There is no gainsaying that President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent official visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will impact positively on the Nigeria-Saudi Arabian relations for so many reasons. First and foremost, though the visit was not unprecedented by any Nigerian leader since independence, but its impact is indeed unprecedented because of the bilateral and multilateral discussions the president had with the Saudi authorities.
Nigeria has been officially participating in Hajj operations for several decades, but relations between the two nations have been going on but mostly at individual and corporate levels.
The Buhari’s October visit opened new apertures for the two countries – which share so many things in common in the areas of oil and gas and the need for diversification as well as exploiting their tourism potentialities – and have for the first time decided to form a joint council to spur investments for their mutual benefit. During the Future Investment Initiative (FII) conference in Riyadh, the President had a sideline meeting with the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia and driver of the Kingdom’s economic diversification, Muhammad bin Salman, who, out of courtesy and respect for President Buhari, insisted that he would meet with him in his hotel room at The Ritz Carlton, Riyadh.
The Crown Prince reiterated the preparedness of the kingdom to support Nigeria’s development agenda, noting that the country had the potential to be among the top 20 economies in the world. “Saudi Arabia is eager to support Nigeria and we want to be a part of Nigeria’s journey to be among the top 20 economies in the world,” he said. As part of the unprecedented cooperation between the two countries, the two leaders agreed to the establishment of the Nigeria-Saudi Council that will be made up of government officials and business leaders from both countries. The Umrah and Hajj industry will benefit from the president’s engagement in Saudi Arabia.
The multi-billion naira sector employs thousands of Nigerians. More than 70,000 Nigerians go to the Kingdom for the Hajj pilgrimage every year, with about 500,000 others performing Umrah annually. It is therefore imperative to stress here that President Buhari administration leverages on this opportunity to improve the Hajj and Umrah sector by addressing some of the salient issues which include the e-portal system introduced by the Saudi authorities that has greatly made visa issuance easy.
While the elimination of the 2000 Saudi Riyals for Umrah and Hajj pilgrims is a welcome development, the introduction of visa and insurance fees for all categories of pilgrims has inversely jacked up the Hajj and Umrah packages. It is hoped that all stakeholders in the industry will put hands on deck to support the Buhari administration in its relentless effort of developing the sector.
Salisu Butu wrote from Abuja