Reactions trail return of female pilgrims from Saudi Arabia

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Abuja – Mixed reactions from across the states trail the plight of the Nigerian female Muslim pilgrims who were denied entry into Saudi Arabia by its authorities because they were not accompanied by their male guardians.

The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in Abuja confirmed the repatriation of some female pilgrims to the country while flights were suspended for 48 hours to resolve the matter with Saudi Authorities.

At least, 102 female intending pilgrims from Sokoto State were brought back to the country in the early hours of Thursday from Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims were transported back to Sokoto aboard a Max Air aircraft.

The Manager of the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Lawal, said on Thursday in Sokoto that the deported pilgrims had since travelled to their respective local government areas.

He said that the affected pilgrims were hale and hearty.

All efforts to get the Chairman of the State Pilgrims’ Welfare Agency, Alhaji Muntari Maigona or its Public Relations Officer, Faruk Umar, proved abortive.

In Jalingo, Taraba State capital, no fewer than 62 female pilgrims were brought back to Nigeria.

The Chairman of the Taraba Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Hamman-Adama Tukur, explained that the women were transported from the King Abdulazeez International Airport, Jeddah, to Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.

He said that the women were actually accompanied but that the checking system at the Jeddah Airport was such that men were checked, cleared and asked to proceed.

“When it was the turn of the women to be checked and cleared, the Security claimed they were not accompanied by their guardians (Mahram) and were unwilling to listen to any explanation and went ahead to detained them.”

Hamman-Adama said the system had not changed for the way it used to be but wondered why the Saudi Authorities became so rigid this year.

The chairman said that arrangements were being made to convey those affected back to Jalingo, pending the outcome of the current negotiations between the Nigerian Government and its Saudi Arabian counterpart.

“We have never allowed a female pilgrim from Taraba to travel un- accompanied,” Hamman-Adama said.

In Birnin Kebbi, eight female pilgrims were among those brought back from Jeddah to Nigeria.

A reliable source at the Pilgrims Hajj camp said in Birnin Kebbi on Thursday that the affected pilgrims hailed from Kalgo, Yauri and Shanga local government areas.

The source stated that the affected Pilgrims were transported to Saudi Arabia in the fourth flight.

The Amirul Hajj, Alhaji Garba Dandiga, however said that there had been no official figure of the pilgrims who were detained in Saudi Arabia.

He said a meeting of the officials of the board and members of the state delegation would be held to determine the next line of action.

Meanwhile, families of another batch of 111 female pilgrims brought back from Saudi Arabia were stranded at the Musa Yar’Adua International Airport in Katsina.

A NAN correspondent, who was at the airport on Wednesday night, reports that the relations were at the airport to receive their pilgrims, who were expected to land on board the Max air aircraft.

It was gathered that the Katsina female pilgrims were expected to arrive Katsina at 5 p.m after the aircraft had brought back the affected pilgrims from Taraba State at Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano.

But up to 7.30 p.m, the aircraft did not arrive in Katsina, even as it was said to have left Kano for Katsina.

As the families waiting endlessly, the Hajj officials, who were also at the airport to receive the pilgrims, left the airport as well as the buses meant to convey them to the hajj camp.

One of the relatives of the deported pilgrims, Alhaji Abu Zubairu, whose wife and mother were among the deportees, expressed regret over the situation.

But in Asaba, Delta State, the State Government says it has yet to airlift its Muslim pilgrims to the Holy Land for the Hajj rites.

Chief Tony Nwaka, State Commissioner for Bureau for Special Duties, disclosed this in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Asaba on Thursday.

Nwaka said that the delay in transporting pilgrims from the state was not peculiar to the state alone but to other states in the zone, as states in the zone had not been called up to be transported.

In Gombe State, the Pilgrims Welfare Board said that it has started sensitising its female pilgrims to ensure that they have male counterparts to avoid being returned by the Saudi Arabian authorities.

The Executive Secretary of the board, Alhaji Gidado Maigana, disclosed this  in Gombe on Thursday.

