By Olasunkanmi Akoni
Lagos State Government has suspended the year 2020 hajj operations, with the call to all intending pilgrims to differ the exercise till 2021.
According to the state’s Commissioner for Home Affairs, Anofiu Elegushi, the cancellation was consequent upon the ban placed on international pilgrims from performing the year 2020 pilgrimage by the Saudi Arabian authority,
“This was part of the major resolutions reached between the state government, the intending Pilgrims, Ulamahs (Islamic scholars) and other stakeholders, during a one-day sensitisation programme on the future of year 2020 Hajj operation, held at the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja,” he said.
While justifying the necessity for the cancellation, Elegushi, commended the Saudi authority for taking such a bold and difficult decision in order to curb the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic that is ravaging the entire world, considering the large number of people that would have performed the pilgrimage in Makkah and Medina.
He stressed that if the exercise were to hold despite the pandemic, pilgrims would be made to face a lot of stringent conditions and restrictions which would be difficult for them to bear and deny many of the opportunities.
He maintained that it is better to wait till the next hajj when it is hoped that the pandemic would have been totally defeated.
“As government that is responsible to its people, no pilgrims would be denied his or her legitimate right to seek refund of the hajj fare already paid.”
He however urged the intending pilgrims to leave the money with the government and differ the exercise till 2021 when they would be considered on a first-come, first-served basis, otherwise, they would start all over again.
He urged those who are yet to complete their payment to do so quickly so as to secure their place in the record of the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board.
While urging them not to change their intention, Elegushi noted that it might not be easy for any body seeking refund to re-coup the money between now and November 2020 when the year 2021 hajj operation would begin.
He, however, assured them that their money is very safe with the state government.
Narrating the efforts already put in place by the state government before the pandemic struck, Elegushi said that he led some officials to Saudi Arabia to secure a befitting and conducive accommodation for her pilgrims nearer to the Haram in order to make the exercise comfortable for them.
He added that among other preparations made by the state towards ensuring stress-free pilgrimage exercise in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was the provision of free health care service as well as increment in the number of health service providers outside NAHCON arrangements.
While answering questions on the possibility of increment in year 2021 hajj fare, Elegushi remarked that it is the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) that fixes hajj fare and not the state government.
He, however, noted that one of the aims of the current Chairman of NAHCON, Barrister Kunle Hassan, was to secure reduction in the hajj fare so as to make it affordable for intending pilgrims.
He assured them that instead of increasing, the government is working towards ensuring reductions, all things being equal.
On medical screening, Elegushi explained that all the intending pilgrims would be made to do a fresh screening when the time comes. He said that between now and the next hajj operation, the health condition of every body would have changed one way or the other because of our environment. Therefore it is necessary and mandatory for everyone to do another medical test to ascertain their current health status.
While assuring that the intending pilgrims are free to retrieve their international passport for any other usage, the commissioner, urged them to fill a form to document their deferment of year 2020 hajj to 2021.
The Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Adebunmi Adekanye corroborated the Elegushi, by appealing to the intending pilgrims and residents in general to believe that COVID-19 pandemic is real and join efforts of government in fighting the scourge by always observing all the safety protocols which include regular handwashing with water and soap, wearing of face mask, avoiding large crowd, maintain social distancing as well a avoid handshake.