…Says Saudi Arabia not ready to receive foreign pilgrims
By Ishola Balogun
The chairman, CEO Eminasta Travels and Tours, Alhaji Ahmed Yellow Abubakar has said that the 2021 hajj for foreign pilgrims is not feasible, advising the National Hajj Commission, NAHCON, to cancel the exercise in the interest of Nigerian pilgrims.
Alhaji Abubakar in a chat with Facing the Kaaba said Saudi is perhaps apprehensive on the spread of the covid-19 variant, adding that they have not shown readiness considering that it is less than 40 days to Arafat.
Abubakar who has led over 120 pilgrims on Umrah in the last six months said: “there is no any arrangement on ground to show that Saudi Arabia is ready to receive foreign pilgrims for this year’s hajj.
“My contacts in Saudi Arabia in all the sector relevant to hajj such as the Transportation, Hotels and Ma’shair have always insisted that there is no arrangements on ground for foreign pilgrims and therefore in doubt as to whether the authorities will allow foreign pilgrims in this year’s hajj.
“I think Saudi Arabia is not ready and there is no point to belabour the question and continue to hope and hope that they will soon give us the slots to plan for our pilgrims when the event is already a couple of weeks away.
“Even if the slots are eventually announced what we will get may not be enough to take care of 2020 registered pilgrims whose money have been with NAHCON since last year, let alone the 2021 registered intending pilgrims.
“Assuming they give us 10000; how will they share it? Again, there is no local arrangement with airlines, no one has been screened, no contract signed. The best is for Nigeria to call off this year’s hajj.”
Asked whether the cancellation will not affect bilateral relationship with Saudi Arabia, Abubakar said: “No. This way, we will be taken seriously on issues of planning.”
He added that even if Saudi communicates today and open the road for limited foreign pilgrims, the cost of hajj will soar, because the urgency and restriction will not allow for the old cost.
He explained that “before now, four to five people are always in a room within the regime of N1.3 million per pilgrim, but under this new restriction order where not more than two will be allowed in a room, I do not see how the N1.3million is feasible. If this happens, hajj could go for N2.5 to N2.7million. How many already registered pilgrims will afford that. So, here and there, hajj is not feasible for now. I am the first private tour operators in Africa to take pilgrims on Umrah after the ban was in Jan this year. I know what I am talking about.
“Saudi is not ready to receive foreign pilgrims on this year hajj. The earlier we know this, the better for us. We can beging to plan for 2022 just like some other countries have done by announcing their cancellations.”
It will be recalled that Saudi Arabia as at press time has not communicated to countries on the preparation and slots for this hajj which is about 30 days away.
Last Sunday, the Acting Saudi minister of communications, Dr. Majid Al-Qasabi stated during a press conference in Riyadh that the Saudi authorities are monitoring (pandemic) developments and that the ministers of Hajj and Umrah, as well as health, would make a decision soon.
Due to COVID variations, he said it was critical to assess the impact of the spread of the virus carefully and accurately: “We don’t want this year’s Hajj to be an epicenter for the disease’s spread in the Kingdom or the Muslim world.”