Maigana explained that he would also place announcements on the radio stations to sensitise the female pilgrims on the need to ensure that they meet all the requirements for the Holy trip.

He said he had met with the Amirul Hajj, technical committee team and other stakeholders with the aim of ensuring that all the intending pilgrims from the state performed the pilgrimage.

The executive secretary, however, said that with the recent problems faced by Nigerian female pilgrims in the Holy Land, the date for the commencement of the transportation of pilgrims from the state would be affected.

“We were not informed about the development but we have just heard what is happening.

“We had intended to start transporting the pilgrims on Oct. 2, but with the 48 hours suspension, it is going to affect our date.”

Maigana assured all the intending pilgrims that they would perform the trip and urged them to continue to pray for the success of the journey.

In Yola, more than half of the 2,427 pilgrims from the state have been transported to Hajj.

The Yola Zonal official of National Hajj Commission (NAHCO), Alhaji Zakariyau Umar, made this known in Yola.

He said that, so far, three flights had taken off remaining two more flights to round up.

Umar also said he was not aware of any Adamawa pilgrims experiencing the challenge being faced by female pilgrims from other states.

In Kaduna State, the State Government said on Thursday that 505 of the 7,531 pilgrims have been transported to Saudi Arabia for this year’s pilgrimage.

The Coordinator of the State Pilgrims Camp, Alhaji Yusuf Ladan, said out of the intending pilgrims so far transported, 200 were female.

He said the intending female pilgrims had fulfilled the requirements demanded by the Saudi Arabian government before being taken to the Holy Land.

Ladan, however, said the state Pilgrims Welfare Board had suspended airlifting of the intending pilgrims pending the outcome of the ongoing negotiation between the Federal Government and Saudi Arabian Government.

In another development, the Bauchi Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board said that it had already taken care of the issue of Mahram (Male guardian) in the screening of its pilgrims.

Alhaji Muhammad Yahya, Speaker of the Bauchi State House of Assembly, and the state Deputy Amirul-Hajj, disclosed this in an interview on Thursday in Bauchi.

He said that each pilgrim was required to provide the Mahram and his particulars, including recent passports, along with the application forms for the exercise.

“We have arranged that each pilgrim will be attached to a Mahram as an additional measure to avoid any problem in Saudi Arabia.

“The Mahram will be the pilgrims’ husband, brother or relative as stipulated by the Saudi authority.’’

The speaker said that arrangements for transportation and accommodation of the pilgrims had been concluded by the Welfare Board, adding that the state would ensure a hitch free Hajj this year.

In Minna, the Niger Pilgrims Welfare Commission on Thursday suspended its inaugural transportation of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj in compliance with the NAHCON directive.

Alhaji Sani Awwal, its spokesman,  in an interview in Minna said that the state commission complied with the NAHCON directive.

“Therefore, we aborted our planned inaugural flight to Saudi Arabia.

“We had finished the screening of the 500 intending pilgrims from Mashegu, Paikoro and Mariga local government areas, including the medical team and the commission, when the message of the suspension came.

“In fact, the pilgrims were already at the Minna International Airport after the completion of their screening at the Hajj Camp, while the carrier, Max Airline had stationed its plane on the tarmac waiting, when the suspension came into effect.

“We had therefore returned the pilgrims to the Hajj Camp, while awaiting further directive from NAHCON.’’

Sani assured intending pilgrims that the commission was determined toward ensuring that all of them were transported to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj operation immediately the issues concerning the female intending pilgrims were resolved.

“No fewer than 4,355 pilgrims are expected to perform this year’s Hajj operation from the state, including 22 officials,’’ he said.

In Port Harcourt, the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board has said that its female pilgrims were not among those detained in Saudi Arabia since they had yet to commence airlifting.

In Uyo, Akwa Ibom Muslim Pilgrims Board has said that it was going to adjust with the new Saudi Arabia laws on female pilgrims from the state to the holy land.

The Akwa Ibom Chairman of the board,, Alhaji Baba Jaro, stated this on Thursday in Uyo while reacting to the return of some Nigerian female pilgrims from Saudi Arabia.

