The federal government on Friday directed the National Hajj Commission of Nigerian (NAHCON) to ensure timely and efficient airlift of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the 2013 Hajj as it commences barely a month from now.
This charge was given by Vice President Namadi Sambo in his office during a meeting to review the 2012 Hajj Report, recently presented to President Goodluck Jonathan, by the National Amirul Hajj, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Saad Abubakar III.
Sambo decried the situation where pilgrims were kept in hajj reception centres for days without being airlifted to the Holy Land, saying the delay made pilgrims expend a lot for their upkeep, which they had not budgeted for, stressing the need for the commission to ensure that designated airlines abided by agreements signed.
On the issue of Muharram (male guide) for female pilgrims under 45 years of age, the Vice President directed NAHCON and other stakeholders in the hajj operations to ensure strict monitoring to avoid last year’s incidence, where female pilgrims were deported, emphasising that violators of the directive be sanctioned accordingly.
Acoordingly, Sambo set up a committee to bring up recommendations for urgent intervention to address immediate challenges facing hajj reception centres, before the commencement of airlift of pilgrims on September 14, 2013.
The committee, which has the head of NAHCON as its Chairman, also has executive secretaries of the various state hajj organisations, the federal ministries of Foreign Affairs, Finance, Interiors and the Office of the Vice President as members. The committee has one week to submit its report.
Sambo assured all stakeholders of President Jonathan’s determination to ensure hitch-free hajj operations.
He advised state governments on the need to always liaise with NAHCON and the Federal Ministry of Foreign Affairs, regarding hajj operations.
Earlier, the chairman of NAHCON, Mallam Muhammad Bello stated that due to the deplorable conditions and outdated design of some of the hajj reception centres, there was the need to upgrade them to internationally acceptable standards.
He noted that areas of immediate intervention included accommodation, pilgrims processing halls, medical facilities and restaurants.
He stated that the commission had put all necessary measures to make sure that the issue of male guide for female pilgrims was adequately addressed, adding that to effectively mange pilgrims’ hygiene, environmental officers had been included as part of the officials.
Bello commended the various state governments for their support to both the commission and the pilgrims, especially as regards efforts at providing facilities for hitch-free hajj operations.
Present at the meeting were the governors of Gombe State, Alhaji Ibrahim Dankwambo, Kaduna State, Alhaji Mukhtar Ramalan Yero, deputy governors of Niger, Borno and Rivers State and other stakeholders in hajj operations.