Nigerian Pilgrims In The Last Hajj Season

The immediate last Hajj exercise was indeed successful that it is worth reviewing. It started with the first batch of Nigerian pilgrims departing Sokoto and landing safely at Prince Muhammad bin Abdul-Aziz International Airport in Madinah on Monday August 8, 2016, at about 10.40 pm (Saudi time) on board Max Air fleet no. NGL1001. The 500 pilgrims belonging to Zamfara state contingents were warmly received on arrival at the airport by the delegation of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in company with the Nigerian diplomatic corps in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The NAHCON delegation was already in the city to serve the pilgrims.

The pilgrims who were first timers expressed satisfaction with the arrangements made to airlift them from Nigeria. The first few pilgrims to be processed out from the Saudi Immigration and who were interviewed included: Umaru Buda with passport no. A06700181, Sani Yahaya-A07348164, Sadisu Abubakar-A05578849, Makau Wali Kurfi-A07348222, Sajo Alhaji Ibrahim-A06700552, Kwatte Ummaru-A06700024, Aishatu Kokura-A05598894, Fadimatu Gambo-A07948705 and Salaha Dahiru-A06518957.

Apparent happy and excited, they thanked the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) for the wonderful arrangement and for being present at the flag-off of their airlift from Sokoto. They also expressed appreciation to their State governor and the Executive Secretary of their Board, Alhaji A. B. Pawa. Salaha Dahiru praised Allah for His guidance and journey mercy. She said everything is well with them as long as they have landed in Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj which they had yearned to do for a long life in their lives. Said she: “I am very happy. My happiness is boundless. I thank Allah, I thank Allah, I thank Allah. May Allah accept our Hajj. May Allah safeguard us”.

“We are very happy to be here for Hajj. We are coming for the first time and we did not encounter any problem from Nigeria to this place. We thank NAHCON, our governor and our secretary for making our journey smooth and enjoyable,” the elated Umaru Buda who spoke in Hausa exclaimed.

While welcoming the pilgrims, the acting Ambassador of Nigerian to the Kingdom, Ambassador Salisu Z. Umar expressed gratitude to Allah for the safe trip of the pilgrims and the government of Nigeria for facilitating the annual Islamic rite for Muslims of the country. He urged the pilgrims to be law-abiding, not to engage in unlawful dealings and to concentrate on the utmost aim of their journey which was to attain Hajj mabrur. He asked them to pray for Nigeria and her leadership and wished them a very memorable stay in Madinah in particular and in all the holy sites of Hajj at large. He also praised the leadership of Nigeria under President Muhammadu Buhari for keeping to the promises he made to Nigerians, saying that the change in the system has begun to manifest in all facets of government businesses. “We have seen a lot of the campaign promises delivered. The security of Nigeria is better; our foreign image has been elevated; our economy is being positioned for greater output; and the fight against corruption is yielding good results”, he noted.

He commended NAHCON for good planning and its achievements in the past years. According to him, NAHCON has transformed Hajj operations in Nigeria and has changed the image of Nigerians on Hajj through its intensive orientations to the pilgrims who nowadays do not encounter much security and consular challenges as in the long past.

In his own address to the pilgrims, the acting Nigerian Consul General, Ambassador Musa Saban Mamman reminded them of their responsibilities towards Nigeria as its ambassadors in the Kingdom and as pilgrims, saying that their behaviours throughout their stay for the Hajj will reflect on Nigeria. He advised them on hygiene, on the need to take enough liquid at all times due to high temperature, on the frugal management of their meager basic travel allowances which they must always carry by themselves, and on the protection of their traveling documents. “Do not start shopping until shortly before or immediately after Hajj. Feed well so that you will have energy to perform your Hajj and worship Allah very well”, he told the pilgrims.

He praised NAHCON for the e-wristband introduced for pilgrims for 2016 Hajj because, as he put it, the innovation will guard against any unfortunate incident that may involve Nigerian pilgrims for easy identification and prompt response. He, however, urged NAHCON to press on the airlines for reliable flight schedules which is basic for successful operations in Madinah. “I want to sincerely commend the Commission for its innovations that have transformed Hajj in Nigeria. It is not easy to manage 76,000 pilgrims of different backgrounds. There is great change in Hajj under NAHCON. Throughout the year, NAHCON, the Saudi authorities and all other stakeholders meet and plan. That is why we are getting it right. All arrangements are concluded in good time”, he asserted.

