S’Arabia may bar hajj pilgrims over new rules

BEGINNING from next year, any country, whose citizens perform the yearly Moslem pilgrimage, would not be granted entry visa into Saudi Arabia if its registration process is not computerised.

As a consequence, before visa is processed for pilgrimages, whether hajj or Umrah, all the services must have been identified and paid for so that the information on a particular pilgrim would have been known at the point of entry, and all the payments that need to be made must have been fully done for before the visa is stamped.

Executive Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Musa Bello, who stated these at the opening of a two-day stakeholders’ meeting between the commission and states’ chairmen and secretaries of Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards drawn from across the country yesterday, said the decision was part of the resolutions arrived at during the recent signing of memorandum of understanding (MoU) in Saudi Arabia recently.

He disclosed that while the Saudi authorities might enforce the new visa regime this year, they have made it clear to all the participants at the MoU signing ceremony that beginning from next year, any country that does not comply with the new rule would certainly not be part of those to participate in the holy pilgrimages.

“This places a lot of burden on us as leaders of the Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards from our various states to ensure that we are fully compliant with the new regime, by telling our respective state governments on the need to change our patterns of operations.”

Besides, the NAHCON leader cited inadequate knowledge about hajj details, especially Saudi Arabian laws, as responsible for why Nigerian pilgrims run into trouble during hajj operations.

Yesterday’s meeting, according to him, a follow-up to the hajj post-mortem conference of the 2012 operation, which took place last month, was part of the early preparation for the 2013 hajj operations, as it would give all the stakeholders the opportunity to take stock of the challenges experienced during the 2012 hajj exercise and come out with possible solutions to them.

He has, therefore, tasked states’ pilgrims welfare operators to intensify pilgrims’ education and orientation, not only on hajj rites but also extend the enlightenment on how pilgrims should behave to avoid running foul of the laws of their host country.

He also admonished officials of States’ Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards on the need to be equitable, fair and just in the allocation of seats to intending pilgrims by following strictly the 80:20 ratio for first timers and repeated hajj goers.

“While it is gratifying that we have in recent times been able to surmount some of the issues that had hindered the smooth operations of the conduct of hajj in the past, it is important that we continue to work on some of the minutest details that, even though not seemingly important, have continued to draw us backwards with a view to once and for all overcoming them.”

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