How ready is the Saudi Arabian government for the hajj this year in view of the renovation going on around Haram and some other areas?
The Saudi government will take initiatives and procedures to receive pilgrims. The government has prepared itself for the hajj season this year by taking all means to facilitate it and also facilitate the procedure to receive pilgrims from all over the world by coordinating all the government agencies that are related to the hajj like customs, immigration, police and the ministry of the capital city in Makkah and of course the governor who is already on top of the issue on hourly and daily basis. His Royal Highness Prince Khalid Faizol, the governor of Jeddah who is taking care of all of these, took up to facilitate entry and receiving of pilgrims to make sure that all arrangements made are ready for the pilgrimage in the new structure taken by the government which led to reduction in the number of pilgrims by 20 percent because of the renovation going on in Makkah. Besides that, in spite of the project, the government limited itself not to receive any official visitor from abroad.
Were you able to achieve the desired success during the Umrah with the measures put in place as a result of the ongoing renovation at the holy mosques?
Alhamdulillah, this year’s Umrah was successful and peaceful without any problem and all those who performed Umrah this year that I spoke to in Nigeria commended the work saying they never saw an Umrah season like this years’ because it was facilitated smoothly without any trouble and congestion. Even inside the Haram, Alhamdulillah, after the first stage of the project within tatawaf, they found a lot of facilities that smoothened their performance.
Will Nigerian pilgrims be privileged to use train this year like their counterparts from other parts of the world?
The facilities for hajj provided by Saudi like trains is open to all pilgrims irrespective of their nationality. Trains will be available to all pilgrims for free. Transport from Makkah to Munnah and from Munnah to Arafah and vice versa then back to Makkah will all be free. No charge for transportation as it is agreed by the Custodian of the two holy mosques. The point that Nigerians do not have access to train is not true. For instance, let us say we have one million five hundred pilgrims, there is no way one can decide that this person is a Nigerian or not when it comes to accessing facilities. It is not true train is free for pilgrims because when they pay to agents as I believe, the charges include fees for all transportations from airport to airport. For example, hajj agents in Nigeria have their counterparts in Saudi Arabia who are dealing with them to receive the people from the airport to buses that take them to Madinah and from there to Makkah. But once they are in Makkah, all their transportation is free.
What is the situation going to be like in terms of Maharram which led to deportation of Nigerian female pilgrims last year?
This Maharram issue is an Islamic rule, not an instruction of the Saudi government or created by us. It is an Islamic law. Female pilgrims who are under 45 years of age and are willing to perform hajj will have to have a Maharram who could be husband, father, uncle, brother or cousin. The woman has to be with one of these people to prevent or assist her from any form of trouble. But those women who are over 45 years of age who are going in groups can go without individual Maharram because they are already mature, married and have children who know what to do. But we are referring to those young women who are between the ages of 18 and 45 years. Last year they sent a full plane back to Nigeria filled with young women who were between 18 and 25 years without their Maharram. We sent them back to prevent them from being abused or something. So, Maharram should be there for those women who are under 45 years as prescribed by the Islamic law not created by Saudi regulations. Those who are over 45 years can perform hajj within a group. I had a meeting with the Nigerian hajj commission and representatives of agents where I reminded them all these which I believe they are already aware of. The hajj commission is supposed to know the law and Shariah of Islam and would have prevented young women from going to hajj without Maharram.
There was a report that most Saudi hotels are vacant as a result of the slash in hajj slots this year, won’t this affect the economy of the country or the business people?
No, Saudi Arabia does not take Hajj and Umrah seasons as an opportunity to support the economy. What Saudi Arabia spends on Hajj and Umrah is triple what it gains from it. For example, now the project in Makkah alone in the Haram cost the government $27billion, do you think Saudi Arabia gains this much from pilgrimages? No. Saudi Arabia spends more than 25 percent of its income to moderate Makkah and Madinah and to expand the Haram. Maybe some business men who are benefitting from this like those who run hotels, apartments and cars for transportation may be affected but not the Saudi Arabia government.
It is said that Saudi Arabia is supporting oppositions in Syria and Egypt, how true is this is true, and why?
Since the Syria crisis started, the Custodian of the two holy mosques requested from the authorities in Syria to put a stop to the bloodshed. This later culminated into instructing the ambassador of Saudi Arabia to Syria to return home. Saudi Arabia resolved to take such a firm stance with regard to that issue, after carrying out series of both publicly announced and unannounced communications between Riyadh and Damascus. The authorities in Saudi Arabia were not convinced with the unjustifiable claims made by the Syrian authorities on the atrocities committed on Syrian soil. It is important to note that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia’s firm stance against the Syrian authorities neither occurred in isolation or singlehandedly. Rather, such stance emerged after the resolution of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) coupled with the demand from the Arab League to put a stop to the suppression of the Syrian people. Furthermore, the Syrian authorities had deliberately refused to heed all advice and attempts made by the Arab world despite all the numerous initiatives, thereby resolving not to cooperate with them, but rather decided to continue with its mischief and brutal killing of innocent citizens and children in Syria. This was the basic reason which led the entire countries of the world to support the Syrian opposition in order to protect the constitutional rights of the Syrian people.
But in Egypt it is a completely different issue because Egypt is like a spinal of the Arab world and if the spinal is broken, that means the Arab world will be affected. Mostly it is very important to us as Saudi Arabia. The government and the Custodian of the two holy mosques will not allow Egypt to collapse at all. Egypt is very important to Saudi Arabia. From this point we know and realize foreign conspiracy against Egypt and this is why Saudi Arabia and the custodian of the two holy mosques took action and gave that strong speech on the issue.The Custodian of the two Holy Mosques King Abdullah bin Abdul-Aziz of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia issued a statement on the ongoing events in the Republic of Egypt, saying, “we have been observing with deep sorrow the ongoing events in our second home country Egypt, which makes the enemies of peace and stability happy, as it pains those who love Egypt and its unity and stability. Egypt is exposed today to the conspiracies and plots of those who are hateful to it and work against its unity and stability. This conspiracies and plots will fail Insha Allah.”
What is the Saudi government doing to ensure peace in the entire Middle East and the Muslim world?
Nigeria and Saudi Arabia as two great countries in their regions have an important stake and responsibility with regard to the restoration of peace and stability in the world in its entirety. We are currently witnessing significant geo-political developments which will have direct impact on the peace and stability of those regions. All the aforementioned need to be addressed through sustained efforts which Saudi Arabia is already playing by keeping the price of oil at a stable and affordable level and guiding against increase to indirectly support its brother and sister countries’ interest and I am sure also that Nigeria is also doing a lot in peace keeping because Nigeria is considered as one of the largest contributors to peace keeping missions all over the world and this role it plays very well. Even though Nigeria is considered a third world country, Nigeria still plays a big role to keep stability and peace in the world.
Nigeria is known for its agricultural potentials, what products can Nigerians export to Saudi Arabia?
Of course I know Nigeria has very wonderful soil, rain, ground water, rivers and other potentials to be used to grow vegetables. Saudi Arabia is a desert country and we need agricultural products but before that we need to also find out the Nigerian business people who can meet with their counterparts in Saudi Arabia to find new memoranda of understanding or how to find a way to export agricultural products from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia. Of course we welcome that.