The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia Tuesday absolved itself of any blame in the recent impasse with Nigeria over the refusal of the former to allow female pilgrims unaccompanied by their male guardians (Mahram).
This comes as about 350 Muslim pilgrims from Ekiti State Tuesday departed the state to participate in the year 2012 pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca and Medina.
Saudi Arabia government clarified that in previous years, female pilgrims from Nigeria were never returned as they were always accompanied by their male guardians. It added that the 50 pilgrims, who were again deported on Monday were unaccompanied by their guardians.
It also clarified that hajj visa was issued to female pilgrims with the names of their male guardians inserted into their visa; this implies that the male guardians should arrive with the women on the same flight; else the inclusion is of no use.
The Saudi Embassy, in a statement issued in Abuja, said the first flight which bore unaccompanied female pilgrims led to intense negotiations with an agreement that the women would be allowed into the Kingdom as soon as their male guardians arrived on the following flight.
The statement added that the two parties agreed that no new flight bearing unaccompanied females would be allowed to travel to the Kingdom. “But unfortunately, the Saudi authorities were surprised when more flights with similar cases arrived King Abdul-Aziz in Jeddah and the Airport of Al-Madinah which compounded the problem and made it more complicated,” it read.
It added that the Saudi authorities then took the decision that the female pilgrims should return to Nigeria with a promise to allow them enter the Kingdom when accompanied by their male guardians as their visas were not cancelled.
“In spite of all this, a Nigerian flight with female pilgrims unaccompanied by their male guardians also arrived Jeddah, Monday, October 1, 2012. They were instructed to return to Nigeria,” it said in the statement. Saudi Arabia clarified that the policy requesting male guardians for female pilgrims applies to all nationalities that arrive into the kingdom without any discrimination.
“The Embassy wishes to give the assurance that the Government of Saudi Arabia will continue to do its best in guarantying both the safety and comfort of all pilgrims coming from all parts of the world and considers it a great honour to render such services to them,” it concluded.
Meanwhile, the Chairman of Ekiti State Pilgrims Welfare Board (ESPWB), Alhaji Ganiyu Olowoyo, who made the disclosure in Ado-Ekiti, said the 350 pilgrims had satisfied the basic conditions to qualify for participation in the exercise.
He observed that the Board had equally done the unusual by disqualifying those felt insufficient to embark on the journey. The chairman emphasised that there is no room in Ekiti state for dubious characters wishing to go on hajj at all cost. Hence, the Board was strict in its scrutiny of the characters and backgrounds of all applicants.
Addressing the intending pilgrims during the sent off ceremony, the state Governor, Dr Kayode Fayemi urged those participating in this year’s hajj exercise to be of good conduct in the Holy Land.
The governor, who spoke through the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Alhaji Ganiyu Owolabi, said Muslims should respect the law and operate only within permitted precincts, even as they ensure they participate in all prescribed rituals.
He noted that it is a great religious duty they were about to perform and that fact should guide their conduct throughout. Fayemi said: “You are all aware that there are religious procedures to follow as you carry out the hajj rites in order to attract Allah’s blessing, my advice is that you should strictly adhere to these procedures.
Assuring them that government has put things in place to remove the usual but avoidable encumbrances in the performance of their religious duties, governor urged them to pray for the state and Nigeria.
Head of the state contingent (Amirul Hajj) and former deputy governor of old Ondo State, Alhaji Musa Ayeni commended governor Fayemi for his supports for the Muslims in the state.
He urged the pilgrims to be careful and manage their resources when in the Holy Land, adding that they should also follow their leaders who he said would always offer them useful guides at each stage of the exercise.