure consular services are provided to Nigerians in distress in foreign lands. But even more important, Nigerians travelling abroad should be enlightened more on the consequences of breaching the laws of the country of their destination. Moreover, if such huge numbers of drug mules are still getting out of our country, it means the enforcement agencies still have much work on their hands.