The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, said it will centralise accommodation for Nigerian pilgrims in Makkah during the next Hajj season in 2018.
This was revealed Tuesday by the chairman of the commission, Abdullahi Mohammed, at the post-Arafat conference which held in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.
Centralising the accommodation means having Nigerian pilgrims from different states housed together in large hotels, a departure from current experience where all states individually seek for accommodation for their pilgrims.
NAHCON took over the provision of accommodation for pilgrims in Madinah which has seen Nigerian pilgrims staying in Markaziyya area, steps away from the Prophet’s Mosques.
However, states independently seek for their hotels in Makkah and some of them end up housing their pilgrims far from the Grand Mosque making it difficult for the pilgrims to observe their daily prayers and other activities at the Haram.
“Very soon we will discuss with states our proposal to take Makkah accommodation collectively as a nation, not individual states. The idea is to get closer to Haram by occupying bigger hotels that can house pilgrims from 10 to 12 states. An official from one of the states is already discussing with one of the hotels which can accommodate 16,000 pilgrims at a time. What we are going to pay is not going to be too different from what we are paying the smaller hotels at the moment,” he said.
Mr. Mohammed expressed the hope that all the 36 states, FCT and the armed forces will key into the proposal. He warned that any state that decides to stay away should be prepared to organise visas, negotiate for services and interface with all relevant Saudi Arabian authorities on their own.
The NAHCON boss also announced that one of the air-carriers, Flynas, is set to commence the return of pilgrims.
“Pilgrims from Gombe and the FCT will be on their way to the airport later tonight, to be followed by Ogun early tomorrow,” he said.
Mr. Mohammed commended Saudi Arabian authorities for organising a hitch free Hajj exercise during the four-day stay in Mashaeer. He also commended Nigerian pilgrims and officials from the states for their ability to overcome challenges during the observation of Hajj rites.
“Kano, Sokoto, Lagos and some pilgrims from private tour operators under service office 19 all had challenges of inadequate space in Muna. However, the situation was well managed by the officials concerned and the Muassassa was made to provide a better, more spacious tent; while Lagos moved without a hitch, others decided to stay due to logistics reasons.
“This exceptional behaviour by Nigerian pilgrims and officials deserve exceptional commendation,” he said.
On the challenges of inadequate space in Mina, the chairman said the previous three years Hajj exercise did not experience these challenges because of the reduced number of pilgrims from across the world on the orders of Saudi government due to the expansion services being undertaken in most of the Holy mosques.
He said the restoration of the 20 per cent quota by Saudi Arabia led to a higher number of pilgrims this year which in the end impacted on the resources in Mina tent city.
He said all countries should collectively agree on the need to reduce the quota thereby making it easier for the authorities to manage Hajj well and successfully.
“The Saudi government under the leadership of the custodian of the two holy Mosques have shown great wisdom in managing and making Hajj easy for all. Our prayer is that God will give them the wisdom to address the challenge of Mina just like He did for them in Jamarat and Haram,” he said.
On poor service offered by some tour operators, Mr. Mohammed said the commission will investigate the matter and sanction any tour operator or service provider found to have failed to live up to expectation.
Speaking earlier, Nigeria’s Charge ‘D’ Affairs in Riyadh, Salisu Umar, urged NAHCON to carry out sensitisation of Nigerians holding visitors’ visas to enlighten them on its illegality.
Mr Umar said some Nigerians performing Hajj with such visas instead of Hajj visa were recently arrested.
He also asked NAHCON to take note of all the challenges faced in this year’s hajj in order to address them before the next one.
Meanwhile, the Commissioner in charge of operations at NAHCON, Abdullahi Saleh, in his presentation said the commission has concluded all arrangements for a hitch free return journey by Nigerian pilgrims.
He said Flynas which commences its flight operations Wednesday will conclude its return flight on October 2, while, Medview will begin on September 10 and finish on September 25 and Max Air, which begins airlift on September 9, will conclude on October 5.
Mr. Saleh called on pilgrims to avoid carrying excess luggage saying ” the conveyor belt at the Airport is calibrated to reject any luggage weighing over 32kg.”
He urged states to provide weighing scales for pilgrims at their accommodation to weigh their luggage “even before heading to the airport.”
He said about 85 per cent of ‘Zam Zam’ water for pilgrims have already been transported back to the country and will be distributed to pilgrims upon return.