Mum, son in pilgrimage of tears; jailed on false claims by Saudi Arabia authorities

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    A Nigerian woman and her son on pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia are now languishing in jail there in what appears to be persecution by the Saudi authorities.

    Hajiya Saratu Ahman, a widow, and her 22 year old son, Abdullahi Suleiman Sarah, are not allowed to depart home even after a court had discharged and acquitted Abdullahi after establishing that he was wrongly arrested and charged in the first place.

    Their plight was brought to public attention yesterday by one-time military governor of Kaduna State, Colonel Abubakar Dangiwa Umar (rtd), who in a statement gave a blow-by-blow account of their ordeal.

    His statement entitled: “Persecution of a Nigerian by the authorities of Saudi Arabia”: Our attention has been drawn to a very bizarre story of an innocent Nigerian, 22-year-old Abdullahi Suleiman Ahman, who is being held in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia against his will.

    His plight defies all logic and his ordeal is without a parallel in its cruelty, impunity and discrimination. It behoves the Nigerian government and all people of goodwill everywhere to act quickly to secure his immediate release.

    Facts available to us indicate that the mother of Abdullahi Suleiman Ahman, Saratu Ahman, a devout Muslim widow, decided to reward him with a pilgrimage to Mecca following his successful graduation in June 2010 from the Igbinedion University, Okada, Nigeria. On 7 September, 2010, they both left Nigeria for Mecca. Upon their arrival at the Jeddah International Airport, like everyone else, they joined the queue for the required immigration documentation.

    Unlike everyone else, however, at that point, their journey took an unexpected, frightening course.

    As soon as the immigration officer finished reviewing Abdullahi’s travel documents, we were told, he asked him to step aside while he got busy making phone calls.

    A few minutes later, some Saudi Arabian policemen arrived at the counter. The immigration official pointed at Abdullahi who was immediately handcuffed and led away – to the utter shock and bewilderment of his mother.

    Her attempt to follow them was rebuffed. She turned to the immigration officer and sought to know why her son was arrested and to where he was being taken.

    The only explanation grudgingly offered by the officer got her even more bewildered that the boy “duped” a Saudi prince in an airline business contract signed way back in 2007; at which time Abdullahi was just a 19-year-old undergraduate and most unlikely to have been involved in any such business. Besides, there was no evidence that he visited Saudi Arabia in 2007.

    Her attempts to prove to the immigration officer that her son was a victim of mistaken identity were ignored. Instead, she was shouted down and ordered to leave. Aware of the limited rights she had as a woman and a Nigerian to engage Saudi officials, Saratu obeyed the order and left; sobbing.

    Twenty-four hours later, at the police station, Saratu found her son totally disoriented and frightened. This was indeed to be expected given the public perception of the boy as an obedient, shy and diligent young man who would always be counted upon to stay out of trouble.

    Still, beyond what she was told by the immigration officer at the airport, no further explanation or information was offered. And, as it turned out, Abdullahi’s arraignment in court was not done until nine clear days.

    The reason was that the Saudi prince who lodged the complaint failed to show up in court.

    Eventually, he was charged with breaching an airline business contract entered into between him and the representative of a Saudi prince some three years ago.

    After the charge was read, the defense counsel drew the attention of the court to several discrepancies in the document, including names, nationalities, addresses, etc., between the real owner of the defendant company and the person being prosecuted.

    The lawyer tendered a copy of the contract document under reference.

    The terms and conditions of the contract indicated that it was signed on 3 November, 2007 between one Mr. Fahd bin Siliman bin Hassan Ashar, a Saudi national representing a company owned by a Saudi Arabian prince, HRH, Turki bin Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Assaud and Mr. Abdoulaye Diori Hamani, owner of an Air Niamey carrier and a citizen of Niger Republic.

    The Air Niamey carrier agreed to pay a commission of USD 100 per passenger to the Saudi company for its services. The Niamey carrier also agreed to pay USD 3 million (three million dollars) as penalty if it failed to implement the agreement.

    The prosecutor agreed with the submissions of the defense counsel whereupon the judge asked the signatory to the contract, Fahd bin Siliman bin Ashar, to identify and confirm the person charged as the true culprit. He responded by saying he could not; adding that he never really met the owner of Niamey Air.

    After several other failed attempts to confirm the identity of the alleged offender, the complainants finally confessed that Abdullahi Ahman was indeed not the same person as Abdoulaye Diori Hamani with whom they entered into a contract that was now in breach.

    That being the case, the court discharged and acquitted Abdullahi Ahman and ordered his travel documents be released to him.

    The judge also ordered that the travel ban order on him be lifted immediately.
    To his utter amazement and that of his long suffering mother however, his discharge and acquittal by the court did little to ease his troubles much less restore his freedom. For, in spite of the court judgment, when they got to the Jeddah Airport, expecting to depart Saudi Arabia for Nigeria, the immigration officials told them they couldn’t go, the travel ban was still firmly in place! Not only did the Saudi officials prevent them from leaving, they became deaf to all their explanations and pleas. Exhausted and cash strapped, they made their way back to the town and began to look for a way to survive as best as they could.
    Family and friends in Jeddah and in Sokoto mobilised and pooled various donations to enable mother and son to survive under conditions worse than hostages.
    As it turned out, their new ordeal was caused by a uniquely Saudi legal conundrum: the Ministry of Justice is required to communicate (a duty they neglected to do) the decision of the court on Abdullahi Ahman to the Jeddah police authorities. Having failed to do so, the task to try to get the two departments of government to communicate to each other was left to the victims’.
    They were finally successful. The ministry dispatched the letter on 1 December, 2010, clear six weeks after the first attempt to leave the country. Armed with the ministry’s letter, a copy of which they were able to obtain three weeks after it was dispatched, they returned to what they now consider a scene of crime – Jeddah International Airport-on 28 January, 2011. It was their third attempt to leave.
    Yet, no luck. Reason? Abdullahi Ahman’s name still popped up on the immigration computer as a dupe against whom a travel ban order was subsisting.
    For all practical purposes, Abdullahi Ahman (and his mother Saratu), are being held prisoners by the authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia even though they have broken no laws within or outside that country. One will of course be tempted to ask whatever did the Nigerian embassy in Riyadh do to save this innocent Nigerian from unjust punishment and discrimination by the authorities of Saudi Arabia.
    In any event, all those familiar with the way Saudi authorities treat issues concerning Nigerians and Africans in general; this is really begging the question. For long, the relationship between Saudi Arabia and black African nations has been characterized by utter contempt, stereotyping and racial discrimination. The Saudi authorities could never treat an American or European citizen in the same way they are treating Abdullahi Ahman. Nor has the Nigerian embassy in Riyadh any influence with the Saudi government that they can apply to protect their nationals from unjust punishment. For sure, no one can be subjected to this sort of abuse in the Vatican.
    Yet, as we said before, Saudi Arabia’s continuing refusal to play by acceptable code of international conduct and denial of peoples’ right to personal liberty and freedom must stop. People of good conscience, everywhere and in particular the Nigerian government, has a duty to free Abdullahi Suleiman Ahman without further delay. It is an undisputed fact of history but which does bear repeating: When the rights of one man are denied, the rights of all are reduced.