With the on-going diplomatic row between Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia over the detention of almost 1,000 female pilgrims and deportation of 171 females for coming to Hajj without male companions, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has temporarily suspended all Hajj flights for the next 48 hours.
This was announced in a statement on Thursday, signed by Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, despite the optimism expressed by the Saudi Arabian ambassador to Nigeria.
The ambassador, Mr. Khaled Abdrabuh, had earlier stated that the controversy over the detention of 908 female Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia and the deportation of some will be resolved later today.
According to the statement, the Hajj Commission claimed it has been “compelled to temporarily suspend all Hajj flights for the next 48 hours”, “following the unprecedented and worrisome development of detaining over 1000 female pilgrims from Nigeria at the King Abdulazeez International Airport Jeddah and Prince Muhammad Ibn azeez International Airport Madinah.”
The Commission claimed it is taking this step after wide consultation with all stakeholders.
“This is to enable the Commission appraise the situation critically with the view to surmount all the challenges being faced” the statement added.
The Hajj Commission urged “all intending pilgrims to remain calm as all hands are on deck to resolve the issue and hajj flights will resume once resolved.”
It also gave the assurance that “all pilgrims that Nigerian carriers appointed for the 2012 Hajj Airlift have sufficient capacity to airlift the remaining 60,000 pilgrims well ahead of the closure of Jeddah airport on 20th October, 2012.”
The National Hajj Commission, had earlier stated that 908 female Nigerian pilgrims were refused entry into Saudi Arabia, alleging that they breached the escort rules for female pilgrims under Saudi law.
The law of the Islamic nation stipulates that any female pilgrim that is not over 40years old must be accompanied by a male who should either be her husband, brother or father.
The Federal Government on Wednesday gave the Saudi Arabian government 24 hours to resolve the issue as instructed by the Vice President, Namadi Sambo, after he summoned the Arabian envoy to his office.
Close to 100,000 Nigerians are estimated to partake in the Hajj which is one of the pillars of Islam,
More than two million Muslims from around the world are due to converge on Mecca for this year’s Hajj, which is set to culminate over a four-day period between 24-29 October.