There was an error in this gadget

Tuesday, 2 October 2012

Why Saudi Arabia moved against Nigeria Written by Hassan Ibrahim, Regional Editor Northwest

To many observers, irrespective of religion or creed, the embarrassment meted on hundreds of Nigerian female pilgrims in Saudi Arabia who were there for the 2012 Hajj pilgrimage, is not only a diplomatic breach, but a challenge to Nigeria's integrity as a sovereign state to them, the action is.
It is no longer news that even as the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) stood on the defensive and reiterated its position that all the affected pilgrims, who were packed at the Kingdom's airports in prison-like camps before their deportation, had valid visas obtained from the Saudi Consulate in Nigeria before embarking on the fateful trip, the Saudi authorities had denied the pilgrims, especially those within the youthful age, entry into the holy land.
The age-long tradition that each female pilgrim should be accompanied by a male chaperone (Muharram) in accordance to the Islamic provision, was also relegated to the foreground by the Saudi's themselves. What had always been observed during Hajj because of the high pilgrim turn- over, particularly from oil rich states like Nigeria, was that trained indigenous Hajj officials should guard and guide a number of female pilgrims on the holy journey within a prescribed period that covers the Hajj.
All these, for incomprehensible reasons to millions of Nigerians and their friends international community, were not taken into consideration by the Saudi authorities who, without notice, reneged and subjected the unsuspecting Nigerian women to series of trauma, psychological imbalance and worst form of human humiliation rarely seen in the 21st century. Reports had it that some of the affected were still being hunted by the nightmare, while the loss of appetite due to poor feeding and inadequate toilet facilities, kept doctors busy in Kano and other airports where the pilgrims had arrived.
Intensive diplomatic effort and lobby by the Nigerian Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Abubakar Shehu Bunu and his team, could not soften the heart of the Saudi authorities. They watched helplessly as the women were bundled back to Nigeria, while the aged among them were allowed to proceed after serious search and scrutiny. Sadly, even couple whose names could not tally, were turned back with little or no care about the implication of such action.
For now, the question is: What could have made the Saudis to take such a harsh decision on Nigeria in spite of their cordial relations that span many decades? Looking back to history, the countries, especially in 1960s, were the best of friends, who relied on each other in many ways. The mutually beneficial relationship between the then Premier of Northern Nigeria, late Sir Ahmadu Bello Sardauna and the Saudi monarch then, led to the influx of many Nigerians into the Kingdom who provided cheap labour and did engaged in menial jobs. With time and as family, hundreds with Nigerian blood were born in the Kingdom, often times of mixed parenthood.
Crime is a universal feature of all human societies, but because of the preference being enjoyed by Nigerians in the holy land, other blacks who found their way into Arabia claimed to be Nigerians subsequently, internal contradictions of life and hardship associated to poverty in some African countries led to criminal tendencies and such Africans, consciously or otherwise, imported these negative behavours into Saudi Arabia. Sadly, anything bad became a Nigerian phenomenon in Arabia, perhaps due to Nigeria's strength, population and super power potentials, which were envied by other countries.
On March 14, 2003 or thereabout, for example, the Saudi authorities deported over 3,000 Nigerians who overstayed in the Kingdom after performing the lesser Hajj, Umrah. It was reported that the deportees, who included 500 women and 255 children, were arrested in Makkah. The Immigration authorities had also imposed fines on companies that brought in the pilgrims at SR3, 000 per person for failing to inform the authorities about their disappearance.
"During the holy month of Ramadan between early November and December, the police arrested about 20,400 foreign nationals for staying illegally in the Kingdom. According to Interior Ministry officials, Saudi Arabia deports more than 700,000 illegal immigrants every year. Illegal foreigners are deported while landlords renting accommodation to them face prison terms and fines," they said.
Although restriction on the movement of these illegal pilgrims is oftentimes, relaxed during Hajj, Saturday Tribune was told that women were not spared as it was a regular feature to see the Askars, Saudi policemen, on a hot chase to arrest black women, Sadly, some were born and bred in the holy land and when eventually deported, they found it extremely hard to reintegrate and would consequently indulge in whatever that was humanly possible to return to the Kingdom. According to Sheik Gumi in an interview he granted in Mecca, these Nigerians or blacks are called Tukar and were not ready to back to their countries because life is good in the Kingdom. Food in varieties are readily available and affordable.
