EditorialTHEWILL Editorial: Sad News From Saudi Arabia

THEWILL Editorial: Sad News From Saudi Arabia

June 30, (THEWILL) – Governor Umar Bago of Niger State’s criticism of the National Hajj Commission, NAHCO, over the shoddy logistics and welfare arrangement for Nigerian pilgrims in this year’s Hajj, despite the N90 billion support fund from the Federal Government, has once again raised the issue of accountability and transparency.

Statutorily, NAHCO is responsible for the feeding and accommodation of pilgrims in Medina, while state welfare boards handle the pilgrims in Mecca, just as Saudi-authorised vendors manage feeding and accommodation in Muna.

NAHCO also oversees the operation of Nigerian clinics in Medina, Mecca and Muna. Governor Bago thinks that body should be scrapped because it has not lived up to expectation. Accommodation, feeding and welfare were poorly handled, such that, according to him, “Nigerians were falling sick.” Not done, the governor faulted the manner the N90 billion FG largesse was handled.

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He lamented, “Imagine sharing this money with the 36 states. Some states also paid subsidies. In Niger State, I paid N3 billion. That N90 billion is enough to fund UBEC for four years. So, we can’t be handing our resources to people. Some people paid N8 million for this operation and received just $400.”

Coming on the heels of the announcement of the death of 1,301 pilgrims by the Saudi Arabian authorities from heat waves of over 51 per cent Celsius, most of whom were unregistered, illegal and aged pilgrims, there is need to pay more attention to the entire process of organisation for our pilgrims.

More so, when the avoidable deaths were also linked with the activities of complicit travel agencies from the originating countries of yet to be fully identified pilgrims, who died or are still undergoing treatment in hospitals in the Holy Land.

Although the Saudi authorities said they made adequate preparations ahead of the warning from a meteorological agency on the impending catastrophe by providing air conditioned tents for all fully registered pilgrims, it beggars belief that such a global tourist event could be breached by uninvited pilgrims, who unfortunately paid the supreme price.

Even so, for Nigeria which voted N90 billion as subsidy for the pilgrimage, we think there is a need for full audit of accounts to be done in the face of this global misfortune.

In fact, Governor Bago also made the point in his criticism of NAHCO, claiming that some states got more than their share of the sponsorship fund. The governor even queried the paltry allowances given to each pilgrim, thereby exposing them to the elements.

It is all about due process and accountability. That is what many similar countries like Egypt and Turkey have done by announcing the numbers of their nationals involved in the death toll in Saudi Arabia, applied the appropriate sanctions like withdrawal of licences of involved agencies, suspended officials, ordered the prosecution of some others and demanded an audit of the entire pilgrimage process.

What is more, reports say Senegal’s health authorities have detected COVID-19 in dozens of pilgrims returning from the Hajj pilgrimage in Mecca. This calls for alarm. We hope Nigeria’s health authorities have taken notice and will do the needful. For a country that is currently battling with shortage of vaccines for the rampaging Cholera in the country, unchecked invasion by the deadly COVID-19 virus would be too devastating for the health system to cope.

However, it is gratifying to note that the Head of the Nigerian Medical Team, Dr. Abubakar Ismaeel reported that 17 pilgrims from Nigeria were affected by the heatstroke but only two reportedly died from complications. Others received prompt attention from Nigerian medics and were revived. He added that 15 deaths were recorded during the pre-hajj and immediately after the Hajj period.

In the report he presented to stakeholders, including the media, during the post-Arafat meeting held in Makkah, Saudi Arabia, he explained that out of the number, three were recorded from the Mashair, while 12 were recorded during the pre-Arafat period. He also explained that six pregnancies were recorded out of which three miscarriages occurred, adding that a total of 14,504 consultations were made which also included 79 emergencies.

Nevertheless, we hope that everybody draws lessons from this debacle. On the personal level, we urge pilgrims who cannot afford the trip and cannot find any form of sponsorship at any point in time to plan ahead because there is always a next time for the fulfilment of an injunction, such as a pilgrimage to the Holy Land, to be performed at least once in a lifetime.

For the government, we hope they can see that donating a whopping N90 billion to support this year’s pilgrimage raises no issue if the money is adequately deployed for the projected purpose.

Governor Bago’s claims need to be attended to urgently for the sake of due process and transparency, especially now that the runaway cost of living crisis in the country has eroded public trust in government agencies and their manager.

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