Saudi deports unaccompanied Nigerian women
The Saudi Arabian officials insist that the rule stating that women pilgrims have to have a male guardian accompanying them for the annual exercise. But Nigerian officials say this is the first time since the commencement of Hajj operations in Nigeria that female pilgrims are being denied entry into Saudi Arabia on the charges that they did not go along with their male relatives.
Moves to resolve the diplomatic spat over the detention and subsequent deportation of some intending female pilgrims from Nigeria by Saudi Arabia "for not travelling with their male guardians" hit a brick wall yesterday, with the deportation of all detained pilgrims.
Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia Abubakar Shehu Bunu told a BBC Hausa programme last night that all the detained pilgrims, 1376 of them, have been deported. While noting that there was no written communication from Saudi Arabian government raising any issues with their Nigerian counterpart, Bunu said "I hope the issues will be resolved and the affected pilgrims re-issued another visas so that they can go back. If they do this, there is still time to complete the airlift in good time."
Earlier, Weekly Trust learnt that members of the committee set up under the leadership of Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Waziri Tambuwal to interface with Saudi Arabian authorities over deportation of female Nigerian pilgrims were yet to receive clearance from Saudi Arabia for them to visit the country as at last night.
Tambuwal and his team were billed to leave for Saudi yesterday evening but the source said, while all preparations have been concluded for their take off, the Saudis were yet to give them the clearance to enter the country.
"The Speaker is to meet with the highest level of authority in Saudi Arabia and they need to make adequate arrangement for their appointments there," the source said.
On Thursday Saudi Arabian ambassador to Nigeria Mr. Khalid Abdrabuh, told newsmen that the impasse would be resolved in 24hours, but it is not resolved.
The Saudi envoy disclosed this when he met with Speaker of the House of Representatives Aminu Waziri Tambuwal at the National Assembly complex after which Tambuwal was billed to leave for Saudi last night to meet with the authorities there.
Saudi Hajj Ministry spokesman Hatim Kadi told Reuters yesterday that "The Nigerian pilgrims came with their visas stating that they have to have a male guardian accompanying them, either a brother, a husband, or another relative.
"Some came with their guardians and were allowed to enter. Those who came without their guardians were not. They violated the regulations which were clearly printed on their passports."
But also speaking on the BBC programme, the NAHCON commissioner in charge of operations Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar said the airlift which started on the 19th of this month was going on smoothly. "It started with the 16th flight from Sokoto which had 323 male passengers and 198 females. Before then we have recorded 15 flights to Jeddah and 10 flights to Medina.
"We are not responsible for issuing visas to our pilgrims. The Saudi Arabian embassy in Nigeria did all that and they didn't raise any alarm. There was also no written communication to us to say that something was wrong. We just woke up to the sad development."
He said all those below the ages of 40 had their male companions. He also said that the commission will meet to decide the next line of action. Weekly Trust reports that a press conference was scheduled by the NAHCON officials but was called off allegedly on the orders of the presidency.
But the man who accompanied his deported wife back home Musa Sayyadi said there was mix up in the issue of assigning a mahram for his wife. He said the name of his wife's father was used as that of her male companion even though he would not be performing Hajj this year.
Many intending female pilgrims from Nigeria are still unsure of their participation in this year's Hajj exercise.
As at the time of filing this report last night, Tambuwal was still meeting with officials of the Nigerian Hajj commission and members of the committee set up by President Goodluck Jonathan in his office.
Sources in the National Assembly told Weekly Trust that, the scheduled journey of the Speaker and his team to Saudi Arabia "has been cancelled" but did not give further explanation as to the reason.
Investigation indicates that the postponement of the Saudi trip was at the instance of officials of the Nigerian Foreign Affairs Ministry who were met with their counter parts from Saudi's ministry for Hajj.
Those present at yesterday's meeting include Rep. Nnenna Elendu-Ukeje, chairman House committee on Foreign Affairs, Rep Bashir Adamu chairman House committee on Defence, Emir of Zuru retired General Sani Sami, Professor Shehu Galadanchi, Chairman National Hajj Commission Mohammed Bello and Permanent Secretary Ministry of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Martin Uhomoibhi.
A statement issued by Special Adviser to the Speaker Malam Imam Imam said the committee insisted that "whatever further action the Saudi government wishes to take must respect the dignity of the female pilgrims as enshrined in international conventions which the two countries are signatories to."
"The committee will undertake a trip to Saudi Arabia as soon as they receive the go ahead from the Saudi authorities with a view to resolving the issue once and for all," the statement read partly.
It is not fair - Pilgrims
The 205 Jigawa pilgrims detained in Saudi Arabia for travelling to the holyland without their relatives have returned home yesterday.
This was disclosed to Weekly Trust by the Executive Secretary Jigawa State Pilgrim Welfare Board, Alhaji Sani Alhassan Muhammad.
He said the female pilgrims have returned to the hajj camp awaiting further instruction.
"We thank Allah that they are in good health. We have taken them back to the hajj camp for them to wait for further instruction on this logjam. We are going to hold a meeting with the Zonal Coordinator of National Hajj Commission today. He will brief us on the outcome of the Abuja meetings. We pray that the matter be resolved soon."
Malama Maryam Garba, who is an intending pilgrim yet to depart for the holy is worried that she might missed the hajj this year." My son laboured hard to pay for my hajj. He has always told me that insha Allah he will make sure I perform hajj in my lifetime. My joy new no bound when he told me that he has paid for me. Now my joy has turned to apprehension. This is the first time that they will ban women from hajj. Please let them reason with us. My son doesn't have the money to pay for me and him to travel because it is expensive."
Another intending female pilgrim, Malama Zainab Abdullahi said "they should have told us before now. What kind of embarrassment is this? At least they should allow us to perform hajj this year and implement the policy from next year. This is unfortunate."
Other intending pilgrims who spoke said they have committed the problem to prayers adding that there is nothing prayer cannot solve. They said Allah has already called them and Saudi authorities cannot be a stumbling block.
Also, 462 females who intended to perform this year's hajj from Sokoto zone where yesterday deported back to Sokoto. On Thursday, 102 were returned bringing the total number of those so far brought back to the state to 564.
It will be recalled that 17,846 intending pilgrims were originally scheduled to perform this year's hajj from the zone out of which 7,171pilgrims had been airlifted from the zone before the prevailing problems being encountered by the females.
Some of the deported pilgrims said they were kept in a very terrible condition. Those affected were mainly from Jigawa, Kano, Zamfara, Katsina, Sokoto. They said they were forced to sleep on the floor inside airport "There were no comfortable chairs, they are all steel chairs and the air conditioning is central. We were always shivering at night because of the cold, I am afraid we may end up contracting pneumonia. Some people have since experienced asthma attacks," one of the pilgrims told Weekly Trust.
Meanwhile, many Nigerians are accusing the officials of not handling the matter appropriately. They said the problems might have arisen due to the Nigerian way of doing this in shoddy manner.
What do you think? Should the women have been dported? Should the be re-issued visas? Has Nigeria dealt with the situation correctly?