By Uche Amunike
A mild drama played out, Wednesday morning, at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, when the Executive Secretary of the Niger State Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Umar Makun Lapai, stopped the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Chairman from boarding the Saudi Arabia bound plane that was to take pilgrims to Hajj.
According to Lapai who confirmed this in a telephone interview with newsmen in the Niger State Capital, Minna, it was not proper for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Chairman to leave for Hajj, while 50% of intending pilgrims from Niger state and other states in the country were still stranded.
Hear him: ‘ As a leader, the Chairman National Hajj Commission of Nigeria NAHCON, Alh Zikrullah Hassan, is not supposed to travel for hajj when a reasonable number of pilgrims from across Nigeria are still not sure of if they will be airlifted to Saudi Arabia for this year’s hajj.’
He went on to say that leaders were duty bound to remain on ground until they had successfully ensured that every intending pilgrim had left for Hajj. He called out to leaders at all levels to apply justice and fairness in their dealings with their subordinates because they will render accounts for their stewardship before Allah on the day of judgment.
The spokesperson for Niger Pilgrims Welfare Board, Hajiya Hassan Isah, who confirmed the development, admitted that her boss was only making sure that the leadership of the Hajj mission did the right thing.
Her words: ‘It is true that our boss confronted the NAHCON chairman. The message was very simple. We, the hajj managers, are here for the pilgrims, and if there is no pilgrim, I am sure we would not be here.’
In the meantime, the Assistant Director, Public Affairs, NAHCON, Fatima Sanda Usara, was contacted and she issued a statement, notifying intending pilgrims in Nigeria as well as other stakeholders in the hajj and Umrah industry, that the chairman had to proceed to Saudi Arabia in order to make further arrangements in the interest of Nigerian pilgrims.
Her statement partly read: ‘This is to bring to the notice of Nigerian intending pilgrims to the 2022 hajj and other stakeholders that NAHCON chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, had to proceed to Saudi Arabia to enable him make further arrangement in the interest of Nigerian pilgrims.’
Pilgrims and even some officials from state pilgrim boards have pointed accusing fingers to NAHCON, saying that they were incompetent and guilty of cutting corners while processing visas which has resultantly caused a lot of visa cancellations and the inability of assigned carriers to efficiently airlift pilgrims.
On their part, officials of State Muslim Pilgrims Boards have also accused some members of staff of NAHCON of allegedly selling visa slots of some intending pilgrims. They have expressed their anger over this act of replacing their slots with others especially from tour operators.
As at Tuesday afternoon, the announcement made by NAHCON was that 29,128 pilgrims were already successfully airlifted to Saudi Arabia for Hajj, while 8,620 visas from private tour operators had been processed.