The Lagos State Government through its Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board has airlifted a total of 2,379 intending pilgrims comprising of 994 males and 1,385 females to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the holy pilgrimage exercise, so far.
The immediate past Hon. Commissioner for Home Affairs, Prince Anofiu Olanrewaju Elegushi disclosed this during the airlift of the seventh batch of the state contingent, at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Ikeja, on Tuesday.
The seventh batch departed Nigeria on board a Flynas airline XY 5722 with 415 intending pilgrims (157 males and 258 females) at exactly 2.49 am Nigerian time.
Elegushi stated that the airlifting exercise which was kick-started last week Thursday, June 1, ahead of the initial scheduled date of June 4, has been encouraging so far. He noted that the only challenge was the delay being experienced in the issuance of visa by the Saud Arabian Embassy in Abuja.
He said, “So far, so good, the airlifting exercise has been so smooth and hitch-free, except for the delay in the issuance of visa to the intending pilgrims by the Saudi Embassy”.
According to him, if the visa issuance had been as fast as expected, the state would have by now moved all the intending pilgrims to the Kingdom. He however, added that the Embassy had been contacted to fast-track the processes with a view to ensuring that all the remaining intending pilgrims get their visa within the shortest period of time so that they can join other Muslims across the world in performing the Hajj rites in accordance with the teachings of the Holy Prophet.
While commending the intending pilgrims for their patience, perseverance and understanding despite the challenges on visa issuance, he appealed to them not to get frustrated about the situation but to
continue to bear with the State as it works hard to surmount the challenges, promising that none of the government officials would travel for the exercise until all the paid intending pilgrims are satisfactorily airlifted.
Elegushi also commended the South West Zonal coordinator of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Mr. Gafar Odunola Babatunde and his team as well as Flynas airline for the excellent services they have both delivered since the airlifting exercise began. He appreciated the Flynas airline for its exemplary conducts which had greatly assisted the state in achieving the milestone.
Addressing the intending pilgrims before their departure, the Board Chairman, Imam (Engr.) Shakiru Ayinde Gafar also appreciated them for their peaceful conduct over the delay in the issuance of visa.
While noting that the visa could only be issued by the Saudi Embassy, he corroborated Prince Elegushi by giving assurances that none of them would be left behind without securing their visa, stressing that the state was equal to the task and would do everything humanly possible to assuage their feelings.
Engr. Gafar appealed to them to exhibit the exemplary conducts of peace and patience throughout their stay in the holy land in order to improve the good image to the state and the nation at large and for their supplications to be accepted by Allah.
Recall that the state was allocated 3,644 slots for this year’s spiritual exercise by NAHCON. Meanwhile, the breakdown of how the state’s contingents were airlifted since inception is as follows; 868 were airlifted in three batches on Thursday 1st June. The first batch had 390, second batch 428 and third batch 50.
The fourth batch on Friday 2nd June had 253; fifth batch on Saturday 3rd June, 426 were airlifted. The sixth flight which took off on Monday 5th June, had 417 on board while the seventh batch which left in the early hours of Tuesday 6th June, had 415 intending pilgrims on board. This has put the number of intending pilgrims already airlifted by the state to 2,379.
The officer in charge of the Nigeria Drugs Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA) at the Murtala Mohammed International Airport, Chief Superintendent of Narcotics, Alh. Isiaku Mohammed Salau told reporters that in fulfilling its mandate, the agency ensured that all the intending pilgrims traveling through the airport are thoroughly screened with a view to to ensuring that non of them leaves the country with illicit drugs and other prohibited items.
He cautioned others yet to be airlifted to avoid taking along prohibited items such as Tramadol, cola nut, heroine, etc. while embarking on the spiritual journey, saying if they are caught whether in Nigeria or at Saudi Arabia, they would be punished in accordance with the laws.