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Hajj 2017: 80,000 Nigerians set for pilgrimage to Mecca

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•Osinbajo flags off flight operations 
Jude Johnson 
The Acting President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo has flagged off flight operations for this year’s pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Saudi Arabia, ushering in the airlift of nearly 80,000 intending Pilgrims from Nigeria.  
Osinbajo in an address read on his behalf by the FCT Minister, Malam Muhammad Musa Bello, on Sunday observed that the event of the day was culmination of intense planning, preparations and hard work by a committed crop of Nigerian government officials and stakeholders. 
This, he noted, commenced when the Minster of State for Foreign Affairs, Malama Khadija Bukar Abba, led the Nigerian delegation to Saudi Arabia to sign an MOU with the Government of Saudi Arabia for the Hajj operation.
Osinbajo thanked the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for their support while commending the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Hajj officials for the good job they have done. He reminded the officials however that they should not rest on their oars until all the Pilgrims are airlifted to Saudi Arabia, performed the Hajj and successfully returned home.
The Acting President congratulated the Ministry of Foreign Affairs for its efforts in ensuring that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia restored the 20 percent it took off from the Nigerian quota some time ago.
 
His observed, “this year’s contingent represented the largest single group leaving the shores of Nigeria within a short time span of time. I urge you therefore to pray for Mr. President, Muhammadu Buhari and for the peace and progress of Nigeria during the Hajj.”
The President-General, Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, the Sultan of Sokoto, HRH Alh. Sa’ad Abubakar, who was represented by the Emir of Bauchi Alh. Rilwan Suleiman Adamu, reminded the Pilgrims that they were on course to perform one of the great pillars of Islam, charging them to be good ambassadors of the country.
In his remark at the occasion, the Minister of State Aviation, Engr. Hadi Sirika counselled the Pilgrims to avoid what he called “Jidal;” meaning  whatever is likely cause strife or disaffection between Pilgrims. He exhorted them to tolerate one another, read the information manuals very well and regularly, or listen to their spiritual guides – the Ulamas, in order to understand the rules of the Hajj process itself.
They were also required to ask questions where necessary, as ignorance of the rules of both Hajj and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may carry spiritual or legal implications. He warned them against carrying any prohibited thing as what may seem as simple as kola nuts may carry death penalty.  
Earlier in his address of welcome, the Chairman/CEO, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Malam Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad announced that this year’s airlift was beginning with FCT Pilgrims. He thanked all stakeholders for the effective management and delivery of Hajj operations in the country.
The NAHCON Chairman, expressed concern that this year’s operations was coming against the backdrop of the peculiar challenge of increase in Hajj fares but thanked Almighty Allah that in spite of this, an unprecedented number of 79,000 intending Pilgrims were going to perform this year’s Hajj. This he revealed comprised 60,000 under state government quota and 19,000 under private tour operators.
He said that an advance-team of Hajj officials had already arrived Saudi Arabia and were ready to offer the required administrative assistance, medical services and consular support to Pilgrims on their arrival.
Malam Muhammad disclosed that about 25 percent of the total Hajj staff will sacrifice their Hajj for the welfare of Pilgrims.  This, he indicated, is in keeping with the change agenda of the present government which lays emphasis on effective service delivery.  
In a message of solidarity at the occasion, the Executive Secretary, Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission, Rev. Tor Uja, declared that both Christians and Muslims in Nigeria, have a future together. He prayed that the Pilgrims would come back better equipped to contribute to the building of a great nation. He exhorted them to represent Nigeria well by demonstrating good character.
Uja indicated that the Christian Pilgrims Commission has been working closely with the National Hajj Commission as partners, saying, “Nigeria is in a vantage position to show to the world that both religions can co-exist in harmony.”

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