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2012 HAJJ: COMMISSION BUNGLED PILGRIMS' SAUDI TRIP

By NBF News
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The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria is making frantic efforts to correct its earlier failure to ensure that every intending female pilgrim travels in company of a male relative or guardian according to Hajj rules set by Saudi Arabia and which the commission has been aware of as a standing rule since 2008.

All hope may, however, not be lost for the over 1,000 intending female pilgrims that have been denied entry into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and are being gradually deported   to Nigeria: the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) is making plans to send them back, this time with male relatives as required by Saudi law.

LEADERSHIP WEEKEND reliably learnt the commission has sent letters to pilgrimage boards across the states asking them to take a census of all the affected pilgrims and prepare to send them back after their male companions may have arrived the kingdom.

Speaker of House of Representatives Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, said yesterday that he would depart for Saudi Arabia when the presidential delegation he is leading gets clearance from the Saudi authorities.

The speaker met yesterday in a closed-door meeting with other members of the presidential delegation set up over the deportation of the female pilgrims detained and eventually deported by Saudi authorities.

The public relations officer of the commission, Umar Bala, could not confirm if such letters had been dispatched to the states and when the commission hopes to lift its suspension on the airlift of all intending pilgrims.

While some deported pilgrims have headed to the pilgrimage board in their respective states wanting to know their fates, Bala said the commission would make its next line of action known to the public as soon as it was reached.

Speaking to LEADERSHIP WEEKEND, a senior official at the pilgrimage board in Kano said the only reason the Saudi authorities felt the female pilgrims were in breach of the hajj rules was because they arrived ahead of their male companions.

While every intending female pilgrim had her male companion identified on the issued visa, the Kano official said immigration authorities in Saudi Arabia had no records of the male companions, having entered the kingdom at the point entry of the deported pilgrims.

He said, 'If the muharram (male relative) had arrived Saudi ahead of the female pilgrim, she would be allowed to pass. But in the event that the muharram is left behind, such a female pilgrim would be allowed in. Also, if they arrive together, it is even better.

'This policy commenced in the 2008/2009 hajj that all female pilgrims must have their muharrams reflected on their visa. Once that is confirmed, they would be allowed entry.'

President Goodluck Jonathan on Wednesday named Tambuwal as leader of the presidential delegation.

The meeting, which lasted till late evening, had in attendance chair, House committee on Foreign Affairs, Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, Hon. Bashir Adamu; Emir of Zuru, Gen. Sani Sami; Prof. Shehu Galadanchi and chairman, National Hajj Commission (NAHCON), Alhaji Muhammad Bello.

A statement issued byTambuwal's special adviser on media and public Affairs, Malam Imam Imam, said the committee reviewed the correspondence, discussions and actions taken by the Nigerian government and Saudi authorities in the last three days.

The statement read: 'The committee wishes to state that whatever further action the Saudi government wishes to take must respect the dignity of the female pilgrims as enshrined in international convention which the two countries are signatories to.'

It further said that the presidential delegation would undertake a trip to Saudi Arabia as soon as it receives a go -head from the Saudi authorities with a view of finding a lasting solution to the impasse.