Jaro said that arrangements were on ground to ensure that intending female pilgrims visit the holy land with their guardians.

“Intending female pilgrims from the state will go with their male guardian as recommended by the Saudi law.

“The Saudia have their own way of doing things. We are not happy with the way our people were repatriated.

“But you know this is a thing of God and we cannot fight them than to adjust to their new law.

“90 pilgrims and 2 officials will be visiting the holy land from the state and all the females on the trip are with their male guardians to avoid repatriation.”

Jaro said the tentative date of departure would be Oct. 7.

In Akure, the Ondo State Amirul Hajj, Alhaji Abbas Abubakar, has said that the state Pilgrims Welfare Board would transport 392 intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia on Oct. 1, for this year’s Hajj exercise.

Abubakar said  on Thursday in Akure that the contingent would leave Akure for Ilorin International Airport on Sunday.

The Amirul Hajj, who is the Chief Imam of Ikare-Akoko, said the intending pilgrims would be travelling on Kabo Airline according to the arrangement made by the board.

He said the board has arranged a departure visit to the Gov. Olusegun Mimiko, on Saturday Sept. 29 at the Government House.

“All of us from Ondo State are travelling in ‘Ankara’ uniform for the purposes of identification and proper monitoring,’’ Abubakar said.

He urged all the pilgrims to exhibit good character and be good ambassadors of the state in the holy land.

But in Gusau, the hope of performing this year’s Hajj by182 female pilgrims from Zamfara State was still uncertain, following their continued detention by immigration officials of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

The pilgrims were among the 1,000 Nigerian female pilgrims detained at Jeddah International airport by Saudi Arabian officials for lack of male guardian, Mahram, a condition to allow female pilgrims to perform Hajj.

Malam Yakubu Mafara, Public Relations officer of the state agency, in an interview in Gusau on Thursday,said  that the affected pilgrims were transported in from Sokoto to Saudi Arabia in batches four and five.

He said reports from Saudi Arabia have confirmed that the detained pilgrims were in good health and being given attention by the officials of the NAHCON and Zamfara Welfare agency.

He said since the announcement of the 48 hours suspension of further transportation of pilgrims, activities at Zamfara Hajj camp and the agencies headquarters had slowed down.

Mafara said that none of the detained pilgrims from the state had been brought back as at Thursday from Saudi Arabia.

In Lokoja, Pilgrims from the State to this year’s hajj are still being held up at the hajj terminal in Abuja, the Executive secretary, Alhaji Baba Ango, has said.

Ango said that the Board has taken care of the issue of Mahram for all the female pilgrims from the state.

He said a total of 885 pilgrims would be performing the Hajj rites from the state this year.

The pilgrims, he said, left Lokoja since Tuesday, Sept. 25, and were initially scheduled to be transported to the Holy Land on Wednesday, Sept. 26, but they were still in Abuja due to suspension order.

In Abakaliki, Alhaji Sulieman Ogah, Chairman, Ebonyi Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board says no female pilgrim from the state is affected by the repatriation of Nigerian pilgrims by Saudi Arabian authorities.

Ogah disclosed this on Thursday in Abakaliki in an interview, noting that pilgrims from the state had yet to embark on the annual Hajj rites.

“Our pilgrims would leave for Saudi Arabia on Oct. 3, so we are not affected by the decision.

“We have however, taken steps to ensure that no female pilgrim from the state was repatriated or detained.”

Ogah said that Islam enjoins all female pilgrims to be under the guide of a male who can be either a husband, brother or other form of male relation.

“We have therefore ensured that every female pilgrim from the state has a male guide in adherence to the Islamic injunction.”

According to him, efforts have been made to ensure that the pilgrims are good ambassadors of the state and country by being of good conduct.

“We have carried out proper enlightenment to the pilgrims to shun acts that would tarnish the image of the state and country before the world.

“We hope that their spiritual sojourn to the holy land would bring spiritual rejuvenation for the country at this troubled period,” Ogah said. (NAN)

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