Saudi Arabia yesterday ignored protests by the Nigerian government over the deportation of female pilgrims to the holyland as the Saudi authorities deported another batch of 510 Nigerian female pilgrims to this year’s hajj. 171 pilgrims had earlier been deported on Wednesday.
The authorities of Saudi Arabia insisted that the women were unaccompanied by male relations which was considered against laid down rules of the kingdom.
An adamant Saudi Arabia has so far refused to yield any ground to Nigeria on the issue of alleged unaccompanied female pilgrims, in spite of spirited diplomatic efforts by the Federal Government.
An intriguing development was that the husband of one of the female deportees also returned home with his wife, in protest, when the Saudi Authorities refused to clear his wife, even after explaining that he was the husband of the woman.
A highly placed source at the National Hajj Commission who disclosed this said that the return (in protest) by the male pilgrim in question was an indication that there was more to the stance of the Saudi authorities than meets the eyes.
He said: “On board of the plane bringing the women is also a male pilgrim. He decided to return home with his wife in protest when his explanations and entreaties to the fact that his wife was accompanied fell on deaf ears. That shows clearly that there is more to the issue than meets the eyes”.
It was learnt that the Chairman of the commission, Mallam Mohammed Bello, had a hectic day in Abuja, yesterday, as he had to shuttle between the Presidency and the National Assembly to brief his bosses in the executive, as well as, the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Tambuwal, who is the leader of the Federal Government delegation to this year’s hajj.
Officials of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, were, until yesterday, still making efforts to get the necessary clearance for a Federal Government delegation to visit Saudi Arabia with a view to resolving the issue.
President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan had on Wednesday constituted a Presidential delegation to interface with the Saudi authorities over the issue surrounding the detained Nigerian female pilgrims at King Abdul-Azziz International Airport, Jeddah.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation, SGF, Senator Anyim Pius Anyim, named Aminu Tambuwal as leader of that delegation.
Other members are: Minister of State II for Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nuruddeen Mohammed, Ambassador Shehu Galadanchi; Sheikh Sherif Saleh and Chairman of the Hajj Commission, Muhammad Bello.
The delegation is expected to depart for Saudi Arabia as soon as an appointment is finalised with the appropriate Saudi authorities.
Senate had on Wednesday asked President Goodluck Jonathan to liaise with the King of Saudi Arabia, King Fahad Abdulaziz to allow over 1, 500 Nigerian female pilgrims stranded in Saudi airport entry into the holy land to perform their hajj.
The directive was upon the adoption of a motion entitled, ‘Refusal of the Saudi Arabian Authority to grant entry to over 500 Nigerian female pilgrims’ sponsored by Senator Atiku Bagudu.
Leading debate on the motion, Bagudu lamented the refusal of Saudi Arabian authorities to allow the pilgrims entry into the country despite fulfilling all visa requirements.
He said, “Over 500 Nigerian female pilgrims from the various states of the federation that arrived Saudi Arabia for this year’s hajj were denied entry upon arrival at the airport in Jedda and Medina.
“All the requirements for visa and entry into Saudi Arabia had been met by the pilgrims and were still denied entry.”
The motion was widely supported by Senators as some of them that spoke yesterday urged Nigerian government to quickly intervene in the crisis, adding that the stranded pilgrims are going through untold hardships.
Senator Uche Chukwumerije, PDP, Abia while contributing to the motion asked the Federal Government to develop a new foreign policy that will protect Nigerians abroad.
He said, “Nigeria must take a robust diplomatic position and make it clear to the world that any Nigeria anywhere must be given protection of that place, if they failed, we are going to visit same on their citizens here.”
Chukwumerije also urged the Senate to mandate local coordinating authorities to ensure that pilgrims fulfill all the legal requirements of Saudi Arabia before embarking on pilgrimage.
Senate President, David Mark, who presided over the motion in his ruling, decried the situation despite interventions from Federal Government.
Mark urged the Saudi Arabia authorities to allow the pilgrims perform their religious obligation having arrived in the country.
He said, “I think that from the effort so made by the Minister of foreign affairs, rather than urge government, I think that we should ask the President to talk directly with the Saudi king because the way they operate there, nobody else may make any difference. The foreign Affairs Minister has done all he can, he has spoken to his counterpart, he has invited the ambassador, they have done whatever they possibly can and nothing has changed
“Our pilgrim having gone this far, we should insist that they should be allowed to perform the hajj and if there are lessons, we will take the necessary corrections.”
It will be recalled that no fewer than 1200 Nigerian female pilgrims from Taraba and Katsina states who were denied entry into Saudi Arabia and deported from the Medina airport, yesterday arrived the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, ..
Meanwhile, the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Khalid Abdrabuh yesterday gave an assurance that the controversy over the detention of about 1,200 female Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia will be resolved today.
More than 908 women were detained at the Jeddah Airport while 171 of them were deported to Nigeria on Wednesday.
The Saudi Ambassador explained that the issue of detention of pilgrims who failed to meet entry requirements was not restricted to Nigeria. According to him, some pilgrims from other countries have also been subjected to similar screening on arrival at the Holy Land.
He also hinted that officials of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj were already holding talks with a delegation of the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Mecca on the issue.
He made the pledge shortly after meeting with the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal at the National Assembly.
The Federal Government had on Wednesday given the Saudi Arabian government 24 hours to resolve the issue. The Vice President, Namadi Sambo who gave the order also appointed Tambuwal as head of federal government delegation to Saudi Arabia to resolve the impasse.
On the strenght of that presidential intervention, Tambuwal met with the Saudi Arabian envoy behind closed doors on Thursday where the duo deliberated on the way out of the pilgrimage standoff.
Tambuwal who spoke to journalists at the end of the meeting also disclosed that the Nigerian mission in Riyadh has been meeting with the Saudi authorities to resolve the situation.
However, chairman of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, Hon. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, has warned that Nigeria will not hesitate to bring back her people if the issue was not resolved today.
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria had on Wednesday briefed the Foreign Affairs Committee of the House on the matter. The standoff began when the Saudi Arabian authorities discovered that hundreds of
female Nigerian pilgrims were without their statutory male escorts which is a prerequisite to entry into Saudi Arabia.