Many Nigerians would not forget the 2023 Hajj in a hurry because of the diversities of experiences. ABDULRAHMAN ZAKARIYAU writes on the highs and lows of this year’s spiritual exercise.
In the build-up to the 2023 Hajj, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) held a series of meetings with the State Pilgrim Welfare Board (SPWB), Airlines, Service providers and other critical stakeholders. All meetings were geared towards a successful religious right in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
For the love of Allah and as a demonstration of confidence in Nigerians’ belief in public institutions, the Saudi Arabia Hajj and Umrah approved 95,000 slots for Nigerians within a short period filled up. Then, the focus shifted to how 95,000 pilgrims will be airlifted within the stipulated date, Sunday, May 21, 2023, to Saturday, June 26, 2023.
In line with the promises made by NAHCON chairman and chief executive officer (CEO), Alhaji Zikirullah Kunle Hassan, “All Pilgrims would get value for their money and no intending pilgrims would be left behind.” The commission thereafter airlifted 95,000 Nigerians via FlyNas, MaxAir, Aero, Airpeace and Azman.
At the end of the airlifting operation, NAHCON chairman said the 2023 Hajj would go down history lane as the most outstanding Hajj ever witnessed in Nigeria.
According to him, “To ensure that all the pilgrims were airlifted to the Holyland, NAHCON took proactive measures in entering an agreement for five rescue flights”.
Pilgrims score NAHCON, others high on accommodation
Majority of the 95,000 Nigerians that performed 2023 Hajj landed at Prince Mohammed Bin Abdulaziz International Airport, Madinah, while a few others that landed at King Fahd International Airport were conveyed to Madinah where they spent at least five days praying in the second holiest and largest mosque, Al-Masjid Nabawi, where Prophet Mohammed (SAW) was buried after he lived his last days there.
During their stay in Madinah, Nigerians alongside other million Muslim faithful from other parts of the world also visited Masjid Quba, Mount Uhud where the Uhud war was fought and 70 companions of Prophet Mohammed were killed and buried. They also visited the mosque with two qibla (direction), Masjid Qiblatayn where Allah directed Prophet to face where Muslims face for prayers today. Other sacred places include the seven Mosques and Jannatul Baqi historical burial ground where some notable Islamic leaders were buried.
In Madinah, the accommodation and feeding were coordinated by NAHCON. So, Nigerian pilgrims were accommodated in standard hotels very close to the place of worship.
Speaking on how they were treated in Madinah, a pilgrim from Jigawa state, Mohammed Danbaba Garba rated NAHCON very high.
“The flight arrangement was okay, we departed and arrived on schedule. Actually when we came, NAHCON and State Pilgrim Welfare Board officials responded positively; they gave us rooms quickly.
“NAHCON also deserves commendation for getting accommodation that is next to Harami. So we commend them highly. If I’m to score them, I will give them more than 100% because they give us accommodation that is close to the holy mosque. So, all other challenges are minor. This is the most important.”
Unlike in Madinah where NAHCON was in charge, SPWB was in charge of accommodation in Makkah, yet most of the states were commended.
According to a pilgrim from Kano state, Halima Yusuf Salamani, “Though the accommodation is far from Haram when compared to that of Madinah, we commend them for the standard.”
Efforts of Dr Galadima- led medical team
Another highpoint of the just-concluded Hajj is the activities of Dr Usman Galadima-led medical team.
Notably, the team operated seven clinics in Makkah and Madinah and set up 14 Mina to attend to thousands of Nigerian pilgrims.
Though 13 lives were lost, the clinics that were set up at strategic locations close to pilgrims’ accommodation facilities saved the lives of 41 of the 582 they attended to.
Explaining how they were able to achieve this height, Dr. Galadima said they set up clinics at strategic locations close to pilgrims’ accommodation, make available and publicised medical emergency numbers, embarked on hotel-to-hotel medical awareness campaign, and put in place emergency response with ambulances.
