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President Muhammadu Buhari has moved to ease Hajj visa processing difficulties faced by intending pilgrims in Nigeria for the 2018 Hajj season. A formal letter to King Salman Bn Abdul-Aziz of Saudi Arabia, was conveyed, Wednesday, by Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, His Excellency, Justice Isa Dodo, Rtd accompanied by Nigeria’s Consul-General, in Jeddah, Ambassador Muhammad Sani Yunusa and the Chairman/CEO of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, MON.
While delivering the letter, Justice Dodo expressed the concern of President Buhari over the present difficulties faced by intending pilgrims in securing visas during the Umrah season as a result of the newly introduced policy of Biometrics capturing of applicants presently the data capture is being handled by a company assigned by Saudi Authorities which has not prepared fully to handle visa applications in Nigeria.
In his address at the meeting, NAHCON Chairman/CEO Barr Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad observed that the process of introducing the new policy began in 2014 through formal communication by the relevant Saudi Authorities. However, the commencement of the policy was not properly communicated to the relevant Nigerian authorities in charge of Hajj and Umrah. In addition, the facilities deployed to implement the policy are grossly inadequate. He added that visa applicants are subjected to long travel to where biometric capture centers are located with the attendant security risks as well as challenges of accommodation and other logistic issues. The Chairman therefore reiterated Nigeria’s request for a suspension of the policy for Hajj 2018 until such a time when the company is ready or it opens at least a minimum of 23 centres across Nigeria, to make such centres accessible to intending pilgrims across the country.
The Chairman also seized the opportunity to request the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs to adequately regulate the issuance of Gratis (Mujamala) visas for Hajj in view of the abuse of such visas in some quarters where beneficiaries are sent to Saudi Arabia without adequate accommodation and other arrangements.
Responding on behalf of the Saudi Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Director General in Charge of Makkah Branch, Mr Jamaal Balkhoyor, undertook to make appropriate recommendations to accompany the letter. He recognized the right of the regulatory Hajj authorities in Nigeria to be adequately informed about new policies on Hajj or Umrah affecting Nigerians as well as their right to designate Biometric capture centres in consideration of the nation’s peculiarities. He mentioned that in spite of the challenge, about 50,000 biometric records have been captured since the policy commenced in 2017. He finally assured the delegation that Gratis visas are issued by the Saudi Ambassador after fulfilment of all conditions such as having complete arrangements for accommodation. transportation and other requirements.
It will be recalled that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, in December 2017, started implementing a policy that requires all applicants for Hajj and Umrah visas to present themselves for biometric capture at three centres situated in Kano, Abuja and Lagos. Nigerian Government formally objected to the introduction of the policy due breach of communication protocol as well as non-preparedness of the company implementing the policy. The Saudi Government later increased the centres to nine which were still considered inadequate.
The Presentation of the Letter By the Ambassador to the Director General Nigerian Ambassador addressing the meeting while the Consul General and NAHCON CEO look on
Fatima Sanda Usara
(Head, Public Affairs)