Saudi Fixes August 6 Deadline for Nigerian Pilgrims to Arrive Madinah

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Ekiti, Ondo, Kwara intending pilgrims stage protest at Ilorin airport

Hammed Shittu in Ilorin and Olawale Ajimotokan in Madinah, Saudi Arabia

Nigeria is in a race to airlift the remaining 20,000 hajj pilgrims still stranded across the states to Madinah, Saudi Arabia, by August 6.

That date is the deadline by the Saudi authorities for all pilgrims to evacuate the city and arrive in Mecca.

It is expected that after that date, the Prince Mohammed Abdulaziz International Airport will no longer receive pilgrims.

This is coming as no fewer than 500 intending pilgrims to this year pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia from Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and part of Oyo States yesterday staged a peaceful protest at the Ilorin International Airport over their delayed flight to the holy land.

Medinah hosts some of Islamic holy sites. Majority of the pilgrims usually converge there in deference to Prophet Muhammad before they head to Mecca for the hajj rites that will climax with the Muslim Eid Al-Adha festival on August 11.

The expected arrival of the FCT contingents aboard two batches of flights today will increase the number of Nigerian pilgrims that have arrived in Medinah to 26,000.

However, delay in the arrival has presented the prospect that the flights of the projected 20,000 intending pilgrims still in Nigeria will be diverted to Jeddah, forcing them to defer the pre-hajj rituals until the end of the Eid festival.

The approved pilgrim quota for Nigeria for this year is 95,000. Of that number, 65,000 is allotted to the 36 states and the FCT, while the tour operators are given 25,000 slots.

The Madinah Coordinator of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Ahmed Maigari, identified visa as the major challenge hampering the efforts to fly all the pilgrims into Madinah before August 6.

Maigari, who is also the secretary of NAHCON, however, told journalists that the commission was banking on the states to fill 45,000 slots out of the quota.

“We can neither say yes nor no. It depends on the visa. You can’t get a precise figure now until the last day which is August 6, when pilgrims are no more expected to be in Madinah. It will be difficult to reach Saudi Arabia without a visa. I also understand that in Nigeria, they have closed the visa processing portal,” Maigari said.

Meanwhile, NAHCON has announced that it has dispatched 16,593 pilgrims from Madinah to Mecca.

Maigari said the transfer process had been ongoing on daily basis.

Last Sunday, 560 pilgrims from Gombe State were dispatched, while 502 were from Kano State, 544 from Ogun State and 431 were from Oyo State. Also, on Monday, 557 pilgrims from Katsina State and 430 from Sokoto State respectively, left for the holy land.

Meanwhile, no fewer than 500 intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from Ondo, Ekiti, Kwara and part of Oyo States yesterday staged a peaceful protest at Ilorin International Airport over the delay flight to the holy land.

The development, according to THISDAY checks, disrupted business activities at the airport as workers and passengers waiting to take flight to Abuja and Lagos were not allowed to do so.

The pilgrims, who began their protest at about 3a.m., blocked Ilorin/Ogbomoso/Ibadan expressway with old tyres, shutting the gate leading to the airport down.

Some of them who spoke with journalists alleged that they have been in Ilorin Hajj camp for the past 15 days without provision of an aircraft to convey them to Saudi Arabia for the pilgrimage.

They said: “We have been subjected to poor and unhygienic condition at the hajj camp, and this is very bad.”

One of the protesters, who identified himself as Ayobami Muftau, said: “We have been in camp for 15 days sleeping on bare floor and buying food at exorbitant price with our money.

“We were moved to the airport last Saturday based on the promise that an aircraft would arrive to convey us to Jeddah at 11p.m. that Saturday, but up till now, we have not seen the aircraft, and there was no explanation from the concerned authority.”

Mufutau appealed to the federal government to come to their aid by providing aircraft that would transport them to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj rites.

Another pilgrim from Ekiti State, Usman Isa, who said they left Aiyede-Ekiti 10 days ago, alleged that the pilgrims were exposed to harsh weather conditions as “all of us, both male and female, were made to sleep in the open hall at the hajj camp and airport.”

However, the acting Manager of Ilorin Airport, Mr. Deji Eniola, said the problem facing the pilgrims emanated from Med-View Airline delegated to convey them to Saudi Arabia.

He explained that the Med-View Airline was being expected in Ilorin since last Saturday, but did not come, adding that “there is no explanation from the management of the airline on why it has not come to airlift the pilgrims.”

He expressed hope that the pilgrims would be airlifted soon.