The inaugural flight from the Kaduna International Airport conveyed pilgrims from Jemaá and Kajuru local government areas. Another flight was expected to take off last night from there. Many others were also flown out through the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos.
National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Chairman Abdullahi Muktar Muhammad said six airlines will convey the 66,000 pilgrims to the Holy Land, using 13 aircraft. He said the airlift of pilgrims will be completed before the closure of Jedda Airport in Saudi Arabia on September 17.
Alhaji Muhammad said NAHCON had closed its Jedda office. All the officials have moved to Makka and Madina to facilitate a smooth operation. He said there would be no VIP tents. All NAHCON officials will stay with the pilgrims.
The chairman said the airlift of pilgrims back to Nigeria will be on the basis of ‘’first in, first out’’. It is expected to end on October 27
President Muhammadu Buhari was represented at the inaugural flight by Kaduna State Governor Nasir El-Rufai.
The President said although the Federal Government will not fund pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia, it has set up a Coordinating Committee to supervise this year’s pilgrimage.
He charged the pilgrims to pray for Nigeria’s peace and progress.
The President said the coordinating committee will be funded by the service charge which pilgrims paid to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
According to him, the Emir of Kano, Alhaji Muhammadu Sanusi II, will head the committee. The Emir of Shonga, Dr Haliru Yahaya, as well as Dr Ibrahim Datti Ahmed are members.
Buhari also reiterated the position of the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) that Hajj will add value to the nation’s economy if it is properly organised.
Sultan Sa’ad Abubakar, in his goodwill message, prayed for the unity of the Muslim Ummah, adding that the pilgrims should also pray for Nigeria’s peace and progress.
The emir of Kano advised them to be of good conduct because the mere thought of evil while in Saudi Arabia will be recorded against such a pilgrim.
A statement by presidential spokesman Garba Shehu yesterday said the President “has accepted the voluntary offer by the leadership of the Muslim community under the Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence Sa’ad Abubakar II, to carry out an oversight over the Ad-hoc committees of government officials established by NAHCON”.
They are to cater for the general welfare of Nigerian pilgrims for the duration of the pilgrimage.
The Sultan is represented by a committee of emirs led by the emir of Kano.
Shehu said the offer did not contradict the directive by the President that the Federal Government’s delegation for the 2015 Hajj be suspended in line with the cost-saving measures of his administration.
While accepting the voluntary offer of service, the President made it clear that there will be no government funds involved in the mission by the respected emir.
He said the government would also not name members into the Emir’s delegation.
Buhari promised that all measures had been taken to ensure that the well-being of Nigerians on the holy pilgrimage is well managed by the various ad-hoc committees on medical, accommodation, transport, logistics, information and publicity, aviation and tour operators as well as security that generally assist the Commission in ensuring hitch-free Hajj operations.
The President praised the Emir for adding this responsibility to his own personal Hajj plans.