The hopes of some intending pilgrims to attend this year’s edition of Hajj have hit the rocks. The albatrosses of the failure are fare hike by the Pilgrims Board, age limit policy by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as well as inadequate slot. Against these backdrops, many intending pilgrims will miss the event. Daily Trust on Sunday captures their tales in Kano, Kaduna and Kwara.
In Kano, like other states too, some intending pilgrims are facing challenges ranging from inability to pay the fare balance, following a hike to N2.5 million, age limit by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which has stipulated 65 years age limit for prospective pilgrims as well as uncertainty of getting slot as the number allocated to the state is inadequate.
Consequently, many of them will miss the event, despite that they had been saving money and optimistic to make it this year.
Our correspondent gathered that those who could not meet the conditions despite that they deposited money as part payment since last year, had been refunded their money as they could not raise the balance of N1.2 million increment.
Jamilu Jibrin, 46, an intending pilgrim who got a refund few days ago, lamented the hike in fare and the reality of missing the Hajj after spending two years in anticipation to attend.
“It is a journey that I had always dreamt of. But I had no other option than to collect the money. I deposited it two years ago. But the hike in the fare has denied me the opportunity. But God willing, I will attend next year,” Jibrin said.
Aminu Umar Tudun Wada said that even if the fare was increased to N3 million, he would pay and go. He expressed delight that Hajj was an opportunity to worship Allah with everything one has.
Another intending pilgrim, Hajiya Saude Mohammed, said: “At first, when I heard of the hike in dollars and that the Hajj fare would be up to N2.5 million, I was not happy.
But I later summoned courage to complete my payment since I had deposited money at the board since 2020. Since the past 10 years, I have been longing to partake in Hajj. As Allah will have it, I am now among those that will go this year.
“My prayer is to be among those that will go since the slot given to Kano State is not much.”
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that, while some prospective pilgrims are trying to pay the balance of the fare, others have to be refunded the money they had deposited due to the new age limit policy by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia which stipulates that people above 65 years would not be allowed to perform this year’s Hajj.
Mallam Usman Muhammad, 74, was sponsored by his son to perform the year’s Hajj, but was refunded his money.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that Kano State was given 2,229 slots and the State Pilgrims Welfare Board (KSPWB) had announced that it would close collection of the 2022 Hajj fare from intending pilgrims on May 12, 2022. The board then directed them (the intending pilgrims) to pay the balance within seven days.
When our reporter sought reaction from the Kano State Pilgrims Board, it said that it had started refunding those who are above 65 years since they wouldn’t be allowed to perform the Hajj.
The Public Relations Officer of the board, Hadiza Abbas Sunusi, said those that could not pay the outstanding balance had also started getting refunds.
She added that the state was committed to refunding their money promptly.
She, however, expressed worries over slots as they had been exhausted, whereas a lot were still needed.
“We have already paid those that cannot make it their outstanding balance. We had issued a deadline and those that can’t afford the trip are already collecting their money. We have also paid those that are above 65 years as they are exempted from the exercise.
“I can’t even estimate the number of people that are on our waiting list. Many people are willing to pay if we get slots and we are scouting for that. It’s been two years since the Hajj exercise and that’s the reason for the rush,” she added.
The situation is the same in Ilorin, the Kwara State capital, as intending pilgrims that spoke to our correspondent also expressed disappointment and frustration at the development.
Saadu Sidiq who described the situation as worrisome and traumatic, said that the pilgrims board in Ilorin did not carry out adequate sensitisation after the increment was announced and the time required for them to source for the balance was not enough.
“When they increased it and we tried to pay, I was later told that payment had closed since Saturday, May 7. We tried all our efforts, but got the same response. We had paid N1.3m since 2022 before the issue of COVID-19, but that is how God has destined it to be.
“But we have not collected our money from the pilgrims board in anticipation for next year. We feel it will be easier to source the remaining money instead of starting from the scratch.
“My advice to them is that, whenever they notice that many people have paid, they should attend to people that have paid first. Also, the time given for the completion of the balance is too short. N1.2m is not a small amount to get within a week. Where do they expect us to get N2.5m just like that?
“They should have given two to three weeks notice and kept us regularly posted about happenings. We were not informed about their decision. They didn’t go on air to announce their plans. We only heard about it from some people, until we went to their office to confirm it, he said.
Another intending pilgrim who craved anonymity said: “To say that we are disappointed is an understatement. We are totally dejected and our hopes of making the Hajj after so much hope and patience with high expectations have been dashed again for no fault of ours.
“What we want now is for the commission to tell us our fate; or are they just going to leave us hanging like that despite all our efforts to make the Hajj? Another worry is that, we were not carried along at all by the pilgrims board in terms of sensitization for us to know the latest development,” he said.
When contacted, the PRO of the board, Hajia Falilat Jumoke, directed our correspondent to the Executive Secretary of the Kwara State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board (KWMPWB), Barrister Abdulganiyu Ahmed.
But several attempts to get his reaction were not successful.
Our reporter who visited the board waited several hours to no avail to get his reaction.
Also, several calls and text messages to his phone were neither answered nor replied.
But a top source at board, who confided in our reporter, said over 400 intended pilgrims who were affected by the increment in the Hajj fare had been refunded.
In Kaduna, about 486 intending pilgrims have so far been refunded their Hajj fares by the State Pilgrims Welfare Agency for 2022 Hajj exercise.
Daily Trust on Sunday gathered that they sought the refund voluntarily.
Many of them, we gathered, wrote applications seeking refund for various reasons which include increase in the fare. The agency approved their applications and they were handed their cheques.
The Agency’s Executive Secretary, Dr Yusuf Yakubu Alrigasiyu, who was out of the state on official duty when contacted him on phone directed our correspondent to the agency’s Director of Administration and Finance, Hajiya Hannatu Zailani.
Hajiya Zailani explained that currently, the state had 3,692 intending pilgrims waiting on the list, but the state was only allocated 2,491 Hajj seats by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria ( NAHCON) for 2022.
“Those 486 intending pilgrims withdrew voluntarily because each pilgrim wrote an application through their pilgrims officer seeking refund.
“Those that are not willing to travel for reasons best known to them wrote and their cheques were processed and handed to them. But we still have intending pilgrims that withdrew their earlier applications. So, for those that were refunded, it was a voluntary withdrawal,” she said.
Hajiya Zailani also said there were other intending pilgrims that neither called nor visited the agency to ask for their money, but were contacted on the phone to know if they were still interested to travel or not.
She, however, assured of the agency’s transparency in its activities to ensure that justice was done to all intending pilgrims in the state.
From Zahraddeen Yakubu Shuaibu, Kano; Mumini AbdulKareem, Ilorin & Mohammed I.Yaba, Kaduna