“The intention has never been to jeopardize the airlifting of pilgrims as has been wrongly portrayed.”
The Nigerian military on Saturday said its restriction of the use of the Maiduguri airport was “purely for security reasons.”
The airport is one of the international airports in Nigeria mainly used to airlift Muslim pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
The restriction, which means the airport would not be used for the annual pilgrimage, fuelled speculations that the military was deliberately preventing Nigerian Muslims a religious right.
The military, in a statement by its spokesperson, Chris Olukolade, however, said the restrictions followed a security assessment of the situation in Nigeria.
The spokesperson said the assessment indicated that a sudden massive air lift could not be permitted in the light of the threats and ongoing operations in the area.
Maiduguri is the capital of Borno State, the main base of the Boko Haram group that has killed over 12,000 people since its insurgency began in 2009.
“Apparently, the implications of such massive airlift and traffic from the facility in the light of present security situation was not appreciated early enough by those planning the exercise to enable proper security procedure be installed for the important exercise,” Mr. Olukolade said.
He however explained that alternative arrangement was worked out with relevant authorities in the state to ease movement of pilgrims.
The process, he said, has continued irrespective of expected inconveniences which he said will be taken care of in due time.
Mr. Olukolade, a Major General, said the restrictions had no religious or political connotation and that the sensitivity of the security situation in Nigeria calls for due caution.
“The intention has never been to jeopardize the airlifting of pilgrims as has been wrongly portrayed,” he said.
He appealed to the media not to yield itself to the pressure of those seeking to make political or economic capital out of the security situation.