Four hundred female pilgrims from Nigeria, who arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia on Sunday for this year’s hajj, have been separated from their male counterparts and detained by Saudi authorities.

Local media report that the Saudis requested each female pilgrim to provide her muharram – the approved male companion accompanying her on her trip, usually a husband, father or brother – those that couldn’t produce any, were detained.

The authorities further threatened to deport the pilgrims to Nigeria.

The pilgrims arrived Jeddah in two separate Max Air flights Sunday afternoon. One of the planes, conveyed pilgrims from Jigawa State while the second conveyed pilgrims from Sokoto State.

The nearly 400 women were only allowed to be supplied with water and food by the Saudis after strenuous efforts by the Nigerian Consul in Jeddah and a Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.

The Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad, who is the Amirul Hajj, has condemned the action of the Saudi authorities, describing it as “an insult to Nigeria and to this country’s millions of Muslims.”

The Sultan said, “They never raised this issue and never demanded that the female pilgrims must have a muharram. They did not make this a requirement for issuing visas.

“They issued visas to all these pilgrims, only to embarrass, detain and threaten to deport them when they arrived in the holy land. How can they do this to us?
“The chairman of the National Hajj Commission assured me that the Saudis never asked for this during all the meetings they held. This is very unfortunate. We have done a lot over the years to improve on our hajj operation and we do not deserve this humiliation.”

The Sultan also said that he had ordered the Nigerian pilgrims to resist any attempt to deport them.
“Let the Saudis physically carry them into the planes and deport them,” he said. “They issued them with valid visas, only to shift the goal posts at the very last minute, when they had already arrived in Jeddah.”