There are palpable fear and despondency among pilgrims from Oyo State following the uncertainty about their return to Nigeria.
About two weeks after the end of Hajj exercise in Saudi Arabia, over 1,000 pilgrims from Oyo State are yet to know the date of their departure.
Information gathered from the camp of the pilgrims revealed that plans to take them back to the country have run into a hitch.
According to the Chairman of the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board Professor Sayed Malik, efforts of his Board officials to ensure the timely return of the pilgrims were obstructed by logistic problems.
“We planned to take our pilgrims back to Nigeria immediately after their return to Makkah from Mina. But NAHCON and the airline contracted to convey us, Aero Contractors were not responding to our demands for prompt airlift. Later we were told by NAHCON that the airline was denied landing permit in Jeddah”, Professor Malik explained.
According to the Chairman of the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board, the issue was later resolved and the airline ferried the first batch of Nasarawa pilgrims back to Nigeria. And it was scheduled that Oyo state pilgrims would be transported back to Nigeria in batches as from July 10.
But things took a dramatic turn as the airline officials refused to airlift the pilgrims as earlier agreed.
“We were surprised that there was no communication from the airline and NAHCON officials on July 10 about our departure and our pilgrims waited in vain at their hotels for the officials who didn’t show up. We later learned that the Aero Contractors aircraft which transported the first batch of Nasarawa pilgrims to Nigeria didn’t come back for other pilgrims in Saudi but remained grounded at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja because the airline failed to secure permit to land in Jeddah from Saudi aviation authorities”, Professor Malik disclosed.
It was gathered that Aero Contractors was imposed on Oyo, Nasarawa, Adamawa and Taraba states by NAHCON as against the usual practice whereby the State Boards were at liberty to choose their preferred airlines out of the approved ones.
A former Secretary of Oyo State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board who once served in the Aviation Committee of NAHCON, Alhaji Sakariyau Kunle Sanni expressed reservations at the turn of events. He advised that states should be allowed to have a say in the selection of airlines to airlift their pilgrims.
As at the time of gathering this report, pilgrims from Oyo State and their counterparts from Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa states are left stranded in Makkah as NAHCON seems to have abandoned them to their fate.
The pilgrims from the four affected states have no clue about when they will depart the holy lands, more than ten days after completing Hajj exercise.
Many of the affected pilgrims blamed their travails on the inefficiency of the body empowered to coordinate hajj operations in Nigeria, NAHCON.
A former Chairman of the Ibadan North East Local Government Honourable Lekan Afuye attributed the present situation to bureaucratic bottlenecks and poor performance by NAHCON.
Honourable Afuye appealed to President Bola Tinubu to dissolve NAHCON Board and reconstitute a fresh one for subjecting Nigerian pilgrims to needless sufferings.
Another affected pilgrim who is an Ibadan based broadcaster, Alhaji Oriyomi Hamzat stated that NAHCON has taken more responsibilities than it could shoulder.
“We are in this unfortunate situation because NAHCON was overwhelmed by the enormous responsibilities it was saddled with. Something has to be done, we cannot continue to suffer unnecessarily”, Alhaji Hamzat stated.
Meanwhile, the Amir Hajj who is also the State Deputy Governor Alhaji Bayo Lawal has directed the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare to take appropriate steps on the matter and come up with a workable solution which the state government would cue into.
In the meantime, officials of the State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board are working with their counterparts from other affected states – Nasarawa, Adamawa and Taraba to secure the services of alternative airlines to convey their penniless pilgrims back to Nigeria.
Among the pilgrims still awaiting airlift in Saudi Arabia is a one time Chairman of Oyo State Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Board Professor Kamil Koyejo Oloso.