Millions of pilgrims across the globe are streaming towards the two holy mosques in Makkah and Madinah, Saudi Arabia.
According to the timetable released by the Saudi authorities, Saudi airports had been opened to flights conveying pilgrims from Sunday, May 21, 2023. They would close for arrivals Thursday, June 22, 2023.
This is the second Hajj after the 2020 Coronavirus pandemic outbreak which crippled the entire world.
Holy pilgrimage wasn’t spared as Hajj operations were truncated to the extent that foreign pilgrims were denied access to the Holy land during Hajj seasons of 2020 and 2021.
The annual Holy pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2020 and 2021 was restricted to a limited number of domestic pilgrims. This was allowed under strict COVID-19 preventive protocols and restrictions.
Expectedly, Nigerian Muslim pilgrims had their share of the COVID-19 pandemic breakfast as most faithful who dreamt of performing the 5th pillar of Islam couldn’t fulfill their religious obligations.
Relief, however, came in 2022 when foreign pilgrims were allowed in a limited capacity to perform Hajj under certain restrictions which included age.
Some Nigerian pilgrims seized the opportunity to perform 2022 Hajj leaving a rocky backlog of 2020 and 2021 intending pilgrims.
With the latest developments, 2023 Hajj season is the first full capacity after the pandemic.
Consequently, Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj and Umrah will continue to receive pilgrims from all over the world through her sea and airports, as well as through land entry points.
Back to the present realities, the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has launched its unified media identity for this year’s Hajj season 1444AH with the slogan “Proclaim Hajj to People “ via its 15 social media accounts or handles in tandem with Allah’s call to Prophet Ibrahim( may Allah bless him) and Prophet Muhammad (peace be upon him) to invite Muslims worldwide to perform pilgrimage in the Holy land.
According to Saudi Gazette reports, this year’s Hajj media identity introduces the Ministry and its roles in managing the Hajj season, educating pilgrims on Hajj rituals and informing them about services, procedures and the correct behaviours during the Hajj journey in all fields in 14 different languages.
Saudi Arabia has been able to improve her services and facilities by providing automation of requests for visas, arrival procedures and distribution of identification cards. In addition, age restrictions and specific requirements for women have been jettisoned. The authorities also make available special services for the sick pilgrims and pilgrims with special needs.
Back home, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) said it was ready for a hitch free hajj operations for 2023 and beyond.
The Commissioner of Planning, Research and Policy Management, Sulayman Momoh called for a collaboration between the Commission and the media in making the 2023 Hajj seamless.
Addressing journalists during the inauguration of National Media Team, NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan disclosed that over 96,000 Nigerians were expected to participate in this year’s Hajj. While urging the media to adhere to the ethics of journalism, he called for robust and fair reports.
Alhaji Hassan said: “In shaa Allah, we are fully prepared, all registered Nigerian pilgrims will be airlifted. “
Coming this far to ensure smooth Hajj operations, the Chairman said the success recorded so far were not without challenges. According to him, “this year, the Commission had been confronted with many challenges.”
One of them he disclosed was the demolition of numerous hotels in Makkah for futuristic developments. This led to high cost of hotel accommodation. However, the Chairman said “we were able to negotiate a reasonable price for hotel accommodation in Makkah”.
Speaking further, Alhaji Hassan stated “also, we have been able to maintain the standard in Madinah, whereby our pilgrims are lodged in 5-star hotels within the prestigious Markaziyyah vicinity surrounding the Prophet’s mosque.”
The war in Sudan constitutes another major obstacle to this year’s Hajj as Sudan airspace is closed, thereby forcing a re-route from Nigeria to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The costs which could be better imagined.
“We appreciate Federal Government for waving numerous aviation charges, the airlines for their sacrifices, the States’ Pilgrims Welfare Boards and our pilgrims who all cooperated to arrive at an amiable solution to the seeming bottlenecks, “ the Chairman explained.
In spite of these challenges, the Commission in collaboration with the Mutawwif’s company put in place mechanisms for the comfort and safety of the pilgrims. In addition, the Commission introduced Nigerian cuisines into the pilgrims’ foods, thus creating jobs for the Nigerian caterers.
Also, hiring of indigenous airlines for the airlift operations by the Commission is a deliberate attempt of keeping Nigerian airlines in business.
On a final note, the NAHCON Chairman is optimistic and emphatic that this year’s Hajj “wouldn’t just be about stories but stories of success”.
Ozugha writes in from Lagos, South West Nigeria.