Malam Abubakar Ibrahim was arrested and detained for four months by the Saudi Arabian Government over an allegation of drug trafficking. In this interview he spoke about life in prison, how he related with other inmates and how he was released.
You and Zainab Aliyu were arrested and detained for four months by the Saudi Arabian Government over an allegation of drug trafficking, what actually happened?
At the Malam Aminu Kano International Airport, one Alhaji Haruna, who was my guide, took me to a man called Abdulkadir, who was holding my passport. That was the first time I met him. I had a Ghana-must-go bag with three pairs of cloths and a copy of the Quran. In my opinion, Abdulkadir saw that my luggage was too small and decided to attach something to it. However, he did not tell me anything like that, he only asked us to wait. He returned after some time, holding my passport and requested for N3,000 to collect what he called yellow card for me. I told him that I didn’t have that amount on me. I decided to call and inform the person who paid for the lesser hajj about the situation and he asked Alhaji Haruna to give the requested amount to Abdulkadir for the yellow card. We went in together with Abdulkadir for the yellow card while my bag was with Alhaji Haruna. When we returned, he handed my bag to me and bid me farewell. Abdulkadir led me to where I put my bag on the scanner and bid me farewell as well. That was where we parted ways. I think whatever happened was when he asked us to wait for him, which took quite some time. I suspect that Abdulkadir was the architect of what befell me. Only God can exonerate him. I hold that belief because he was the one that handled my travel documents and all the processes.
We boarded a plane to Ethiopia and another one to Jedda. All this while, my bag was with me. When we got to Jedda, we passed through all the screening processes and somebody received us and took us to a luxurious bus that conveyed us to Madina. Zainab Aliyu and her family members were also onboard, but I didn’t know them at that time. At Madina, another person received us, saying we were his guests.
Later in the night, I heard somebody knocking at the door. When I opened the door, I saw that person who hosted us, together with some people wearing Jallabiya. They asked whether I was Ibrahim Abubakar and I said yes. Our host asked me to give them my passport and I told him that it was in my bag under the bed. As I turned back towards the bed, they arrested me and handcuffed me.
Zainab Aliyu was later brought in. She was crying profusely and I tried to console her. That was how we spent the night sitting in that office. In the morning they took us to Jedda. All this while, our phones were with them.
On our way to Jedda, Zainab’s phone rang and it was her mother. Luckily, they gave her the phone and she informed her mother that we were taken to Jedda. At Jedda, we were taken to an office that deals with drug issues. Zainab was handed over to a lady while my bag, passport, visa and the money that was on me were collected, inserted in a large envelop and stapled. I was taken to where prisoners were kept. I spent 12 days there. From there, I was transferred to a prison called Zahaban, where I spent 93 days. I didn’t know that Zainab was in the female section of the same prison, up to the time that we were freed.
Meanwhile, Zainab told her father that I was also afflicted by the same fate, so he should include me in whatever effort he was making to secure her freedom. This happened without my knowledge. So, Allah in his infinite mercy rescued me through this Zainab.
After I spent 93 days in Zahaban, I was taken to another prison along the Jedda-Mecca road. It is called Hilesa; that’s where foreigners are kept. I spent another three weeks there.
Zainab was released on April 30 while I was released on May 1. However, while Zainab was lucky that officials from the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi received her directly from the prison, my case was different. I was just released and asked to go without knowing where I would go. I was told that the reason for such treatment was because when Zainab was released, there was a picture of her and the officials of the embassy that went viral and the Saudi authorities were not happy. So, in order to avoid that, they decided not to release me when the ambassador went for me, saying the person that was to sign my release document was not around. It was after they left that they asked me to go. Remember, that was my first time in Saudi Arabia and I was arrested on the very first day and imprisoned for more than four months. To make it worse, the only language I understand is Hausa.
Fortunately, however, there was a man from Senegal who spent five years in the prison and we were released the same time. Even though there was a language barrier between us, we became like brothers. I followed him to wherever he went, up to the last gate of the prison. At the gate, I was given my passport.
While waiting for a vehicle at the gate, a pick-up van came with some people and one of them came out and went into the prison. Before he came out, that Senegalese met the others and told them about me. They asked where I was going to and I said I didn’t know anywhere. Luckily, one of them understood Hausa a little. He told me that they were going to Mecca and I said I had never been there, so I didn’t know anywhere or anybody there. An idea occurred to me that I should give them the phone number of my brother in Nigeria. They called and I explained the situation to him. He consulted the people he was with, and luckily, one of them knew a place in Jedda. He explained to the Senegalese, who is very conversant with Jedda and he said he knew the place. These people gave us a lift to where we could get a vehicle to Jedda.
At Jedda, we went to a place called Khartina where there’s a mosque where some Nigerians were camping. The Senegalese took a taxi to that mosque and we met many Hausa people there and I had a sigh of relief. I explained my situation to them. Luckily, they were aware of our story as it was in the news. They were happy and surprised to see me. They gave me food and a lot of other things and we snapped some historic pictures. I really felt at home.
That was how the Embassy got to know of my release and they sent a vehicle to pick me up in Khartina. At the Embassy, I was shown where to sleep, and about 6 am the ambassador came with one other official. He took me to his residence and asked me to rest. That other official gave me two sets of cloth. We took our breakfast and went to the office of the ambassador.
Were you able to perform the Umrah at last?
Yes, I was able to perform the Umrah. The ambassador took me and Zainab to Mecca for the Umrah.
How was life in the prison?
Well, we were protected by God; if not, anything could have happened. I was not able to eat to my satisfaction in the prison, not because there was not enough food but because I was not used to their kind of food. As a faithful I resorted to constant prayers, invoking peace and blessings of Allah.
What was your relationship with other inmates?
I was the only Nigerian amongst them. Others were Saudis, Pakistanis, Yemenis, Bengalis and other nationals. They could all speak Arabic. I was the only one who couldn’t understand the language and none of them understood Hausa. So there was language barrier between us.
While in prison, did you receive any visitor from the Nigerian officials in Saudi?
No. I did not receive any visitor.
Did you know the offence you were charged with?
Yes, we were taken to court a number of times and there was an interpreter who explained whatever they said there. He told me that 1,000 tabs of hard drugs were seen in a bag with my tag. I told him that it wasn’t mine and I didn’t know how it happened. I don’t know who really did it, but I will never forgive him.
Would you like to go back to Saudi Arabia should another opportunity come?
No. Even if I want to, my mother will not allow it.
What is your advice to travellers?
It is only Allah that can protect a traveller from this kind of problem. So they should pray hard for God’s protection. I would rather advise those involved in this kind of heinous activities to desist from it and seek for other lawful means of livelihood.
Don’t you think the security agencies have a share of the blame?
Of course they do. This is because it is their responsibility to ensure that everything is well checked. I am not saying they have a hand in it but they did not discharge their duties effectively. They need to do more.
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