NAHCON says 52,000 Nigerian pilgrims affected by tent shortage, mulls sack of Saudi firm

Monday, July 3, 2023

Over 52,000 Nigerian pilgrims were without shelter during the five-day stay at Mina during the Hajj rites, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has said.

Zikrullahi Hassan, the chairman of the commission, disclosed this on Sunday in Makkah during a meeting between the commission and the Saudi Arabian company in charge of the tents and feeding at Mina.

A company, named Mutawwif, for Pilgrims from African and non-Arab countries, is in charge of feeding and tents.

Mr Hassan said 43,000 capacity tents were provided to cater for 95,000 pilgrims from Nigeria, leaving over 50,000 pilgrims without adequate shelter during their five-day stay in Mina.

Mr Hassan, who was visibly furious with the development, said Nigeria will consider the termination of the contract with Mutawwif and also demand a refund.

The stay in Mina is a mandatory part of the hajj exercise. Pilgrims stayed at the camp from 26 to 30 June.

“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,” he said.

Mr Hassan said the Saudis must hand off feeding of pilgrims because they lack the capacity.

“Time has come for you to hand 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.

“We will be writing a letter of request for a refund to you because the food didn’t meet our requirements 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,” he said.

To address the problem, Mr Hassan demanded that Nigeria should be allocated a different place that is large enough to accommodate pilgrims.

“We want to be removed from the present site of tents. Now that we have been told about the fact that the first country to finish registration and documentation 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 a few days or a 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 foods you have been giving us have no Nigerian touch at all. Return the food to us and you can regulate it. We are controlling and regulating feeding in Makkah and Madinah,” he said.

You have ruined our reputation— Travel operators

Meanwhile, the President of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria, Yahaya Sulaiman, who spoke on behalf of tour operators, said the inefficiency of the firm has harmed the reputation of the tour operators.

He also accused Mutawwif of running a very opaque system.

“Even if you refund our money, our images that you have destroyed can’t be refunded. Your operations are shrouded in opaqueness, with no transparency.

“We asked for documentary details of how much food and water you are supplying to how many pilgrims but you never made that available up till now,” he lamented.

Mutawwif blames Illegal pilgrims for shortage

Speaking on the issues raised, the Vice President of the firm, Badr Bafakeek, admitted that the firm failed to deliver.

He noted that the firm did not anticipate the number of pilgrims assigned to them.

He also blamed the shortage of food on illegal pilgrims and poor security.

In response, Mr Hassan dismissed the argument, noting that NAHCON is not responsible for security.

“We are not in a position to check them (Illegal pilgrims) 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 last year despite the fact that we came with 95,000 pilgrims compared to 43,000 pilgrims that we came with last year,” he said.