By Ahmad Mu’azu

The minister of interior Rauf Aregbesola, has promised to support the National Hajj commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in its move to implement the Makkah Road Initiative.

The minister made the promise when he received NAHCON’s Chairman/CEO Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan and his management team at the Ministry of Interior for a courtesy visit to the Minister.

In his remarks, the Chairman informed the minister that the purpose of the visit is to seek the support of the ministry in the commission’s quest to be included among the beneficiaries of the Makkah Route Initiative, which will make Nigeria the first beneficiary the first in Africa.

While briefing the minister on the expectations of the Commission, the Chairman described the role that the ministry will play in achieving the said goal as crucial since it oversees a fundamental aspect of the said initiative.

Alhaji Zikrullah explained that if the project is implemented, it will end the suffering Nigerian pilgrims have endured due to multiple screenings in both Nigerian and Saudi Arabian airports.

The Chairman informed “with this initiative the pilgrims will be screened by the Saudi authorities right from our homeland airports and straight to their buses when they arrive Saudi Arabia. Even their bags will be waiting for them in their hotels, to be delivered by the relevant Saudi Arabian authorities. All necessary security checks will be concluded here in Nigeria.”

He added that the Saudi Arabian authorities will send a delegation to Nigeria in order to assess the level or preparedness of the Commission and relevant agencies hence the purpose and need for the visit in order to intimate the Minister. “This will give Nigeria the chance to be part of the Makkah Road Project” he said.

In his response the Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola, promised the support of his entire ministry to the course and also added that the government is ready to do whatever it will take that will guarantee the welfare of Nigerians. “I welcome you, I promised you all the support of the ministry and its agencies, we eagerly await the arrival of the Saudi officials that will fully elaborate what the initiative is all about. But from what I read and heard you can count on us as worthy partners in successful inclusion of Nigeria in the Makkah route Initiative which is meant to remove and bring to the bearest minimum stress, difficulties and challenges that pilgrims face in discharge of their religious duties.” He said.

The minister also added that countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan are all enjoying the initiative and he sees no reason why Nigeria cannot queue in.

It may be recalled that Nigeria first expressed interest in the project in 2018. In 2019, Saudi Arabia’s Deputy Minister of Hajj, Abdul Rahman Al Bijawi renewed the offer while receiving the NAHCON delegation in his office.

Al-Bijawi said that the Makkah Route Project has already been implemented in five countries with Pakistan being the latest to join. He advised that Nigeria can start by giving it a trial, “you can give it a try even if it is in one state”, Al-Bijawi said.

The Makkah road project is the game changer when it comes to external pilgrims; “It takes 20 to 25 minutes to process an entire aircraft. There is no need for immigration, customs or anti-narcotics department to screen the pilgrims after they have landed” the Deputy Minister had added.

Mu’azu reports from NAHCON’s Public Affairs Unit