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HAJJ STAMPEDE: HURIWA WANTS NATIONAL INQUIRY; MOURNING

*WANTS BILKISU YUSUF IMMORTALISED:
By Emmanuel Onwubiko
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Following the recent stampede in Saudi Arabia in which some 700 pilgrims performing this year's Hajj died including 54 Nigerians, a call has gone to the President, Muhammadu Buhari to constitute a national probe panel to ascertain the remote and immediate causes of the incident just as the group said the investigative panel should be composed of members of the National Hajj Commission to be headed by the Sultan of Sokoto and members of the organised civil society and the media made up of persons of the Islamic faith.

Making the call in a media statement jointly endorsed by the National Coordinator Comrade Emmanuel Onwubiko and the National Media affairs Director Miss Zainab Yusuf, HUMAN RIGHTS WRITERS ASSOCIATION OF NIGERIA (HURIWA), a pro-democracy Non-Governmental Organisation also called on the Federal Government and the Northern State Governors Forum specifically to name significant national and regional institutions of learning or information after the late Ms Bilkisu Yusuf who also died in the recent Saudi Arabia stampede.

HURIWA said although Section 10 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria of 1999 (as amended ) absolutely makes Nigeria a Secular State but further recognized the fact that since Nigerians who were performing their religious obligations were killed in the stampede thought to have been caused by human errors which have remained only in the realm of speculations, it is imperative that the Country which places high premium on promoting the welfare and security of Nigerians Worldwide as provided for in the Nigerian Constitution, makes a lawful move to uncover what led to the death of dozens of Nigerian citizens in a Foreign jurisdiction.

"There are versions of what instigated the unfortunate stampede and panic which led to the death of hundreds of pilgrims from around the World including 54 Nigerians amongst which is the widely reported version that lays the blame squarely on the Son of the Saudi King who reportedly blocked the exit of the venue of the symbolic casting of stones on the devil therefore forcing pilgrims to make a detour which precipitated the stampede and subsequent widespread fatalities.

Nigeria lost 54 of her citizens including the first ever Northern Female newspaper editor Ms Bilkisu Yusuf; two Appeal Court Justices; a First class traditional ruler; a State's Chief Imam among others. As a country we must investigate what caused their deaths with a view to adopting a stand that will meet global best practices in making any claims before the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We should declare national mourning even if for 30 minutes including the flying of our flags in half mast and holding two minutes of prayerful silence in the remembrance of the departed".

HURIWA called on the Northern Governors Forum to partner with the Federal Government of Nigeria to select a significant national or regional institution of learning or information to be named after the late Ms Bilkisu Yusuf who gave all her talents and intellectual resources to the development and promotion of civil rights and journalism.

The Rights group further submitted thus: "As the first female editor from Northern Nigeria, Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf was a journalist by profession and a political scientist by training. She received a B.Sc. in political science from Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, and an M.A. in political science from the University of Wisconsin, USA. She studied journalism at the Moscow Institute for Journalism and International Relations and earned an advanced diploma in journalism and international relations".

Offering reasons why Ms Bilkisu must be immortalised the Rights group recalled with nostalgia that her previous work experience includes working in the Ministry of Information, Kano; editor of Sunday Triumph, Kano; editor of New Nigerian, Kaduna, and editor of Citizen Magazine, Kaduna. Bilkisu was also a columnist for Daily Trust and LEADERSHIP newspapers. She was a founding member of several NGOs, including Women In Nigeria (WIN), the Federation of Muslim Women Associations in Nigeria (FOMWAN), and Advocacy Nigeria, where she was the executive director. This national icon must and should not die in vain. We owe her the debt to immortalise her good name and achievements so the youth can borrow her inestimable and remarkable nationalistic attributes so as to build a better Nigerian Society for generations yet unborn."

HURIWA also recalled that the late Ms Bilkisu Yusuf was a consultant and trainer in media, gender and conflict management and peace building. She was on the board of FOMWAN, the Nigerian Interfaith Action Association Against Malaria (NIFAAM), Health Reform Foundation of Nigeria (HERFON), ABANTU for Development, Vision Trust Foundation, and many others. The group said her contributions to interfaith dialogues are unquantifiable.