Nigeria issues 24-hour ultimatum to Saudi Arabia to release detained female hajj pilgrims

Nigeria says Wednesday it expects Saudi Arabia authorities to act fast and set the Nigerian women free to perform the hajj
Nigeria says Wednesday it expects Saudi Arabia authorities to act fast and set the Nigerian women free to perform the hajj

The Nigerian government has issued a 24-hour ultimatum to Saudi authorities to resolve the issues surrounding detained Nigerian female pilgrims in that country.

The government said Wednesday it expected Saudi Arabia authorities to act fast and set the Nigerian women free to perform the hajj, according to a report by the News Agency of Nigeria.

Four hundred female pilgrims from Nigeria, who arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for this year’s hajj,  were on Sunday separated from their male counterparts and detained by Saudi authorities for failing to provide her Muharram  that is, the approved male companion accompanying her on her trip, usually a husband, father or brother.

There are reports that the number of detained women had risen to 1000 but that could not be independently verified by this newspaper.

The matter has sparked a fierce diplomatic row between the two countries, with the foreign ministers of the two countries unable to resolve the logjam.

Shortly before the ultimatum was issued, the Nigerian Senate asked President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene in the matter.

The Senate has urged President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene in the plight of 400 Nigerian female pilgrims in detention in Saudi Arabia.

The Senate stressed the need  for President Jonathan to talk directly to King Abdallah of Saudi Arabia to ensure that the  detained women were allowed to perform the Hajj.

The call was sequel to a debate on motion of the refusal of the Saudi authorities to grant entry to the female pilgrims detained in Jeddah.

In his submission,  the sponsor of the motion, Sen. Abubakar Bagudu (PDP-Kebbi), noted that more than 500 female pilgrims from various states, who arrived Saudi Arabia,  had so farbeen denied entry to perform the Hajj.

Mr. Bagudu said that Hajj was mandatory for all Muslims who could afford it at least once in their life time.

“It is in this respect that the pilgrims applied for and obtained visa to Saudi. And I am aware that all the requirements for visa and entry into Saudi Arabia had been met by the pilgrims.’’

In his contribution, the Chairman, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs, Sen. Mathew Nwagu (PDP-Imo), informed the Senate that the number of detained  female pilgrims was increasing by the day and if not checked,  could resort to grievous consequences.

Also speaking, Sen. Abdul Ningi (PDP- Bauchi), expressed concern about international racism and consistent humiliation of Africans and Nigerians in particular going to Saudi Arabia.

“The matter is a touchy one because it affects the fundamental right of every Muslim to perform the pilgrimage.

“While I ask the government to intervene to resolve the  situation, there should be a mechanism to prevent this from happening again because the level of discrimination is too high,’’ Ningi said.

In his contribution, Sen Ganiyu Solomon (ACN-Lagos), said the issue of Maaram, that is the male companion for the females  or guide, which seemed to be the issue in contention, was not new in Saudi Arabia.

Mr. Solomon said he did not agree that the board was supposed to act as Maaram since Maaram was supposed to be a human being.

According to him, it is the duty of various boards to ensure that they matched each pilgrim with a Maaram.

But, Sen. Mohammed Sale (CPC-Kaduna), noted that a lot went into the planning of pilgrimages, including several meetings between the Saudi and Nigerian governments.

According to him, if such issues were raised at those meetings, the Nigerian government would have taken note, but 15 flights had already landed before the detention started with the 16th flight.

Mr. Sale said the action of the Saudi authorities was a premeditated plot as only the states from the far North were being targeted.

The Senate also directed its Committee on Special Duties to investigate the matter and find out what led to the situation initially.

It also asked its representative at Shura (an islamic organisation), Sen. Abdul Ningi, to take up the matter during their Shura meeting.