A MAJOR talking point in the global media at the moment is the tragic but avoidable death of over 1,000 pilgrims in the Saudi city of Mina on September 24, 2015. They were among thousands of Muslims from different parts of the world who converged on the holy city of Mecca for this year’s Hajj.
The victims met their tragic end following a stampede that led to their being crushed or suffocated. The fatal stampede occurred after two large crowds of pilgrims reportedly collided while on their way to participate in the symbolic Hajj ritual of stoning Satan.
Weeks after, the deadly incident has continued to elicit shock, sorrow, outrage and recriminations across the globe. Indeed, the world is still trying to come to terms with the tragic irony that a pilgrimage in search of improved spiritual well-being could result into such monumental catastrophe.
The Saudi authorities have been in the firing line for being allegedly negligent in the organisation of this year’s Hajj and for failing to put in place adequate safety measures. At the forefront of this chorus of accusations is the government of Iran which claimed that 464 of its citizens died with several others still missing.
The world wants the Saudi Arabian authorities to openly acknowledge responsibility for this tragedy and be compelled by the Muslim world to introduce better safety measures to avoid future occurrence. This position is derived from the feeling that this perhaps is the climax of a succession of Hajj fatalities recorded in recent history. The Muslim world had, two weeks before the fatal stampede, lost 109 pilgrims to a crane crash at the Grand Mosque in Mecca.
Although the Saudi authorities insist that 769 people died with 934 injured, a breakdown of the death toll per country shows that Iran tops with 464 victims, with Nigeria recording 99 persons dead and 214 still missing. Egypt comes next with 75 dead and 94 missing pilgrims. This inevitably makes Nigeria the second highest loser in the Hajj disaster.
But it is curious that while Iran and other similarly affected countries have been raising issues over the tragic incident, especially calling the Saudi authorities to account over their failure to take adequate preventive measures, the Nigerian government’s reaction has somewhat been tepid.
We call on the Federal Government to take more decisive steps, in tandem with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), to trace the whereabouts of the missing pilgrims and inform Nigerians of their fates. We must begin to attach greater value to the lives of our citizens.
Nigeria must join other concerned countries in insisting that appropriate steps are taken to make the Hajj safer and more fulfilling for pilgrims.