Tobi Soniyi in Abuja

Following the completion of talks with rulers of the Saudi Arabian Kingdom, President Muhammadu Buhari has directed the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the National Hajj Commission, NAHCON to sit down with the Saudis to negotiate improved terms and conditions for Nigerian pilgrims performing the Umrah and the annual Hajj.

A statement issued yesterday by the Special Assistant to the President on Media and Publicity, Mr. Garba Shehu said the president issued the directive after the Saudi authorities accepted to freely and openly discuss outstanding issues with Nigeria.

Buhari, among other things, requested the Saudis to conclude all issues with the Nigerian Hajj Commission, such as the undetermined outcome of their investigation into the stampede at Muna last year, where 274 Nigerians reportedly lost their lives.

There is also the case of compensation for six Nigerians killed in the crane incident in the precincts of the Kaaba and 35 others from the stampede whose DNA profile is feared to be missing.
Buhari equally charged the ministry and NAHCON to seek a reduction of fees associated with the Umrah Visa.

Among the 17 issues discussed at the initial meeting between the officials of both countries, Nigeria appreciated the increase in the number of Nigerians entitled to attend Umrah pilgrimage but asked that the 76,000 seats maintained for the Hajj be similarly increased.

The meeting was led by Nigeria’s Minister of State, for Foreign Affairs, Mrs Fatima Abba Ibrahim and the Chairman of NAHCON, Abdullahi Muhammed while the Saudi side led by their minister of Hajj Affairs, Dr Bandar bin Muhammad al-Hajjar. A follow up meeting is expected in the coming weeks.