Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Zikrullahi Kunle Hassan has condemned the Saudi Arabian Authorities for the poor feeding and accommodation arrangements for Nigerian pilgrims in the just concluded pilgrimage.
The chairman particularly accused the company paid to carry out the feeding and accommodation, especially in Minah, of abandoning the pilgrims outside the tents in harsh weather conditions.
Reacting to the complaints mounted by the affected Nigerian pilgrims, the NAHCON boss expressed shock that the company gave Nigerian pilgrims the same capacity of tents they gave them last year when the country had 43,000 pilgrims compared to this year when they have 95,000 pilgrims.
He warned the company that something has to change in the way Nigerian pilgrims are treated, if not, “the 30-year relationship may have to be reconsidered.
“If two brothers come out of the room laughing, it means they didn’t tell themselves the truth. But if they come out frowning, it means they told each other the truth and they can make progress.
“At this point we have to tell each other the truth. We have to say that Nigerian pilgrims were subjected to untold hardship and they are so disappointed in us even though we have repeatedly told them that the issues of tents and food are not in our hands, that we can only complain to the authorities.
“Time has come for you to hands off our food. We have argued repeatedly that we can handle catering by ourselves and you can regulate.
“This is because no matter how much money you spend on food, if you don’t do it the Nigerian way, it will not be eaten and the money is wasted.
“I am making this demand on behalf of Nigerian pilgrims and stakeholders.
“I am also, on behalf of the Nigerian delegation, demanding a refund for the foods that you didn’t supply,” the NAHCON boss said.
On the issue of invasion of the Minah area by Illegal pilgrims which the company raised earlier as an excuse, Hassan said that that cannot be the fault of Nigeria as “we are not in a position to check them or contain them since we are not in charge of security. That has to be the fault of our hosts.
“The invasion of illegal pilgrims isn’t an excuse because you provided the same capacity of tents as last year despite the fact that we came with 95,000 pilgrims compared to 43,000 pilgrims that we came with last year. Without the issue of illegal pilgrims which is not our fault that, the issue of tent inadequacy would still have happened,” a visibly angry NAHCON boss argued.
“The food came late most of the time . The food wasn’t good enough. It was not cooked in our Nigerian style and taste. The terrible food and the fact that Nigerians rejected it enabled invaders to come in and sell food. And this made the place more chaotic and embarrassing,” he added.
Speaking on the way forward, he said: “We want to be removed from the present site of tent. Now that we have been told about the fact that the first country to finish registration and documentations will be able to choose the best section of Mina, me and my team will work on ensuring that we start on time so we can choose the best place for our people next year. We must examine the tent a month before the arrival of our pilgrims so we can make necessary adjustments. Before now, you give us few days or few hours to vet the place you are keeping for our people which is not good enough.
“Return feeding to us. We can manage that ourselves. We can screen the caterer and ensure they have Nigerian touch. The food you have been giving us have no Nigerian touch at all. Return the food to us and you can regulate. We are controlling and regulating feeding in Makkah and Madinah. We have choices in Makkah and Madinah but no choice in Mina.
“We will be writing a letter of request for refund to you because the food didn’t meet our retirements and standard at all. As we go home, we will have to review our agreement with a view to knowing if we are continuing with this partnership or not because if our people are not happy, there will be no point continuing on this,” the NAHCON boss said.
This was even as Executive Secretary of Adamawa State Pilgrims Welfare Board, Abubakar Salihu, regretted that the Saudi company has taken Nigeria for a ride for too long.
“You have repeated the mistakes of last year. I complained of the same issues last year and you refunded a paltry 1.7 million naira for how many pilgrims. Now, we are seeking refunds for all the food that were not supplied.
“And we seek that you hands off the issue of feeding. No matter the money you are making from the food supply, it is not worth losing your image and losing a big client like us.
“Most of the times, we got no food at all. I even saw a pilgrim openly placing a curse on the people behind the management of tents.
“I don’t think you can continue to risk the wrath of Allah with this performance.”
Also the President of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria, Yahaya Sidi Sulaiman, who spoke on behalf of tour operators lamented that the same thing was done to his group last year without any refunds.
“Even if you refund our money, our images that you have destroyed can’t be refunded. Your operations are shrouded in opaqueness, no transparency. We asked for documentary details of how many food and water you are supplying to how many pilgrims but you never made that available up till now.”
Speaking earlier, the Vice President of the group, Badr Bafqih, said that they faced some challenges which stopped them from delivering quality service as promised.
He complained that the number of pilgrims exceeded their expectations as the invasion of illegal pilgrims into Minah compounded their woes.
Responding to the complaints of the three speakers, Bafqih said that his organisation will investigate the issues and ascertain the number of food servings they didn’t get, adding that he couldn’t give immediate response to their demands.