By Fatima Sanda Usara

Attention of the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) has been drawn to a story in the Daily Trust Newspapers of Wednesday 3rd November 2021 with the title, “6 years after, victims of Saudi crane crash yet to get compensation”.

According to the story, two persons that claimed to be related to the crash situation sought intervention of the Kaduna state governor, Malam Nasiru El-Rufa’i after writing letters to the Kaduna State Pilgrims’ Welfare Board and NAHCON “but noting positive has come out of it.” One of the complainants is said to be a brother to one of the deceased and the other claims to have suffered injury on his shoulder from the crash.

Indeed, NAHCON received letters from some victims from Kaduna state to which the Commission duly replied. One of the writers who claimed to have sustained injuries from the crash was informed that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia made compensations to only victims who sustained serious injuries and were taken to the hospital by the Saudi authorities themselves. Those with minor injuries were only offered treatment in Saudi Arabian hospitals free of charge with no compensation-end of story. Therefore, he was informed that his name was not included among those to whom cheques were issued by the Kingdom.

As for the whereabouts of the compensation, it would be recalled that in December 9th, 2019, NAHCON informed the general public that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia had released compensation to victims of the 2015 crane crash to the Nigerian Embassy in Riyadh and would be forwarded to the Commission to coordinate payment after passing through Nigeria’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. That process had been completed.

Unfortunately, the cheques received by NAHCON had two issues. First, the cheques were issued in the names of the dead victims, and secondly the cheques were issued in Dollars to the victims.  The Commission wrote to Central Bank of Nigeria seeking guidance on how to process the payment of the cheques received in U.S Dollars to beneficiaries through their various state governors. CBN replied that there was no means of clearing Saudi Arabian cheques in any Nigerian bank. The bank advised that the cheques be payable to NAHCON’s account in CBN for monetization and dispensation to beneficiaries.

Following the advice, the Commission formally wrote and returned the cheques to the Nigerian embassy in Riyadh requesting the mission to liaise with the relevant Saudi authorities to pay the funds into NAHCON’s account.

The Nigerian Embassy in Riyadh responded accordingly to the host foreign ministry and to NAHCON. All parties are currently awaiting further action on the matter.

It is most unfortunate that Daily Trust Newspaper would be too eager to go to press with a one-sided story. This writer saw a missed call from Daily Trust’s NAHCON correspondent made at exactly three minutes to seven pm the night before their report, followed by a text at 7: 22 pm asking for NAHCON’s reaction regarding payment promised to those killed in 2015 crane crash to which yours sincerely responded with a promise to find out the current situation and revert, the writer responded with an ok. It is now obvious that the paper had already written the story ready to go to press in few hours. Therefore, one regards that call as rather seeking for alibi instead of sincerely investigating the full story in that late hour when one was in a traffic jam on the way home.

Journalism should not be about just breaking the news, there are other important considerations. What happens to balanced news? What happens to discretion if information passed out might jeopardize the security or safety of persons involved, in this case beneficiaries of the compensation? Unfortunately, the paper quoted outrageous amounts as entitlement of the victims’ families not minding the challenges of this day and age! Was that wise?

 To put the record straight, Saudi Arabian authorities did not release “… money to all the death (sic) and injured pilgrims around 2018” as the story claimed to have gathered.

Usara is Head, Public Affairs NAHCON