*Over 1,000 awaiting airlift, blames NAHCON
By; BAYO AKAMO, Ibadan
Pilgrims from Oyo State to this year’s Hajj are now in fears in Saudi Arabia over the uncertainty about their return from the holy land to Nigeria.
New Nigerian learnt that with almost 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 as plans to take them back to Nigeria have failed
Chairman of Oyo State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Professor Sayed Malik today, said efforts by 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”, he said.
Prof Malik added, ” 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”.
Prof Malik stressed, “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”.
It was gathered that Aero Contractors was allegedly 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.
As at the time of sending this report, pilgrims from Oyo State and their counterparts from Nasarawa, Taraba and Adamawa states are still left stranded in Makkah as NAHCON seems to have abandoned them to their fate.
The pilgrims from the four affected states according to sources have no clue about when they will depart the holy lands, more than ten days after completing Hajj exercise with many of the affected pilgrims blaming their travails on the inefficiency of the body empowered to coordinate hajj operations in Nigeria.
One of the affected pilgrim, an Ibadan based broadcaster, Alhaji Oriyomi Hamzat noted that NAHCON has taken more responsibilities than it could shoulder, saying, “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”.
As at present, sources said officials of the Oyo 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.