As apprehension continues to grow across the country over the decision of Saudi Arabia authorities to deny a large number of Nigerian female pilgrims to this year hajj entrance into the Kingdom over the issue of male companions, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has insisted that Nigeria did not contravene any extant rule of the Kingdom.
NAHCON also denied reports that the female pilgrims were deported by the Saudi authority, rather, he said it was a deliberate decision by the Nigerian government to return the affected female pilgrims home to address what was perceived as anomalies.
The federal government had set up a presidential delegation headed by the Speaker of House of Representatives; Aminu Tambuwal to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to sort out what is fast becoming a serious diplomatic row between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Addressing a press briefing in Abuja yesterday, the Chairman of NAHCON, Mallam Mohammed Musa Bello reiterated that the issue of a male companion for female pilgrims to the Kingdom is a fundamental aspect of the hajj exercise which Nigeria cannot afford to violate.
He said that the federal government delegation to the Kingdom was also not denied visa to the Kingdom noting that the issue of the departure of the delegation has to do with the disparity in timing between the two countries.
This was as he said that the suspended airlifting operation of the pilgrims would resume as soon as all the challenges that led to the problem are addressed adding that eighth states with 32 flight schedules are on standby to commence operation when the challenges are sorted out.
He gave assurance that all the pilgrims would be airlifted before the October 20 closing date of the King Abdulazeez international airport Jeddah and Madinah airport noting that the approved air carriers for the operation, Max Airline, Mediview, Meridiene and Kabo air lines are all set to commence airlifting.
His words: “hajj predates Nigeria; it predates Saudi as a country. The issue of Muaharram is a fundamental aspect of hajj and we couldn’t have violated it. If there was any change of rule, we were not communicated. We didn’t break any Saudi law, all hajj officials at all level have always been preaching to the pilgrims to obey the law of the land.”
Maharam is a fundamental issue in hajj exercise. There appears to be a change of position of Saudi government on who constitutes Muaharram. It is always understood that the constitutionally established bodies like us can stand as Muaharram. We are going to sort out all the technical issues so that they can go back”.
While maintaining that the affected pilgrims were not deported as claimed, Mallam Bello said that all their travelling documents were intact and would make sure all of them return as soon as the issue is sorted out.
Speaking on behalf of the airline operators, Nura Harazim of Meridien airline also reiterated that the pilgrims were not deported but lamented that the Saudi authority did not carry them along on the change of law on the issue of Muaharram.