Thousands of intending pilgrims for the 2023 Hajj were stranded at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA) awaiting airlift.
The pilgrims registered with various travel agencies under the umbrella of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON).
Most of them have been at the airport for the past one week to board the Arik Air flight to Saudi Arabia for the Hajj.
The airline resumed the airlift on Monday with 413 passengers while the aircraft is expected back in Lagos on Wednesday (today).
Among the stranded were over 10 intending pilgrims who travelled to Nigeria from the United Kingdom and US to participate in the exercise with Nigerian agents only to be disappointed.
The MMIA has been unusually busy with different intending pilgrims in their uniform Ankara attires; some of them unsure of when they would be conveyed to the holy land.
When our correspondent visited the airport yesterday, the intending pilgrims both male and female, completely took over the Central Mosque near the international wing of the airport.
Many of the women had cried and wailed after days of waiting for their airlift despite paying millions of naira, doubling what those under the government quota through the various state pilgrims’ boards.
I paid N6m for the trip – intending pilgrim
One of the females intending pilgrims who arrived in Lagos a week ago said she paid N6m to her agent to get a premium Hajj package only to be delayed at the airport for days.
The pilgrim who preferred not to be named said she finished all the money she was to spend in Saudi Arabia in Lagos.
“Go inside the mosque and see how we have been living for the past seven days. There is even no partition for males and females. We were practically sleeping in the open because this mosque cannot accommodate every one of us.
“I have cried and cried uncontrollably until I was consoled. This was my experience last year when I spent five days here and eventually I couldn’t make it to the land. I can’t afford to miss the exercise again this year.
“I paid double of what others who travelled through the state pilgrims welfare boards paid and the Hajj Commission has completed their airlift and yet those of us who made our private arrangement are still here.”
Asked about her agent, she said their officials have been around with them and consoling them that they would all be airlifted.
‘How pilgrim got an agent arrested’
Daily Trust learnt yesterday how one of the stranded intending pilgrims got the Managing Director of a Hajj and Umrah agency arrested at the airport.
It was learnt that the intending pilgrims after spending days at the airport accused the officials of the agency of duping him and invited the police.
“This worsened the matter because this was the same man that has been consoling us and giving information about when we are likely to go. So, all of us had to beg the man to please release him because he is the only one that is available to facilitate our trip,” another pilgrim who identified herself simply as Alhaja Lawani said.
My experience has been horrible – UK-based Nigerian
Otunba Ademola Adediran who came from the United Kingdom to go to Hajj from Nigeria said he regretted his action, saying the experience in the last one week has been horrible. He vowed to find his way back to the UK from Saudi after the completion of the Hajj rites.
Adediran said it was unfortunate that Nigeria is yet to perfect the Hajj system, noting the same problem had continued to rear its ugly head.
Daily Trust reports that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), which is almost completing the airlift of all the state pilgrims that are directly under it, had also intervened to ensure that the stranded pilgrims who registered privately with the licensed tour operators were airlifted before Saturday.