As the first group of Nigerian pilgrims for this year’s pilgrimage left the country’s shores for Saudi Arabia, they were urged to pray at the holy site for peace and progress in the country.
Even though they were told not only to obey the rules of Saudi Arabia, but also to adhere to the teachings of Islam and to be courteous to other pilgrims in their capacity as Nigerian ambassadors.
These were contained in a speech by Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Nigerian National Hajj Council (NAHCON), Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, on board the inaugural flight of this year’s Hajj at Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport in Abuja.
“I charge our pilgrims, those present here and those who follow, to pray for peace and progress in our beloved country, Nigeria.
“All Nigerian pilgrims going to Hajj 2023 are Nigerian ambassadors to Nigeria and as such, they should obey the rules of the kingdom, uphold the teachings of Islam, be courteous to other pilgrims and most importantly, be very familiar with the obligations of Hajj, That’s the main purpose of their trip,” Hassan said.
Hassan said the inaugural flight marked a memorable day as all the planning for the smooth departure of Hajj in 2023 paid off, but NAHCON faced many challenges ahead of its operations this year.
He added that despite these issues, the committee was able to manage them with the support of sister agencies and other stakeholders in the hajj industry.
He expressed his gratitude to the federal government for waiving substantial air charges and the sacrifices of the airlines, the state Pilgrim Welfare Boards and all the pilgrims who collaborated to reach an amicable solution to what appeared to be a bottleneck.
According to the NAHCON boss, “Despite the unprecedented challenges caused by the closure of Sudan’s airspace, thus forcing a diversion from Nigeria to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, we are grateful to the Almighty for leading us through the difficult situation.
“We thank the federal government for waiving substantial air charges, the airlines for their sacrifices, the states’ Pilgrim Welfare Boards and our Pilgrims who have all worked together to reach an amicable solution to what appears to be a bottleneck.”
Hassan declared that now was the time to carry out the plan, promising that this year’s Hajj would not be about stories, but success stories.
He said the committee had made arrangements to ensure accommodation, food and transport for pilgrims to the Holy Land.
“Arrangements have been made and finalized to ensure the accommodation, catering and transport facilities on the ground are the best possible.
“We were able to negotiate a fair price for hotel accommodation in Mecca, knowing very well that many hotels had been demolished for future development.
“Additionally, we have been able to maintain the standards of the Medina and our pilgrims can stay in five-star hotels near the famous Markaziyya around the Prophet’s Mosque.”
The Chairman informed that through an arrangement with Mutawwif’s Company for Pilgrims of Non-Arab African Countries (commonly known as Muassasa), NAHCON has created employment opportunities for Nigerian caterers during this year’s Hajj.
In his words, “The committee has worked with the Mutawwif Non-Arab African Countries Pilgrims Company (commonly known as Muassasa) to set up mechanisms to guarantee the comfort and safety of our pilgrims. We have agreed that indigenous cuisine will be served to our pilgrims this year.
“To this end, the committee has insisted that Saudi caterers work with them to prepare local Nigerian delicacies for our pilgrims, thereby creating jobs for our Nigerian caterers.
“Hiring local airlines for airfreight operations is the Commission’s way of facilitating the continued operation of local airlines.”
However, he urged state pilgrim welfare boards to prepare pilgrims for their flights in advance, warning that operational errors could have multiplier effects on other aspects of the operation.
He added that the board wanted to enlighten their pilgrims on the crisis in Sudan, saying: “We all know about the crisis in Sudan and we implore our pilgrims as they will have to cross a longer route than usual. In view of the above , urging the states to properly enlighten their pilgrims.”
More than 500 pilgrims and about 60 officials from Nasarawa state left Abuja for Saudi Arabia.
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