As the airlift of this year’s pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from Nigeria progresses, all concerned must ensure that the exercise is hitch-free and that the challenges faced during the recent past years’ Hajj operations which brought needless pain upon the pilgrims and impacted negatively on the country’s image do not recur.
The airlift of Nigerian pilgrims was flagged off recently by the Vice President Yemi Osinbajo in Abuja. On the occasion, the Acting President said the event of the day was culmination of intense planning, preparations and hard work by a committed crop of Federal Government officials and stakeholders.
This year, about 95,000 Nigerian pilgrims are undertaking the pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in fulfillment of the fifth pillar of Islam, which makes it compulsory for all Muslims to undertake Hajj at least once in their lifetime if they have the means to do so.
Since the Muslim Ummah always look forward to going on this pilgrimage, all concerned must endeavour to make the journey not only hitch-free but shun vices capable of bringing shame to fatherland. This is because in the past, there were incidents that not only brought unnecessary pain upon the pilgrims but considerably soiled the image of the country.
Among these incidents were the unnecessary delay in the airlift of pilgrims which kept many of them at Hajj reception centres (Hajj camps) for days; delay in bringing back the pilgrims from Saudi Arabia after the pilgrimage which left many of them stranded; the high cost of undertaking the Hajj and delay in the issuance of visas to the intending pilgrims.
The hiccup caused by Saudi Arabia’s new policy of Mahram (a legitimate male guide for every female pilgrim under 45 years) as witnessed in 2013; as well as defections ; excess luggage and other crimes committed by Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, were some other challenges that dogged the operations of past years’ Hajj.
These problems manifest as a result of the actions or inactions of individuals or groups at different levels –the pilgrims welfare boards; the pilgrims themselves and the airlines that airlift the pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia.
As the airlift of this year’s pilgrims gathers momentum, a repeat of the hitches associated with the past Hajj operations must be guarded against by all concerned. The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) must ensure timely and efficient airlift of the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. It must ensure that designated airlines adhere to schedules.
The Commission and other stakeholders must also ensure strict monitoring of the pilgrims to ensure compliance with Saudi Arabia’s policy of Mahram in order to avoid last year’s ugly experience of deportation of some pilgrims by the Saudi authorities.
Apart from ensuring that the aircraft for the airlift operations are in perfect order, the airlines must also ensure that they beat the deadlines for arrival in Saudi Arabia and return to Nigeria so as to avoid the closure of Saudi Arabia’s airspace against them.
The Federal Government must enforce compliance and be ready to sanction any carrier that fails to adhere to schedules. Officials in charge of the hajj operations must equally ensure that the welfare of the pilgrims is paramount.
Members of the Federal Government’s delegation must bear in mind that their impressive performance in the past had earned accolades in the Hajj operations, they must, therefore, ensure that this year’s Hajj operation is even better than last year’s.
They should also guide against illegal Immigrants, who have largely been responsible for various crimes committed by Nigerians during pilgrimages. This has become imperative because the increase in crime rate by Nigerians in Saudi Arabia is one of the many challenges hindering the efficiency of Hajj operations and sullying the image of the country.
The Federal Government should also continue with its sustained efforts at upgrading the standard of hajj camps across the country for the comfort of intending pilgrims.
On their part the pilgrims must ensure strict obedience to Saudi Arabia’s rules and regulations. They must also ensure that the pilgrimage is not converted to a commercial venture which often results in excess luggage in their homeward journey while those involved in this practice should desist forthwith. The pilgrims should also guard against defection as this ridicules Nigeria in the comity of nations.
We also urge the pilgrims to avoid what is called “Jidal” (that is, whatever is likely cause strife or disaffection between pilgrims). They should tolerate one another, read the information manuals very well and regularly and listen to their spiritual guides – the Ulamas, in order to understand the rules of the Hajj process itself.
As we advise the pilgrims to ask questions where necessary, as ignorance of the rules of both Hajj and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may carry spiritual or legal implications, we warn them against carrying any prohibited item as what may seem as simple as kola nuts in Nigeria may carry death penalty.
We totally condemn the recent brutalization of two Nasarawa State Pilgrims, Audu Muhammad and Ibrahim Godi by Customs officials at Prince Muhammad Bn Abdulaziz Airport in Madinah shortly after their arrival from Abuja.
According to the Secretary of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Bello Tambuwal, the two pilgrims were called aside by the Customs officers “after they had passed through all the necessary checks earlier and they became apprehensive and refused to follow the officials which led to their being brutalized”.
Though the Saudi Authorities had swiftly apologized to the Nigerian Government and the pilgrims, we demand that adequate compensation be paid forthwith and the incident which is most regrettable must not recur
We hope that the pilgrims would come back better equipped to contribute to the building of a great nation and we exhort them while in the holy land to pray for the socio-economic wellbeing of fatherland and represent her well by demonstrating good character.
While wishing all pilgrims Hajj Mabroor (an accepted Hajj), we exhort them to recognise that apart from going to Mecca and Medina as a religious obligation, they are also going as ambassadors of Nigeria. They must, therefore, comport themselves as good ambassadors of the country.
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