This incident was said to have started with the Saudis demanding to see each female pilgrim’s muharram (the approved male companion accompanying her on her trip), usually a husband, father or brother. When they could not produce any, the Saudis promptly detained them were threatening to deport them back to Nigeria on the next available hajj plane.
The pilgrim were said to have arrived Jeddah in two separate Max Air flights. One of the planes was conveying pilgrims from Jigawa State while the second plane had pilgrims from Sokoto State. The nearly 400 women were only allowed to be supplied with water and food by the Saudis after strenuous efforts by the Nigerian Consul in Jeddah and the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Alhaji Nurudeen, as it was also learnt.
Contacted on telephone from Sokoto, Sultan Muhammadu Sa’ad who is the Amirul Hajj condemned the Saudi action in the strongest terms and described it as “an insult to Nigeria and to this country’s millions of Muslims.” He said the Saudi action came as a total surprise to Nigeria’s hajj authorities because during the numerous meetings held between Nigerian and Saudi officials to prepare for this year’s hajj, the issue of muharram for female pilgrims was never raised.
The Sultan said, “They never raised this issue and never demanded that the female pilgrims must have a muharram. They did not make this a requirement for issuing visas. They issued visas to all these pilgrims, only to embarrass, detain and threaten to deport them when they arrived in the holy land. How can they do this to us? The chairman of the National Hajj Commission assured me that the Saudis never asked for this during all the meetings they held. This is very unfortunate. We have done a lot over the years to improve on our hajj operation and we do not deserve this humiliation.”
The Sultan also said that he had ordered the Nigerian pilgrims not to walk voluntarily into planes to be deported. “Let the Saudis physically carry them into the planes and deport them,” he said. “They issued them with valid visas, only to shift the goal posts at the very last minute, when they had already arrived in Jeddah.”