By Matthew Denis
The first batch of Kwara pilgrims from Ilorin zone for the 2018 hajj exercise in Saudi Arabia, will be airlifted from the Ilorin International Airport on Thursday.
About 500 Kwara pilgrims are expected to be airlifted for the first hajj operation at the airport.
The zone comprises of Ekiti, Ondo and Kwara states in line with the arrangement by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
It would be recalled that NAHCON had its inaugural flight signaling the commencement of 2018 hajj operations for pilgrims from Nigeria, on Saturday.
Speaking to our reporter at the weekend, the Head of Corporate Affairs, Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Ilorin, Mr. Adeyeoluwa Oluwakayode disclosed that arrangements have been concluded for the airlifting.
“We just had the airport hajj stakeholders’ meeting to deliberate on issues pertaining to the commencement of the operation on Thursday.
“We had FAAN, Hajj officials, security agencies like the Air Force, Police, Customs, DSS, Immigration, NDLEA, Civil Defence, Nigeria Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), among others present to plan for a smooth operation this year,” he added.
Oluwakayode, then, called for cooperation from the immediate community to ensure safety of lives and property during the exercise.
Similarly, the Executive Secretary of Kwara State Muslims Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Tunde Jimoh told this medium that all arrangements have been concluded for a successful exercise.
“All necessary arrangements in terms of accommodation and other logistics for pilgrims from the state at the holy land have been concluded,” he said.
Jimoh, noted that all intending pilgrims have completed payment of fare, confirming that,
“Over 500 of our intending pilgrims will leave for Saudi Arabia on Thursday.”
…as first batch from Nigeria arrives Madinah
The first batch of 445 pilgrims from Kogi State on Saturday arrived in Madinah on board the inaugural flight for this year’s Hajj in Saudi Arabia.
The pilgrims, comprising officials of Kogi Pilgrims Commission and 204 females, were transported by Max Air Limited to Prince Muhammad Abdullaziz International Airport, Madinah via the Nnamdi Azikwe International Airport, Abuja.
The Chairman of the commission, Sheikh Lukman Abdullahi, headed the contingent.
The flight also conveyed some members of the National Media Team set up by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
The Public Relations Officer of the state’s commission, Alhaji Isa Abdulrahman, disclosed in Madinah that the government was satisfied with the arrangement made by NAHCON for the journey.
“We are pleased because this is the first time arrangement for airlift is being perfected for Hajj.
“Kogi government was assure of perfect arrangement by NAHCON and so far they are on the right track,” he said.
The advance team of NAHCON, comprising members of accommodation, feeding and medical committees, had arrived in Saudi Arabia to ensure structures for the pilgrimage by Nigerians were in good shape.
…Buhari urges worshipers to pray for Nigeria
President Muhammadu Buhari has urged intending pilgrims from Nigeria to pray for sustained peace in the country.
The President made the call on Saturday at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport during the inaugural flight of this year’s pilgrimage to Makkah.
The inaugural flight, which ferried pilgrims from Kogi State, took off at about 3 pm.
Represented by the Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Mohammed Bello, Buhari told the pilgrims to “Pray for your family, pray for yourselves, pray for your country and pray for your leaders”.
The president also told the pilgrims to pray fervently for lasting peace in the country.
He admonished them to be good ambassadors of Nigeria and Islamic religion.
He also advised them to undertake their religious duties safely and come back with “Hajj Mabrur” (acceptable Hajj).
Buhari meanwhile applauded the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) for the way they handled this year’s exercise. He also said that the Federal Government would continue to provide all that is needed to make sure Nigerians perform their Hajj successfully.
He advised pilgrims from the country to take maximum opportunity of the opportunity God have given them to perform the Hajj “in a peaceful and orderly manner”.
The president, who said the relationship between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia will continue to grow advised all pilgrims to “respect all the rules and regulations of Saudi Arabia. You are a small group out of the many that will come from all over the world”.
Speaking earlier, the Chairman of NAHCON, Abdullahi Muhammed, said the inaugural flight to be carried out by Max Air will ferry 460 pilgrims to Madinah.
He also told the pilgrims that being the first to depart, they will also be the first to return after the Hajj.
Mohammed appreciated the support given to the commission by the Kogi state Hajj Commission which made the flag off ceremony successful.
He said an advanced team from the commission had travelled to Saudi Arabia four days ago and would be joined by Nigerian ambassador and consul general to receive the Kogi pilgrims.
He called on other states to emulate Kogi by ensuring that their pilgrims are mobilised early so as to have a smooth airlift exercise.
The NAHCON chairman expressed gratitude to President Buhari for officially writing a letter of request to King Salman calling for an intervention that would lessen the burden of Nigerian pilgrims due to the newly introduced biometrics data capture of all pilgrims.
He also thanked the government of Saudi Arabia for granting the request by ensuring more data capture centres were created in almost all the state capitals in the country.
“So far 18,000 pilgrims have been captured out of which 5000 visas have already been processed,” he said.
Mohammed pledged the commitment of NAHCON to ensure that “pilgrims get value for their money“. He also called on them and officials from the states to always report poor services rendered to them so as to either get partial or full refund.
“I appeal to you to behave yourself in the most decent manner, move in groups and obey your officials,” he said.