By Rasheed Abubakar, Makkah
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has demanded refund from the Saudi Arabian government over poor feeding of Nigerian pilgrims at the just concluded Hajj 2023.
The commission also made a case for the return of feeding arrangement to home countries in order to serve pilgrims better.
These were the highlights of the meeting between NAHCON and the Company of Mutawifs for Pilgrims from African Non-Arab Countries, otherwise known as Muassasa, in Makkah, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, on Sunday, July 2.
The meeting had in attendance NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, who led commissioners and other management staff of the commission; and on the other side representatives of the Muassasa – the host country.
In his remarks at the meeting, the NAHCON Chairman lamented the poor feeding arrangement faced by Nigerian pilgrims, including the tent glitch that left many pilgrims stranded under the sun at Muna.
He said the feedback the commission got from the Nigerian contingents showed they were in pain, but they did not know NAHCON was helpless.
“The issue of the tent caused inconveniences for our pilgrims. Our belief is that using the same tent as last year which was for about 48,000 pilgrims cannot be adequate for pilgrims of this year running into 95,000. Last year’s hajj was nearly managed. So, as we were going to Muna, we already sensed that there would be challenges, with or without illegal invasions.
“It’s been a long time since we had hajj in this kind of harsh weather. Majority of our pilgrims found themselves under the sun for days; nowhere to go. Many of them don’t know the best we can do as an Hajj mission is to complain. We had no power or control over the tents. We were just as helpless as they were. It’s really not a good one for the pilgrims. Many of them have saved for years to come. Some of them will have it as their only experience.
“The second one is the issue of catering. As for catering also, the best we could do was to complain. Our only contribution as far as catering is concerned is just the money. We have no other contributions. We don’t know the caterers. You can give me food worth 100 riyals, but if it’s not the food I’m used to, then you have just wasted the money. The way a Nigerian will cook rice is different from the way other nationals will cook rice. So, no matter how much you try, the rice is not something he will like eating.
“Many foods were left untouched. Some of the food came very late. That is why some of the invaders had their way because they were selling food. And the food is what our pilgrims are used to from their home country, so they found them more attractive. This allowed the invasion to fester and it turned the whole thing into a horrible situation.”
Invasion by illegal pilgrims
Alhaji Hassan described the invasions by illegal pilgrims at Muna as embarrassing, urging the Saudi Arabian authorities to checkmate the trend because NAHCON had no control over the situation.
“I don’t know the percentage, but we saw people who had no business being there. So, a few days later in Muna, those people turned the whole place into a market, a bazaar and a carnival. At that time, the whole essence of hajj was almost lost,” he said.
“We are not in a position to checkmate them. We do not have security control. So, there is no way we could check the invasions. The appropriate authorities to check them are our host, not us.”
State pilgrim boards, AHOUN back NAHCON
Speaking on behalf of the 36 States including the Federal Capital Territory, FCT, Abuja, the Executive Secretary of Adamawa Pilgrims’ Welfare Board Abubakar Salihu agreed with the request of the NAHCON Chairman, saying that returning feeding arrangement back to Nigeria will put an end to pilgrims’ plight.
Salihu pointed out that there were instances where pilgrims were not fed lunch during their stay in Muna and Arafat, adding that all the states were unanimous on returning the feeding of pilgrims to the Commission.
Also speaking, the spokesman for the Pilgrims Tour Operators, Yahaya Sulaiman on behalf of the tour operators said their integrity is at stake because as business operators, they are supposed to give good services to their customers, but it turned out to be bad.
Reacting to the observations raised by the NAHCON Chairman, the Vice President of Mu’assasa, Bader Ali Bafakeek said the company would review all the issues raised and come up with a response later.
While noting that NAHCON is a customer, he added that all the concerns are important to them and will be investigated.
“We have noted all your comments. It will be on the top of our agenda. You mentioned concerns on feeding, that many of our Nigerian brothers did not have a touch of Nigerian food. Another one is about the tent and spaces. The issue is that the spaces given to us at Mina are limited. You mentioned the issue of water in the toilet too. We will sit again to discuss all of these concerns after going through our reports.
“Basically, these concerns are important to us. We can’t give you a response on them right now. If I give you an answer now, it may not be accurate. I have to go back to do my investigations too to have the evidence. Then, we will come back to discuss all of these in detail. We need to understand the issues. We can then decide together to have a win-win situation, he added.
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