Nigeria – Saudi Arabia has extended the deadline by two days for Nigerian pilgrims to arrive for Hajj. Almost 16 000 Nigerian pilgrims have yet to leave the country for the Holy Lands.
Around 27 000 have made it to Makkah to embark on the pilgrimage. The two main challenges plaguing Nigerian pilgrims are the availability of the Polymerase Chain Reaction tests (PCR) and Visas not being issued on time.
Other issues include flight cancellations and delayed flights as well as the inability of some states to acquire the Business Travel Allowance (BTA). This has hampered pilgrims from leaving on time, said Imam Nma Shuaib, Nigerian based journalist at Daily Trust Abuja.
The feasibility of flying the remaining Nigerian pilgrims for Hajj
The five days of Hajj have already began. According to Imam Shuaib, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) is in talks with airlines to transport the rest of the pilgrims. However, it seems very unlikely that all 16 000 will be able to attend Hajj. Those who are lucky enough to go might find themselves arriving extremely late.
“The reality of the situation is that it will be difficult for these 16 000 to be flown from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia. Amongst them there are people who are yet to secure their visa. It doesn’t sound possible to fly all of them to Saudi Arabia. In fact, some of the pilgrims from some states have been informed they might not make it this year. They will have to wait for next year.”
Imam Shuaib has spoken to some pilgrims from Bauchi, Niger, Kogi and some parts of Abuja state. They have informed him that they have been told they will have to wait for next year to go for Hajj.
Pilgrims being left behind is nothing new
It’s natural for agencies to have some problems after such a long time of people not being able to go for Hajj. The new health measures put a twist on things, but Imam Shuaib stressed that this was not something new. Pilgrims have been left behind before and it is something that always happens.
“Every year during Hajj season at least 400 people are left in the Hajj camps. This is where they stay before they are flown for Hajj. It is unfortunate that the authorities are yet to come up with coherent mechanisms to ensure these problems are solved. This is a problem that occurs every year.”
NAHCON needs to do better
The NAHCON are supposed to evaluate the Hajj process every year to work on errors and build on processes that work. So far, there have been no improvements to the system which has baffled Imam Shuaib.
“There should have been measures put in place to ensure these problems are solved. Preparations should start early. PCR tests should start early. The process of the Visas should start early to ensure that you have the number of pilgrims allocated to you. To ensure that you strategize, and each person gets their Visa. Before they are mobilised to Hajj camp, you know that everything has been arranged. No pilgrim should stay in the Hajj camp for over 24 hours.”
The main focus for NAHCON is to get as many pilgrims as possible to Saudi Arabia within the allocated time. The extension will help to get a few more to the Holy Lands but majority of the 16 000 will have to wait for next year to perform their Hajj.