This is coming on the heels of accusation by the Nigerian envoy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Abubakar Shehu Bunu, who said that the authorities in the holy land had allegedly violated the Geneva Convention when they blocked him and his team from reaching the distressed female pilgrims at the airports.
Bunu, who could not hide his anger, told the Voice of America (VOA) Hausa Service in an interview monitored in Kaduna at the weekend that it was unfortunate that the Saudi authorities denied them access to the female pilgrims while they were in detention at the airports, which was a violation of the Geneva Convention that was soft on the women folk.
However, a group, the Arewa Youth Forum, has called for the immediate resignation of the ambassador for alleged poor handling of affairs in the holy land and accused the United States of America (USA) of complicity in the unwarranted deportation of the Nigerian female pilgrims.
They said that since the USA was always behind Saudi Arabia and had enormous control over the major international organisations across the world, the Kingdom could trample upon the rights of Nigeria and Nigerians and remain unchallenged.
AYF also called for the immediate reorganisation of all state agencies handling hajj matters in Nigeria for not “being proactive” and advocated the injection of fresh blood into the system in line with the demands of modern times.
The AYF said from their investigation, over one billion naira might have been lost as a result of the deportation of the female pilgrims from Saudi Arabia to Nigeria and sought for adequate compensation for the distressed women.
According to AYF leader, Gambo Gujungu, hajj is a multi-billion dollar business and Nigeria had always been the favourites of Saudi traders, who he was sure, might not be happy with the current diplomatic row.
He, however, expressed delight that reports emanating from the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) indicated that all the affected pilgrims would be taken care of and would not lose a kobo due to the problem encountered.
Gujungu sympathised with the victims and appealed to Islamic clerics to admonish them on the importance of destiny in Islam, as all actions, whether good or bad, are not beyond the control of the Almighty.
Ambassador Bunu had said in an interview that hard as they tried to convince the Saudis on the need to settle the matter amicably, they failed to respond in writing but were only giving verbal excuses.
The envoy said the Saudis stood their ground and only allowed aged women to gain entry into the holy land.
He still expressed optimism that the relationship between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia would continue to flourish in spite of the diplomatic row.
On whether the Saudi authorities were skeptical that some of the women would defect after the pilgrimage, he explained that they had written a letter of undertaking that all the women would be returned to Nigeria after the hajj rituals but the Saudis did not agree.
In his remarks, Sheik Khalil Rano, while speaking from the United Kingdom, said the issue of Muharram (male guide) had been raised some years back but the matter died down.
According to him, “every right thinking person should know that Nigeria contributes a lot to the economy of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Therefore, Nigeria’s integrity must be restored in the eyes of the world and Nigerians too must respect themselves. It is quite disheartening that they didn’t respond in writing to the Nigerian envoy, the disrespect Saudi authorities have for Nigeria is distasteful. I remember when they brought up the issue of cholera and belittle Nigerian pilgrims.”
One of the affected pilgrims, Hajiya Fatima said the manner in which they were maltreated made it appear as if Saudi Arabia had a problem with Nigeria, or perhaps does not want Nigerian female pilgrims to visit the holy land.
“The extent of the humiliation has made performing the hajj to be less attractive to many, even if they will be given a free hajj ticket. It was sad that some women had to wrestle with the Saudi officials, some of us were beaten. Funny enough, our fellow male pilgrims were running away from us that we shouldn’t implicate them,” she said.
She, however, disagreed with the position of the Arewa Youth Forum, saying the ambassador had really tried his best.
Alhaji Musa Sayyadi, who abandoned the onward journey to the holy sites and returned to Nigeria together with his wife because she was blocked by the Saudi officials, lamented over the ill treatment which he linked to alleged contradictions at the visa issuing offices. He agreed that his wife’s visa had the name of her father and the Saudi officials insisted that the father must be present before his wife would be allowed entry into the holy land.
He said that since hajj was a religious obligation, he would still perform the pilgrimage whenever the diplomatic row is settled.
NAHCON’s Director of Operations, Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammed, expressed sadness over the complicity and appealed to the pilgrims to exercise patience. He said oftentimes there were mistakes from the visa issuing authorities, as a man’s photo could be erroneously placed on a woman’s visa because of the high pilgrim turn- over. He said such normally happened in spite of the fact that states took so much time to ensure that such mistakes were avoided.
He explained further that at the risk of not sounding immodest, there had been no time that names must tally before people were allowed entry and recalled a certain issue related to that of entry into the holy land, which he said was communicated to them when the duration of 15 days had lapsed, causing many to fall victims.
Mukhtar said from the first plane that flew Nigerians to the holy land up to the 15th, no one was molested but subsequently, the Saudi officials started intercepting pilgrims at Jeddah while those in Medina were welcomed. But as soon as the Medina officials heard of the change of protocol in Jeddah, they too started interrogating and blocking female pilgrims. He wondered if the Kingdom was operating different laws.
The ambassador corroborated the position of Mukhtar, saying the Kingdom had not informed them of any change in their hajj policy, adding that the widespread belief that women committed atrocities in the holy land was an allegation that still remained not proven for any action to be taken. He therefore said it was unfair for the women to have that kind of inhuman treatment.
Sheik Rano recalled that the Saudi Kingdom came into being with the assistance of some notable Nigerians but regretted that overtime, many Nigerians belittled themselves and had not complied with rules and regulations governing conduct.
“Many people go there to smear the image of Nigeria, we must return to the basics. Ambassadors anywhere in the world are representatives of their presidents who must be respected, but the reverse was the case on the part of the Nigerian envoy in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Mukhtar, however, assured that the Federal Government was deeply worried and had taken steps towards resolving the matter and Allah willing, all the affected pilgrims would be able to witness the highly cherished moment on the plains of Arafat.
Source: Nigerian Tribune