By Emmanuel Adeleke
There is palpable apprehension and hopelessness among the pilgrims from Oyo State following the uncertainty surrounding their return to Nigeria after performing the 2023 Hajj.
Almost two weeks after the end of the 2023 Hajj exercise in Saudi Arabia, over 1,000 pilgrims from Oyo State are yet to know the date of their departure.
The chairman, Oyo State Pilgrims Welfare Board (Muslim Wing), Professor Sayed Malik, confirmed the development while speaking to some newsmen in Saudi Arabia. He said efforts of officials to ensure the timely return of the pilgrims were obstructed by logistic problems.
“We planned to take our pilgrims back to Nigeria immediately after their return to Makkah from Medina but the airline contracted to convey us, Aero Contractors was not responding to our demands for prompt airlift. Later, we were told by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) that the airline was denied landing permit in Jeddah.
“The issue was later resolved and the airline ferried the first batch of Nasarawa pilgrims back to Nigeria. And it was scheduled that Oyo State pilgrims would be transported back to Nigeria in batches as from July 10 but things took a dramatic turn as the airline officials refused to airlift the pilgrims as earlier agreed.
“We were surprised that there was no communication from the airline and NAHCON officials on July 10 about our departure and our pilgrims waited in vain at their hotels for the officials who didn’t show up. We later learned that the Aero Contractors aircraft which transported the first batch of Nasarawa pilgrims to Nigeria didn’t come back for other pilgrims in Saudi but remained grounded at the Nnamdi Azikiwe airport in Abuja because the airline failed to secure permit to land in Jeddah from Saudi aviation authorities,” Malik said.
According to reports, Aero Contractors was imposed on Oyo, Nasarawa, Adamawa and Taraba States by NAHCON as against the usual practice whereby the state boards were at liberty to choose their preferred airlines out of the approved ones.
Meanwhile, it was gathered that deputy governor of the state, Barr. Bayo Lawal, has directed the board to take appropriate steps on the issue.