Itunu Babalola, Zainab Aliyu: Question of real Nigerian citizen home and away
Itunu Olajumoke Babalola and Zainab Aliyu were both young women. Young Nigerian women with dreams and yearnings who both faced somewhat similar but not identical challenges on foreign soil related to wrongful accusations but ended up being treated very differently.
Itunu Babalola was charged with burgling her own apartment in nearby Cote d’Ivoire.
Zainab Aliyu was arrested in December in faraway Saudi Arabia for allegedly trafficking 2,000 packs of Tramadol.
Drug trafficking is a capital offence in Saudi Arabia.
Itunu Babalola’s case was reacted to indifferently with mere tweets while nothing concrete was actually done to ensure proper investigation and dispensation of justice.
Zainab Aliyu’s situation was treated rather differently. The Nigerian Airport authorities and the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) both launched investigations that ended up unearthing a drug cartel operating at the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, that smuggled drugs by planting them on innocent travellers.
Itunu Babalola was ignored by her federal government and couldn’t get her state senator or governor to speak on her behalf.
Zainab Aliyu was fortunate enough to have her president Muhammadu Buhari order the Attorney General of the Federation to intervene and get her justice.
Now Itunu Babalola is dead. She has died in an Ivorian prison while Zainab Aliyu is safe and free to be with her family and continue her education at the Maitama Sule University in Kano.
Everything about how Itunu was responded to by her government was wrong.
Is there anything wrong with what was done for Zainab Aliyu? Absolutely not.
Zainab Aliyu was seen as a valuable human being and citizen who deserved to be seen as innocent until clearly proven guilty and who deserved to get proper treatment and justice. We are happy for Zainab Aliyu.
The problem is how the Nigerian Government couldn’t also see Itunu Babalola as a valuable human being and citizen who deserved protection and justice.
Saudi Arabia is much further away from Nigeria than Cote d’Ivoire is.
Nigeria should have more leverage with its fellow West African country Cote d’Ivoire than it does with Saudi Arabia.
The crimes also didn’t match.
Itunu Babalola was accused of theft.
A much lighter crime that didn’t carry a death sentence. The Illicit Drug trafficking Zainab Aliyu was charged with carries a death sentence.
So why was Itunu Babalola ignored?
Was it her tribe? Social class?
The Nnamdi Kanu and Sunday Igboho situations have shown that the Federal Government has the will and capacity to interact firmly with (and in) other African countries when sufficiently motivated.
Why did such a well-publicised case like Itunu’s get no action?
And what does this suggest about the federal government’s reaction to unpublicised cases involving Nigerians facing troubles in other countries?
Geoffrey Onyeama is the Minister of Foreign Affairs. He was quick to make himself visible and responsible on the Zainab Aliyu matter and made sure to release statements on how a well-planned and structured process got her release.
Geoffrey Onyeama has been quiet on Itunu Babalola. An eloquent silence that speaks volumes and we are listening and understanding.