Federal Government on Wednesday in Abuja gave the Saudi Arabia government 24 hours to expedite action in resolving the issues surrounding the detention of some Nigerian female pilgrims.
Vice President Namadi Sambo gave the ultimatum when he summoned the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr Khaled Abdrabuh, to his office.
The News Agency of Nigeria reports that over 750 Nigerian female pilgrims in Saudi Arabia adjudged by the authorities to be without male companion (Muharram) have been detained in Jeddah and Madinah.
Sambo expressed the country’s displeasure over the treatment being meted out to Nigerian pilgrims performing this year’s pilgrimage in the holy land.
He said reports available to him suggested that only Nigerian pilgrims were being subjected to such dehumanising treatment.
Sambo, therefore, requested the Saudi Arabian authorities to apply caution and flexibility to allow the pilgrims undertake their sacred religious duties.
He said, “Should the Saudi authorities not desire our pilgrims to perform this year’s Hajj, they should let the country know.”
He said that no reasonable and responsible government would sit and fold its arms while its citizens are manhandled.
The VP, therefore, requested the Ambassador to do all within his powers to ensure that the issues were resolved within 24 hours, and the outcome communicated to him.
While explaining the position of his government, Abdrabuh said that Nigeria was not being treated in isolation, and that all the countries participating in the Hajj were affected.
He said that the issue of Muharram for female pilgrims was not a new policy, but that the Saudi government decided to be flexible in the past.
He revealed that the Ministries of Hajj, Foreign Affairs and Interior and the governor of Mecca were meeting in Riyadh, the country’s capital, with a view to resolving the impasse speedily.
Abdrabuh expressed the hope that the matter would be resolved within 24 hours.
Meanwhile, Federal Government on Wednesday suspended airlifting of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia pending the resolution of the diplomatic row between Nigeria and Saudi authorities.
The spokesman for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, Mallam Uba Mana, told our correspondent on the telephone that the suspension would be for 48 hours to allow for the resolution of the crisis over 700 Nigeria female pilgrims detained by Saudi Arabia on their way to Mecca for Hajj.
He said, “We have suspended the airlifting of pilgrims for the hajj for 48 hours for now to allow the resolution of the diplomatic crisis.
“All flights for the hajj operations are suspended until the crisis is over, that is the new development.”
President Goodluck Jonathan approved the constitution of a Presidential delegation to meet with Saudi Arabia over the issues surrounding the detained pilgrims at King Abdul-Azziz International Airport, Jeddah.
A statement on Wednesday night by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Chief Pius Anyim, said the delegation would be led by the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Alhaji Aminu Tambuwal.
Others are the Minister of State for Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Dr. Nuruddeen Mohammed; Amb. Shehu Galadanchi, Sheikh Sherif Saleh and Chairman, NAHCOM, Muhammad Bello.
He said, “The delegation will depart for Saudi Arabia as soon as appointment is finalised with the appropriate authorities.”
Meanwhile, NAHCOM confirmed that 159 pilgrims were denied entry into Medina and that they returned aboard the same flight.
However, Nigeria has protested the treatment meted out to its citizens by Saudi Arabia.
Spokesman for NAHCOM, Mallam Uba Mana, said the commission took the decision to avoid a situation where they would be detained by the Saudi authorities.
He said, “We received a report this morning that 159 female pilgrims were not allowed in Medina. We immediately asked the flights that took them to return them to the country.