This year’s Hajj has come and gone with about 70, 000 Nigerians participating in the exercise. The pilgrimage, like the previous ones, recorded cases of varying degrees of sicknesses and even deaths amongst the faithful in the Holy Land. The Nigerian medical team to this year’s Hajj had announced that so far, the country has recorded 19 deaths and seven psychiatric cases among the Nigerian pilgrims that participated in the exercise. The Head of Medical Data and Surveillance, Dr. Jubril Sulaiman, told the Amirul Hajj thus: “We recorded more female deaths than male, with 11 female and 8 male. Lagos and Sokoto recorded 3 deaths cases each due to cancer, heart problems, leukemia, diabetes, etc, with about 64 per cent of them being above 50 years of age”. He then added that 70 per cent of the deaths occurred in Makkah, while the remaining happened in Madinah. He also stated that there were 41 Nigerians under observation at that point in time, “in various hospitals in the Kingdom, while 12 cases have been referred to Saudi Hospital.” Dr. Sulaiman further revealed that his team went round some hospitals in the Kingdom and discovered six Nigerians in two hospitals and that their condition was stable.
He, however, noted that in comparison to last year’s exercise, the death statistics were lower this year. This may sound encouraging but that casualties were recorded at all is a sad commentary, because if the appropriate steps had been taken, the loss of a single life would have been avoided. It is evident that there are still a lot of lessons for the officials of the exercise, given the resurgence of avoidable cases of deaths and sicknesses. It calls to question the mandatory medical test the Nigerian Hajj officials were supposed to have conducted ahead of the exercise. To this extent, the various state pilgrims welfare boards with such casualties have fallen short of expectations. The media report about a state pilgrims welfare board’s boss not knowing when the next flight for his intending pilgrims would take-off was not only shocking but also a serious dereliction of duty. The report revealed that the flight later arrived and spent eight hours at the airport with no pilgrims to ferry; the state was made to pay penalty by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
Much as we know that a completely problem-free Hajj may not be possible, it is mind boggling that the same old problems keep occurring yearly. This is unacceptable. There is no justification for failing to leverage on the 12 months period available to plan this exercise. Most of the state pilgrims’ welfare boards blamed their inefficiency on lack of proper synergy with NAHCON. The issue of health/medical screening for the intending pilgrims should have been done with the desired seriousness. There is now a compelling need for the Permanent Amirul Hajj, His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’adu Abubakar IV, to immediately convene a stakeholders’ forum to share experiences and ideas on how best to conduct this exercise.
It would not be out of place to request and pay honorariums for research contributions from the Nigerian universities on how to achieve a successful Hajj. The Federal Government on its part should take a second look at its policies on Holy pilgrimage, especially the area of supervision of its relevant agencies at the state levels. It is unacceptable to give room for a repeat of one and the same avoidable mistake every year, in view of its consequences on the entire exercise and our international image as a nation. It has also become necessary to beam searchlight on those perennial pilgrims most of whom are weary and easily fall victims of the rigours of the exercise with a view to screening them out.