Dr Galadima who commended NAHCON leadership disclosed that, “The initial challenge they faced was getting medical staff in Madinah and Makkah, but they were later moved to Makkah. The other challenge is having some that are not sick come to the clinic. When they come, they fight and cause congestion. That reduced access to medical care by those who actually needed it. The management of NAHCON has supported this team in the discharge of our duties.”
Ibrahim Gambo, a pilgrim from Kaduna state who was attended to at the clinic located at Muzfalah Kudai said the medical team was professional in conduct.
According to him, “Despite the population of patients and with a limited number of medical experts, I was attended to within 40 minutes. They were very professional in their conducts.”
Ulamas provide guide
The spiritual aspect of Hajj is the most important aspect of it. Interestingly, the Islamic scholars, otherwise known as members of Ulama justified the huge number NAHCON annually brings for Hajj.
Most Nigerians unlearn, re-learn and learn so many things from these scholars who were attached to every state, hotel, tent and group to guide the pilgrims on the step by step of Hajj rituals.
They provided the much-needed sensitisation and enlightenment on the ‘dos and dont’ of Hajj which to a large extent helped a lot of pilgrims to attain a successful Hajj.
Mina: City of cents where most Nigerians lack tents
The low in the 2023 Hajj is the shortage of tents in Mina. The ‘City of Tents’ is where all pilgrims spent three nights before they moved to sacred places like Arafat, Muzdalifah and Jammrat to perform other rites. Thousands of Nigerians were without tents over their heads.
Pilgrims were seen scampering for the available bed spaces, shades and even tents. Nigeria camp in Mina was disorganised as 95,000 pilgrims rushed to fit into the 43,000-capacity tent provided by the Company Muttawifs, a Saudi Arabia firm contracted to provide tents, food, transportation and other services for non-Arab countries.
Unfortunately, due to the shortage, most of the tents were overcrowded, thousands of Nigerian pilgrims were seen loitering under the sun and hundreds spent nights on the streets and toilet ends.
Narrating their experience in Mina, a pilgrim from Kebbi state, Ahmed Abdullahi said he was disappointed with how they were treated. According to him, “Many people were not given tents and food was not enough. Many people sat under the sun and spent nights on the street. The situation was not good at Allah. But we accepted it as the will of Allah and also as an act of worship.”
On his part, the chairman of NAHCON, Alh Zikirullah Kunle Hassan expressed his dissatisfaction with the maltreatment Nigerian pilgrims were subjected to under what he described as hot weather conditions.
A furious Alh Zikirullah said, ” I have seen people happy only because they are people of faith, but I’ve seen people who are not happy on two scores.”
He described the situation as unsatisfactory saying, “The camp is unsatisfactory in a tent C where the majority of the pilgrims are. So also is the situation in the VIP tent; all of these facilities were paid for but obviously, the provisions made were inadequate compared to the number of pilgrims.”
At another event, NAHCON chairman revealed that Nigerians were squeezed into the same capacity of tents they gave them last year when the country had 43,000 pilgrims in place of 95,000 that performed this year’s Hajj.
“At this point, we have to tell each other the truth. Nigerian pilgrims were subjected to untold hardship and they are so disappointed in us even though we have repeatedly told them that the issues of tents and food are not in our hands, that we can only complain to the authorities,” he said.
Feeding is still a challenge
Another aspect where most pilgrims scored NAHCON and SPWB low is feeding. According to many pilgrims, the food provided was inadequate, untimely and unNigerian.
Aisha Ibrahim, a pilgrim from Nasarawa state said they were fed only twice in Madinah, Makkah and Mina.
“Some of us couldn’t eat the meal we were served, because they are not Nigerian food. Again most times, they serve the meal late and many still don’t get it. So NAHCON and state officials need to do something about this.”
For a successful Hajj in 2024, experts recommend early implementation of plans. They are of the view that NAHCON and state officials should take charge of feeding in Mina and ensure that most meals that Nigerian pilgrims would be served are from local dishes. According to them, this would also help to address some health issues pilgrims develop in the Holy land.
To address tent shortage, they proposed early inspections of all facilities like hotels, tents, toilets, buses and other facilities that Nigerian pilgrims will use to ensure that they are in good shape and enough for the pilgrims.