There is anxiety as to whether Nigerian pilgrims would participate in Umrah (lesser hajj) as travels agencies in the country are yet to receive clearance from the Saudi Arabian authorities for the issuance of visas, investigations by HAJJ REPORTERS have revealed.
The Saudi Arabian authorities lifted the suspension on participation of foreign pilgrims, with the third phase of Umrah resumption began with the entry of Indonesia and Pakistan pilgrims who are currently performing the religious ritual in Makkah.
Speaking to HAJJ REPORTERS, one of the major accommodation providers to Umrah pilgrims who just arrived from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia said “as at today, the Kingdom has not commenced the issuance of Umrah visas to Nigerian Umrah companies.”
The accommodation provider explained that “They (Saudi authorities) are just testing the new protocols and hopefully by next month, the Kingdom may expand the numbers of countries and hopefully, Nigeria may be included.”
However, the Managing Director of Comerel Travel and Tours, Ustaz Abubakar Siddeeq, told our correspondent that it was true that the Umrah has started officially with a few number of international pilgrims from Pakistan and Indonesia.
Ustaz Siddeeq said “my company’s Saudi partners have advised us to hold on with Umrah arrangements until the commencement of operation is clearer and to avoid unnecessary additional costs to our pilgrims.”
“As we speak, the portal through which you process Umrah visa and that of making payment for services are closed. No pilgrims could be processed for Umrah services. So, it clearly shows that more strategy is being worked out for the protection and comfort of the guests of Allah by the Saudi Arabian authorities,” the Comerel chief said.
He, however, explained that people with residence or multiple entry visas from Nigeria and other countries are allowed to go into the Kingdom but for them to perform Umrah they have to apply online to have a confirmation and a schedule.
Sources in the Kingdom said the process of selecting the Saudi – based Umrah services providers is yet to completed.
“As I am talking to you, only 17 companies have been approved by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah so we may need to wait for further action,” the source said.
The source said that the Saudi hajj ministry has given a go ahead to commence filling of forms pending when an approval will be given for issuance of visa.
The Managing Director of Habidat Express Travels and President of AHUON in South West Zone, Alhaji Qasim Alabi, told HAJJ REPORTERS that they have not received clearance from Saudi authorities for Umrah yet.
“We have not commenced Umrah in Nigeria as at now because the conditions are very stringent. Secondly, they are doing it batch by batch. It is not the turn of Nigeria to participate in the current Umrah that is being done in Saudi Arabia,” he said.
Alhaji Qasim said that even Nigerian external Umrah agents are not very clear on the issue. “Even our external agents over there are still a little bit confused as regards to what and what it will take to participate in Umrah.
“For example, we don’t know the figure or amount and whoever comes out and mention figure is on his own. We know as a fact that there cannot be more than two people in a room and we are also aware that there is age limit of 18 to 50,” he said.
The MD of Habidat Express Travels said “we are also aware that each pilgrim will need to undergo 3 days quarantine and maximum of 10 days of staying in Saudi Arabia. That means a total of 7 days which means 3 days in Madina and 4 days in Makkah as the case may be.”
He, however, said he is optimistic that the current modalities and rules will be reviewed to favour a lot of people to equally participate in Umrah.
Qasim said “most importantly, they are even saying that pilgrims will have to be in a group of minimum of 50 and that they must travel together. The era of having one or two pilgrims is over which means it has to be a group of 50 in the least.
“So, we have to really understand how it is going to be, what will be the costs implications so for now, we have not started marketing Umrah pilgrimage in Nigeria.”
Commenting on the story, former President of AHUON and Chairman/CEO of Qibla International Services Limited, Alhaji Abdulfatah Adeniyi Abdulmajeed, confirmed that Nigeria is not among the countries cleared for Umrah now.
“For now, the Saudi authorities determine the country that will participate and from all the information we have, Nigeria is not among the country. I think they categorised the countries and Nigeria for now is not included. So since Nigeria is not included no Nigeria Umrah companies undertake Umrah officially for now,” he said.
The former AHUON chief said “we should also appreciate what Saudi is doing and I think they are just being careful on the situation. Those who are conversant with Saudi knows that you can only participate when the Kingdom decides so.”
On the other hand, the kingdom has also lifted the Umrah
suspension on the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) countries who have had a PCR examination less than 72 hours before departing to the holy land, according to a statement from the hajj ministry.
The GCC countries are Bahrain, Kuwait, Oman, Qatar and United Arab Emirates (UAE).
Nigeria and other Hajj participating countries who are also major Umrah countries may have to wait a little longer, according to findings.
The hajj ministry, according to Okaz, announced that international pilgrims will be allowed to stay in the Kingdom for 10 days.
The ministry also announced that all prayers in Masjid Al Haram, Rawdah Al Shareefah, and visitation to the Rawdah of Prophet Muhammad (May Peace and Blessings of Allah be Upon Him) will only be allowed through a valid permit which needs be obtained through the “Eatmarna App.”
The Undersecretary for Hajj and Umrah Services, in the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Dr. Omar Al-Maddah, revealed that the countries of the world were divided into four levels to receive pilgrims.
He said the first and second level countries are the least dangerous in terms of Corona injuries, and all pilgrims are received from them, and the third level countries have a higher risk than the average, and it is allowed to receive their pilgrims amid strict procedures and in smaller numbers.
The undersecretary said fourth level countries do not receive pilgrims because the injuries in them are more prevalent and they are less able to deal with them.
Efforts to find out which level Nigeria belongs to proves abortive as at the time of publishing this report