By Ryan Aliman
Impunity Watch Reporter, Africa
ABUJA, Nigeria – Yesterday, the Nigerian Federal Government told the government of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia that it had 24 hours to resolve the issue regarding the detention of approximately 900 female Nigerian pilgrims on their way to Makkah.
Vice President Namadi Sambo held a meeting with the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Khaled Abdrabuh, to urge the Saudi government to speed up its decision on the matter so Nigeria will have an idea what actions it will take to help its stranded citizens in the Kingdom.
“Should the Saudi authorities not desire our pilgrims to perform this year’s Hajj, they should let the country know,” said the Vice-President in a press statement issued yesterday. According to him, “caution and flexibility” must be applied by the Saudi government in dealing with the issue of whether or not it will allow the Nigerian female pilgrims’ performance of the Hajj to prevent a dispute between the two countries from arising and more importantly, to prevent these women from being “manhandled”. He said he has received reports that the Nigerian pilgrims were being subjected to dehumanizing treatment in the Kingdom.
It has almost been a week since Saudi authorities held hundreds of female Nigerian pilgrims at the King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah. These pilgrilms were heading to Makkah to perform this year’s Hajj, a mandatory pilgrimage for Muslims. However, their journey was cut short by Saudi immigration officers. The pilgrims were barred from leaving the airport on the ground that these women did not have a male relative, otherwise known as Muharram or Mahram, to escort them for the Hajj.
This came as a surprise to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.”This is the first time pilgrims have faced the possibility of mass deportation over the male escort issue”, the commission stated. According to the Uba Mana, a spokesman for the Commission, there is an existing agreement between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria that exempts female pilgrims from the male escort requirement. In fact, for the past years, state pilgrimage officials were allowed to stand in place as relatives of the women pilgrims.
The Saudi government has released stricter policies on the Hajj this year, particularly on prohibiting women pilgrims to perform the Hajj alone. There have been reports where the Saudi immigration even stopped women who traveled with their husbands.
Today, the Nigerian Senate has officially condemned the action of the Saudi government describing the issue as “beyond diplomatic”. It has also called on President Goodluck Jonathan to intervene and urge the Saudi government to release the stranded pilgrims.
For further information, please see:
The Associated Press – 908 Nigerian female pilgrims held in Saudi Arabia – 27 September 2012
IOL News – Nigerian women stranded in Saudi – 27 September 2012
All Africa – Nigeria: Senate, House – Committee of Ulamas Should Dialogue With Saudis – 27 September 2012
Reuters – Saudi deports 150 female pilgrims, holds 1,000 more, Nigeria says – 27 September 2012
All Africa – Nigeria: FG Gives Saudi Arabia 24 Hrs to Resolve Issue Surrounding Detention – 26 September 2012