The Lagos State government has cleared air on the controversies surrounding the 2022 pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia organized by the State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Board.

The state Commissioner, Ministry of Home Affairs, Prince Anofiu Olanrewaju Elegushi, while addressing a press conference in Alausa, Ikeja, on Tuesday, said the meeting was to “give an update on the current Hajj operations being carried out by the State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board and to address some of the issues that have been in the front burner in respect of the total number of Pilgrims that will not be able to make this year’s Hajj.”

Recalling that the Covid-19 pandemic did not allow any airlifting of pilgrims since 2020, Elegushi stated that this gave rise to an increase in the backlog of intending pilgrims since then.

He, however, noted that “when the Saudi Arabia authorities gave the go-ahead for pilgrims to be airlifted this year 2022, we had over 4,000 intending pilgrims that have registered with the state.”

According to the commissioner, “A total number of 1,562 slots were allocated to Lagos State by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and these were used up immediately by the state contingent.

“A further 250 slots were given by NAHCON based on the expectation of an additional 5,000 slots promised by the Saudi Arabian authorities. Unfortunately, the Saudi Arabian authorities declined the 5,000 slots while we had gone ahead to allocate the 250 slots awaiting final processing and Visa from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.”

Elegushi regretted that the “5,000 slots promised were declined by the Saudi Arabian authorities, thereby placing us in this precarious situation, which we find ourselves in Lagos State.

“We are aware that this matter affects every nation of the world that has intending pilgrims but the reactions and the need to make things clear have necessitated this address.”

The commissioner noted that moving forward, the state government has decided, among others, to do the following:

Publish the names of affected intending Pilgrims in a National Newspaper as the first batch for Year 2023 Hajj operations;

Put on hold sales of forms for year 2023 Hajj pending confirmation of actual number of slots to be given while giving the published names first offer of refusal; and

Make the refund process seamless and quickly available for those intending pilgrims who wish to take such an option.

The commissioner assured intending pilgrims of the state government’s support at all times and prayed for safe return of the pilgrims already airlifted.

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