It was not uncommon that such women were always on the move with their precious belongings such as gold and other valuables. This is because if they were eventually arrested and deported, the chance of getting their belongings, which they toiled to keep over the years, was almost zero. They were hardly taken to courts, and as soon as news spread of their arrest, there were always a notorious gang of black boys called the Angula, who, it was alleged, vandalised such abandoned property.For those women with athletic prowess that escaped arrest, they often escape into the mountains and joined several other blacks where they formed a colony.
From Shaharmansur, an area in Mecca with a large population of blacks, one could take a trip to the colony of illegal immigrants in the Kingdom through Goshen Bukar, where second-hand clothes and other items, were sold. In fact, life in that area is just like life in Kano and many pilgrims from West Africa often have a respite on a visit to the area because African dishes of all varieties, including yam and bush meat are available. At twilight, the blacks will disappear one after the other and could only be found on the mountains where there are kingpins who constitute themselves as leaders of the colony and must be obeyed.
According to Ibrahim Tikari, who claimed to be born in Saudi Arabia, the Askars are not good mountain climbers and are afraid of scorpions and other reptiles. So, the blacks capitalise on that to take refuge on the mountains. "The colony has everything one could need and even marriages and naming ceremonies are conducted there. There are petty crimes and women-of-easy virtues who dot not only associate with their fellow blacks but often have links with some powerful sons of the soil, who had devised several ways of reaching them at a fee," he said.
When Hajj is at its peak, disabled children will be sent from the mountains to seek for alms, singing melodies that touch the heart near the Holy Ka'abah, but under the watchful eyes of their mentors who continue to play hide-and-seek with the authorities. Immediately after the Hajj, they often rush back to the mountains with enough food and other provisions that will last for a year. The very few that are lucky will hide in the houses of affluent Arabs for years where they work like jackals, receiving meagre wages that has no equivalence in the Saudi civil service or its military. Anytime such Tukars are tired of solitary life, they often make themselves available for arrest and are deported either by sea or air to their home countries in Africa.
The Nigerian President, Dr Goodluck Jonathan was in far away United States when the current diplomatic row broke out, but the country has since announced that the Speaker of the House of Representatives, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, will leave for Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi authorities over the contentious issue. Already, the Speaker had met with the Saudi Arabian Ambassador to Nigeria, Mr. Khalid Abdrabuh, in Abuja where it was assured that the matter would soon be resolved. It was learnt during the meeting that officials from the Nigerian Ministry of Foreign Affairs were deliberating with their counterparts from the Saudi Ministry of Hajj with a view to resolving the impasse.
The matter which to many, was the first of its kind in contemporary Nigeria had really caused upsets in the Presidency and Goodluck Jonathan has approved the constitution of a presidential delegation to interface with the Saudi authorities over the issues. Tambuwal, sources said, would get briefings from the Nigerian officials, who were already in Saudi having talks with the Arabs.
For now, the airlift to the holy land from Nigeria had been suspended and might be resumed depending on how persuasive the Speaker and his team would be with the Kingdom's officials who have a strict adherence to the dictates of the Holy Qur'an, the words and teachings of the Holy Prophet of Islam and the consensus of Islamic clerics in Kingdom.
The spokesman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Uba Mana, had assured that the ongoing discussions would resolve the impasse, even as Sheikh Tijjani Bala Kalarawi urged that Nigeria's offence, if any, should be made clear and not an unwarranted detention of its female pilgrims and subsequent deportation. Sad with the detention of the female pilgrims over Muharram, he said "the issue of Murraham is untenable given the tradition that pilgrims from Nigeria are always under the care of government officials throughout their stay in Saudi Arabia."
The Sultan of Sokoto and National Amirul Hajj, Alhaji Muhammadu Sa'ad had condemned the Saudi action, which he described as an insult to Nigeria and to this country's millions of Muslims."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,"he said.
According to the monarch, "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."

No comments:

Post a Comment