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*As pilgrims move in batches to Mina

By Ishola Balogun, Saudi Arabia

The Chairman, CEO, National Hajj Commission has said the challenges encountered on airlifting were due to the cancellations and delays of flights caused by lack of preparedness of some states even as he assured that the remaining intending pilgrims will be transported to Saudi Arabia Thursday.

Saudi Arabia had granted the request made by some countries including Nigeria facing similar challenges to extend the deadline of closing the airspace. The extension will however lapse Thursday afternoon when all pilgrims are expected to be at Mina.

Briefing the Media Team on the development in Makkah, Alhaji Hassan,  said the cancellations and delays of flights were caused by lack of preparedness of states.

According to Hassan, these delays were the major reasons for the delay in the number of flights made out of Nigeria. “If there were no cancellation and delays, or even if half of these cancellations did not occur, all our pilgrims would have been here. But adequate arrangements have been made to airlift them all to the Kingdom for the Hajj exercise,” he assured.

“It is our wish that no Nigerian intending pilgrim is left at home and we made several efforts to ensure this. Luckily, the Saudi authorities have further extended the date for closure of their airspace.

“With this extension, the remaining 5,000 pilgrims will be able to perform their Hajj. Over 1,000 pilgrims are on their way today (Wednesday).

“These two windows; of extension of date of closure and engagement of chartered aircrafts, will ensure that all pilgrims realize their dream of performing this religious act,” he said.

On the video that went viral where a Niger State Hajj official was preventing him from leaving Nigeria for Saudi Arabia to attend to other important issues, Hassan described it as a justifiable act.

“I understand with the Niger state pilgrims official who was concerned about his pilgrims that are still in Nigeria. But like I explained to him, I also have a responsibility to the other larger number of pilgrims already in Saudi Arabia just as those in Nigeria.

“That was why I left behind the commissioners for Operations, Head of Aviation, Special Duties and others  to continue. Luckily, the extension of airspace came as we arrived,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Commission has commenced movements of its pilgrims pilgrims to the Mina Tent city.

The movement began late Wednesday night and it is expected to last till Thursday.

Pilgrims will stay in Mina till early Friday morning when they will move to Mount Arafat for the continuation of hajj rites.

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