The Coordinator of Madinah operations, Dr. B. M. Tambuwal said the pilgrims were lucky to be the first Nigerians to land Madinah for the year’s Hajj, assuring that everything required to give them comfort throughout their stay in Madinah was guaranteed. He told them that their hotels were close to Haram and advised them to ensure they used the coupons to be given to them for their feeding arrangements. “Adequate provisions have been made for you in terms of accommodation, feeding and transportation. We wish you Hajj mabrur and a wonderful stay in Madinah”, he told the pilgrims.

The pilgrims, after their 8-day stay in the holy city of Madinah expressed satisfaction over their easy and comfortable sojourn. A cross section of the pilgrims and officials thumped-up the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) for early preparations, better arrangements and careful execution of policies that have brought the transformation in the current Hajj management and operations. Their reception at the airport and hijra stations, their various hotels, medical attention and consular services, the pilgrims said were interesting. They have, however, expressed mixed feelings over hajj fares which they say is on the increase every year.

While some want some kind of stability in fixing of hajj fares, others praised the NAHCON and the government for their efforts in managing the fares despite the economic recession and high rate of forex. They said government should not hands off completely from hajj matters because the pilgrims were citizens who are supposed to be cared for wherever they are, in Nigeria or any other country. Some of them said it was more paramount for Nigerian government to take care of its citizens who go out for certain period of time for a very important matter of concern to the nation as well.

“When we come for hajj, our government, our politicians and friends and families ask us to pray for them. The prayers are answered. So the governments are also benefitting from this holy journey. In fact, some of the politicians sponsor special squads and prayer warriors to come and pray for them and their governments. We are Nigerian citizens and the government is for all of us. Government spends heavily in football, in different contests, carnivals, in hosting things that a large number of Nigerians do not participate or have interest in. It is just unfair for government to disregard this annual event because it is for Muslim”, an official from a Southwestern state opined.

Another official added: “When President Buhari came to power, people thought Hajj will become cheap. Hajj fares have gone up very high but Muslims are still going to Hajj in their thousands. Allocation to Nigeria from the Saudi government is still exhausted. No one can stop Hajj. Our President is for all Nigerians. We thank him for whatever wisdom is behind the high cost of Hajj this year. May Allah continue to guide and protect him. But we plead for stability of the fare for some years”.

Misbahuddeen Ogundipe and Abdulkabir Abdulqadir from Osun and Oyo state contingents applauded the efforts of NAHCON for the wonderful arrangements for their sojourn in Madinah. “We are very happy with the arrangements this year. Look at our hotel, just beside the Holy Mosque. This is a good step for Hajj operations. Look at the other accommodations; Nigerian pilgrims are enjoying this time. No longer trek to Haram as we used to hear. Three or four persons in one room with a toilet.

Remember that before 10 to 15 persons used to share one toilet”, Abdulqadir and Ogunpide corroborated themselves. Yusuf Muhammad Sani who came with his elderly mother from Kogi state said their closeness to Haram has made it easy for his old mother to attend daily prayers without difficulties. “My people are also feeding well, though some of us are not used to some kind of food. Our general assessment is that this hajj is quite different in terms of accommodation and catering. I want to personally commend the Hajj commission and my state board”.

An official from a northern state who spoke under the condition of anonymity exploded, saying “Wow, this year is exceptional. All our pilgrims are being accommodated in the Markaziyyah area of Madinah. We want this to continue, though our pilgrims paid more for the new development. All we want is comfort for our pilgrims. If was possible to stay longer in Madinah, many of our pilgrims would request.”

These hospitality and care offered to the pilgrims in Madinah impressed them. Makkah coordinator, Alhaji Suleiman Usman noted that a large number of pilgrims from Zamfara, Kwara and other states said their accommodations were beyond their imagination. They said the meals were excellent in terms of taste, quality and variety.

The 2016 Hajj operations which started in earnest with the airlift of the first batch of pilgrims to Saudi on 8thAugust ended with the return of the last batch of the pilgrims from Saudi on 9thOctober, 2016. NAHCON has received accolades from within and outside the shores of Nigeria. However, it was quite unfortunate that despite the fact that NAHCON and states carried out aggressive campaigns on kolanut smuggling and contrabands as well as the need to obey Saudi regulations, some pilgrims were detained and later released on issues bordering on kolanut smuggling and routine security checks by the Saudi intelligence.

One or two pilgrims were arrested for carrying substances suspected to be hard drugs. The e-wristband introduced for Nigerian pilgrims also faced challenges as a pilot project. Nonetheless, as it has been the tradition, NAHCON under its able leadership would make refunds to all Nigerian pilgrims for any services that are not rendered to them for the Hajj.

Muhammad Ajah lives in Abuja. E-mail [email protected].

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Articles by Muhammad Ajah