It was made known that, the government of Saudi Arabia has expressed determination to expedite action to unravel “the status of 35 Nigerian pilgrims who were declared missing after the stampede”, which occurred in Mina, during the Hajj exercise held in 2015.
Meanwhile, the quota of Nigeria for the 2016 Hajj remains 76,000 slots, “pending the outcome of a committee set up by the Saudi government to review the allocation of slots to all countries once the Haram expansion project is concluded.”
A statement issued on Sunday evening by the Secretary to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, Dr Bello Tambuwal, said these were the high points of the resolutions made during a ministerial meeting held in Jeddah between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
The meeting, which started with discussions on the 2015 Hajj operations and preparations for 2016 Hajj exercise, was attended by the Saudi Arabian delegation led by its Minister of Hajj, Dr. Bandar Bn Muhammad Al Hajjar and Nigeria’s delegation led by Minister of State (Foreign Affairs), Hajia Khadija Bukar Ibrahim.
Also, while the Saudi delegation comprised of representatives of the Ministries of Foreign Affairs, Hajj, Interior and other agencies, the Nigerian delegation comprised of executive members of NAHCON led by its chairman and Chief Executive, Abdullahi Muktar Muhammad and Director-General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Capt. Muhtar Usman.
While condoling Saudi Arabia on the twin tragedies that occurred on September 11 and 24 which claimed many lives including 280 Nigerians, the NAHCON chairman informed the meeting of the commission’s plans “to embark on nationwide enlightenment activities of pilgrims and its resolve to establish a Hajj Institute for professional training of Hajj managers in Nigeria.”
Tambuwal said, “The Saudi delegation emphasized the need for proper enlightenment of pilgrims and promised to cooperate with the commission towards enhanced services to pilgrims. Similarly, the Saudi delegation promised to address Nigeria’s request to be moved closer to Jamaraat area and better tent facilities in Mina and Arafat.
“It also agreed to meet with the commission at a later time to discuss and find solutions to the high cost of Umrah and other challenges of the exercise. The meeting culminated with exchange of gifts between the Nigerian and Saudi delegations.”
It was gathered that NAHCON had, while submitting the report of the 2015 Hajj to the Federal Government, put the number of casualties involved in two tragic accidents at 280 while the status of those declared missing had yet to be ascertained.
While receiving the report in his office, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Babachir David Lawal, had commended the chairman of NAHCON, Abdullahi Muhammad, and its entire board for their exemplary performance in Saudi Arabia, especially, during the tragedies that occurred during the Hajj.
Muhammad had described the 2015 Hajj as “the most eventful in the history of Hajj operations in Nigeria”, with pilgrims witnessing two tragic events: the crane incident at the Grand Mosque in Makkah on September 11, 2015 and the stampede recorded in Mina on September 24, 2015.
“Nigeria recorded a total of 280 deaths from both events, while 43 (he said then) are considered missing as their status is yet to be ascertained”, he stated.
He had condoled President Muhammadu Buhari, families of victims and indeed, Nigerians on the loss of lives, with an assurance that the report submitted contains observations and indeed, recommendations that will ensure more successes during future Hajj exercises.
According to him, a total of 75,081 Nigerian pilgrims participated in the 2015 Hajj exercises adding that, “both the outbound and inbound flights were concluded well ahead of schedule.”