Consequent upon the banning of international pilgrims from performing the year 2020 pilgrimage by the Saudi Arabian authority, the Lagos State Government has urged intending pilgrims to postpone their plans till the year 2021.
This was part of the major resolutions reached between the State government, the intending Pilgrims, Ulamahs (Islamic scholars) and other stakeholders, during a one-day sensitisation programme on the future of the year 2020 Hajj operation, held at the Lagos State Secretariat, Alausa, Ikeja, recently.
While justifying the necessity for the cancellation, the Honourable. Commissioner for Home Affairs, Prince Anofiu Olanrewaju Elegushi, praised the Saudi authority for taking such a bold and difficult decision in order to curb the spread of COVID-19 pandemic currently ravaging the entire world, considering the large number of people that would have performed the pilgrimage in Makkah and Medina.
Elegushi affirmed that holding the exercise despite the pandemic might have come with a lot of stringent conditions and restrictions difficult to bear, while many would be denied of the opportunity in the process. He stressed that waiting till next hajj when the pandemic should have subsided is a better option.
The Commissioner said as a government that is responsible for its people, no pilgrims would be denied their legitimate right to seek a refund of the hajj fare already paid.
He, however, advised pilgrims to leave the money with the government as payment for the exercise in 2021 in order to be considered on a first-come, first-served basis, otherwise, they would have to start all over again.
Urging those who are yet to complete their payments to do so quickly to secure their place in the records of the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Elegushi implored pilgrims not to change their intention because of the present situation.
He also emphasised that it might not be easy for anybody seeking a refund to recoup the money between now and November 2020, when the year 2021 hajj operations will begin, assuring that the money is very safe with the State government.
Narrating the efforts already put in place by the State government before the pandemic struck, Elegushi said that he led some officials to Saudi Arabia to secure a befitting and conducive accommodation for the pilgrims nearer to the Haram to ensure a comfortable exercise, in addition to the provision of free healthcare services.
While answering questions on the possibility of increment for the year 2021 hajj fare, Elegushi remarked that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) fixes hajj fares and not the State government, noting that one of the goals of the current Chairman of NAHCON, Barr. Kunle Hassan is to secure a reduction in the hajj fare so as to make it affordable for intending pilgrims.
On medical screening, Elegushi averred that all the intending pilgrims will be made to undergo a fresh screening at the appropriate time, stating that intending pilgrims can retrieve their international passport for any other use.
In her goodwill message, the Permanent Secretary, Mrs. Adebunmi Adekanye appealed to the intending pilgrims and Lagosians, in general, to believe that COVID-19 pandemic is real and support the efforts of the government in fighting the scourge.
Adekanye emphasised the need to observe all stipulated protocols such as regular handwashing with water and soap, wearing of face masks, avoiding large gatherings, maintaining physical distancing and avoiding handshakes, among others.