Sambo also expressed confidence in the leadership abilities of this year’s Amirul Hajj (or head of official delegation) who is also the Shehu of Borno, and admonished all concerned to ensure female pilgrims were accompanied by their Mahrams (male guardians) so as to forestall the embarrassing episode that led to the deportation many female pilgrims back to Nigeria last year.
In his speech, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar, called on Nigeria pilgrims to shun vices, adhere to the rules of Saudi hajj authorities and be good ambassadors of Nigeria. Governor Kashim Shettima, who was also at the occasion, praised the federal government for choosing Maiduguri airport for the inaugural flight which according to him reflects the historical position of Borno. The first pilgrimage from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia, according to him, was organized from Borno 955 years ago, in 1058AD. Governor Ibrahim Gaidam of Yobe State who also spoke at the occasion called on the pilgrims to consider their journey as a rare privilege, urging them to devote themselves to prayers for an end to the Boko Haram menace.
Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Alhaji Mohammed Bello said 152 flights would convey 76,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, half of that number will proceed to Medina instead of Jeddah.
Officials of NAHCON and state Muslim pilgrims’ welfare organisations need to ensure that the aged, the infirm, the under-aged, and pregnant women are taken out and stopped from embarking on the exercise. These categories of intending pilgrims require special care and attention, and are more susceptible to contagious diseases, a strong reason they should be exempted from undertaking this religious obligation. Pilgrims board officials should educate pilgrims to adhere to basic hygiene while in the holy land. This is to prevent any epidemic of diseases such as cholera as experienced in the 2011 hajj exercise.
Since welfare is part of the statutory duties of pilgrims boards, their officials should provide the necessary guidance to pilgrims in all aspects of the hajj exercise, including orientation on the proper use of elevators and escalators in high rise building and towers that they may not be familiar with, the use of pedestrian crossings on the usually busy roads and the use of umbrella or other forms of screen to shield against the intense rays of the sun.
Having had the unpleasant experience in the handling of the Mahram policy of Saudi Arabian authorities during the 2012 hajj exercise, caution must be taken to ensure that every female pilgrim arrives and departs the holy land in company of one. It is important that both the Mahram and the female pilgrim put in his care are properly educated about where their roles begin and end.
Airlines involved in the airlift of pilgrims should work towards completing their assigned flight slots on schedule, to save the Nigerian government from seeking extension of period from the Saudi government. To ensure compliance by airlines with the operational terms agreed upon, the government should not hesitate to punish defaulting airline that breach any aspect of the contract. Pilgrims should not be taken to the airport, whether in Nigeria or in the holy land, until it is confirmed that there is an aircraft on ground to convey them. Delays have led in the past to protests, sometimes violent ones, by pilgrims. It is equally that pilgrims conduct themselves decently in all circumstances, and avoid street protests when there are hajj officials to put their grievances to.