NIGERIA: Accused Nigerian students deported

The Malaysian government has deported two Nigerian postgraduate students who were among 10 people from various countries detained in January for alleged links with the terrorist organisation Al-Qaeda. The Nigerians had been studying at the International Islamic University near the capital Kuala Lumpur.

Earlier in the years Malaysian security agents arrested at least 10 people, including the Nigerians, at the university campus in Senangor during a public lecture by a Syrian-born preacher, Sheikh Aiman Al Dakkak. They were accused of working with Al-Qaeda with the aim of violently attacking Western interests in Malaysia and elsewhere.

The Nigerians are Abdullahi Bolajoko Usman Ayolo, a PhD student of Islamic jurisprudence, and Abdulsallam Lukman, a PhD student specialising in the Quran and Sunna.

The Nigerian government applied heavy diplomatic pressure to secure the release and repatriation of the two students. Their deportation was greeted with relief by their families and fellow Nigerian students in Malaysia who had also worked to secure their release.

"I know these two students. They are moderate Muslims who loathe violence. Both of them would not hurt a fly," claimed a Nigerian student in Malaysia who did not want to be named.

Leaders of the Nigerian student community in Kuala Lumpur made representations to the Nigerian embassy to assist in effecting the release of the two students, as well as meeting with university officials.

They pleaded with the authorities not to charge Ayolo and Lukman for alleged links with Muslim fundamentalists. The authorities acknowledged the two students had been law- abiding and focused.

To strengthen their campaign, the students in Malaysia contacted influential members of the presidency in Abuja, Nigeria's capital. One of the last diplomatic duties performed by former President Shehu Musa Yar'Adua before his death was to instruct Foreign Minister Ojo Madueke to negotiate the students' release with the Malaysian government.

A source at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Nigeria said Malaysian authorities had failed to find a "shred of evidence linking them to terror and fundamentalist organisations".

Kuala Lumpur also wanted to avoid confrontation with Abuja on this issue. Malaysian universities are deriving substantial income from fees paid by hundreds of Nigerian students and there was a need to tread softly on this delicate matter. A hard-line position could drive Nigerian students away to other countries in South East Asia.

The official revealed that the US government, an ally of Malaysia, did not put pressure on Kuala Lumpur to prosecute the arrested students. Washington had no proof that Ayolo and Lukman were working for Al Qaeda and was satisfied the Nigerian government was passing anti-terrorism laws through the National Assembly.

The arrests also happened while Malaysia was negotiating with Nigeria to buy large quantities of oil and gas at concessionary prices. So this was also in Malaysia's interests to provide a 'soft landing' for the students by deporting them.

On the day of their deportation, Ayolo and Lukman were joined in the airport departure lounge by delighted fellow students. Nigerian intelligence officials met the students when they arrived with their wives and children at Murtala International Airport in Lagos.

After a brief interrogation, they were handed back their passports and instructed to report twice a month until further notice to the intelligence service headquarters in Lagos.

Both students are planning to apply to Nigerian universities with a view to completing their postgraduate studies.