(Published DEC 2, 2009)
Leader of Nigeria’s Muslim pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia (Amirul Hajj), Senator Kanti Bello, yesterday escaped being lynched by angry pilgrims while inspecting luggage weighing centres in Mecca.
Senator Bello had arrived one of the centres, where the luggage of Adamawa, Kano and Katsina states were weighed, and cautioned one of the operatives of Kabo Air to adhere to stipulated 40kg. He also condemned speculations that some of the air carriers were telling pilgrims that even if their luggage exceeded the limit, they would be conveyed, saying that any carrier that agreed to convey excess luggage was doing so at its own risk.
According to Bello, if any pilgrim did not arrive home with his load, the affected air carrier would be held responsible. But before completing his speech, some angry pilgrims jumped onto the stage and began to hurl abusive words and throw stones at him.
The Amirul Hajj and his entourage managed to leave the place but his car’s windscreens were smashed.
Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP reporter awaited the outcome of a closed-door meeting of the Amirul Hajj and his committee. At the time of filing in this report, none of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) officials had offered any explanation.
A source, however, confided in leadership that some of the air carriers, most especially Kabo Air, may be sanctioned.
Meanwhile, the dispute between the Amirul Hajj and most of the state pilgrims welfare boards may cause a serious delay in the airlift of the pilgrims back home, which was earlier scheduled to start yesterday.
Investigations in Jeddah and Kano revealed that already many of the pilgrims disputed the directive given by the Amirul Hajj on luggage size.
This strict directive, according to the pilgrims, will not augur well for them, as it was the tradition that the airlines handling the Hajj exercise normally carried all the luggage belonging to pilgrims, while any excess would be paid for.
A reliable source explained that despite the fact that yesterday was scheduled for the start of assembling of the pilgrims, most of them did not show up at the Jeddah airport, raising concerns that the airlift could be delayed.
The source alleged that apart from the state pilgrims welfare boards, most of the airlines operating the Hajj exercise are bitterly opposed to the new directive on lugagge size because such plan will seriously congest the Jeddah airport and paralyse the airlift.
Meanwhile, Meridian Airlines had planned to start the airlift of the pilgrims by 11 a.m. yesterday and was expected to bring home 516 Jigawa State pilgrims.
The Public Relations Manager of the airline, Alhaji Ibrahim Ahmed Karaye, told LEADERSHIP in a telephone interview that after finishing with Jigawa State, the airline would airlift pilgrims from other states allocated to it - Kano, Kaduna and Plateau.
Another airline operating in this year's Hajj exercise, Max Air Limited, had already positioned its aircraft in Jeddah on Sunday night as required by the NAHCON to commence the airlift of pilgrims back to Nigeria.