Hajj 2023: Fear grips Oyo pilgrims over return plan.

Hajj 2023: Fear grips Oyo pilgrims over return plan.

Pilgrims from Oyo State are currently experiencing palpable fear and despondency due to uncertainties surrounding their return to Nigeria after completing the Hajj in Saudi Arabia.

More than two weeks have passed since the conclusion of the Hajj exercise, yet over 1,000 pilgrims from Oyo State remain unaware of their departure date.

Reports from the pilgrims’ camp indicate that the plans to repatriate them have encountered obstacles.

According to Professor Sayed Malik, the Chairman of the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board, logistical problems have hindered their efforts to ensure the timely return of the pilgrims.

“We had initially planned to bring our pilgrims back to Nigeria immediately after their return to Makkah from Mina. However, NAHCON (National Hajj Commission of Nigeria) and the contracted airline, Aero Contractors, failed to respond promptly to our requests for airlift. Subsequently, we were informed by NAHCON that the airline was denied a landing permit in Jeddah,” Professor Malik explained.

Although the issue was later resolved, and the airline successfully transported the first group of Nasarawa pilgrims back to Nigeria, the situation took an unexpected turn for the Oyo State pilgrims.

“Surprisingly, there was no communication from the airline or NAHCON officials on July 10 regarding our departure. Our pilgrims waited in vain at their hotels for officials who never showed up. We later discovered that the Aero Contractors aircraft, which transported the first batch of Nasarawa pilgrims, remained grounded at Nnamdi Azikiwe Airport in Abuja. The airline failed to secure a landing permit in Jeddah from the Saudi aviation authorities,” Professor Malik disclosed.

It was revealed that Aero Contractors was imposed on Oyo, Nasarawa, Adamawa, and Taraba states by NAHCON, contrary to the usual practice of allowing State Boards to choose their preferred airlines from the approved list.

Alhaji Sakariyau Kunle Sanni, a former Secretary of Oyo State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board and a former member of the Aviation Committee of NAHCON, expressed concerns about the turn of events. He suggested that states should have the freedom to select airlines for airlifting their pilgrims.

At present, pilgrims from Oyo State, as well as those from Nasarawa, Taraba, and Adamawa states, find themselves stranded in Makkah, with no information on their departure, more than ten days after completing the Hajj.

Many affected pilgrims attribute their predicament to the inefficiency of NAHCON, the organization responsible for coordinating Hajj operations in Nigeria.

Honourable Lekan Afuye, a former Chairman of Ibadan North East Local Government, attributed the present situation to bureaucratic obstacles and poor performance by NAHCON.

He called upon President Bola Tinubu to dissolve the NAHCON Board and establish a new one to alleviate the needless suffering of Nigerian pilgrims.

Alhaji Oriyomi Hamzat, a broadcaster based in Ibadan and another affected pilgrim, stated that NAHCON had taken on more responsibilities than it could handle.

“We find ourselves in this unfortunate situation because NAHCON was overwhelmed by the enormous responsibilities placed upon it. Something needs to be done; we cannot continue to endure unnecessary suffering,” Alhaji Hamzat emphasized.

In the meantime, Alhaji Bayo Lawal, the State Deputy Governor and Amir Hajj, has directed the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board to take appropriate action and find a viable solution that the state government can support.

Efforts are underway as officials from the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board collaborate with their counterparts from Nasarawa, Adamawa, and Taraba to secure alternative airlines to repatriate their stranded pilgrims back to Nigeria.

Among those still awaiting airlift in Saudi Arabia is Professor Kamil Koyejo Oloso, a former Chairman of Oyo State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board.

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