By Yakubu Lawal
Nigeria has signed an agreement on 2019 Hajj with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadijah Ibrahim, signed on behalf of Nigeria while the Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Muhammad Saleh bin Taher Benten signed on behalf of the Kingdom.
The agreement signing was conducted in the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, Makkah, Saudi Arabia on Wednesday.
In the agreement signed, the Nigerian Hajj quota for 2019 remains 95,000 just as the previous year.
The spokesperson of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria ( NAHCON), Fatima Usara, said in a statement that during the ceremony, Benten commended the Nigerian Hajj Commission for the successful management of the 2018 Hajj operations.
“He appreciated the general conduct of Nigerian pilgrims during the exercise and assured of the Kingdom’s readiness to assist the Nigerian government and people in making the exercise even easier and more comfortable,” the statement said.
The statement said the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, Khadijah Ibrahim extended warm felicitations to the Kingdom on behalf of Nigerian government for the reception of Nigerian pilgrims.
Before the signing ceremony, a technical session chaired by Deputy Minister of Hajj, Saudi Arabia, Hussain Ibn Naser Alshariff, was held to discuss bilateral issues on Hajj and Umrah with the view to forging a way forward.
Nigerian delegation to the session was led by NAHCON Chairman, Abdullahi Mohammed, accompanied by Nigeria’s ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Isa Dodo and Nigeria’s Consul General to Jeddah, Muhammad Yunusa.
Among the issues raised by the commission for consideration, the statement said, is a request for waiver of 2,000 Saudi Riyals charged on pilgrims who participated in Hajj within the last five years.
There was also a request for visa issuance to be made less cumbersome.
It was also requested that Nigeria be included in the newly introduced arrangement tagged “Makkah Road Project”; where pilgrims will undergo all necessary immigration clearance at airports in their home countries before proceeding to the holy land, such that, upon arrival at Saudi airports, they will simply pick their bags and proceed without further scrutiny.
“Another request by the Commission was for GACA to regard NAHCON as a guarantor for air carriers so that allocation of airlift slots and flight schedules can be fast-tracked for the convenience of Nigerian pilgrims,” the statement said.
In a response, the Deputy Minister assured the Nigerian delegation that the process of visa issuance will only get better as the kingdom is keen on seeing to that.
However, he said to curtail abuse of visa, both parties agreed to work together to address the menace of immigration violators who overstay their permit in Saudi Arabia
Also, the Saudi delegation emphasized on the rule banning the import of kola nuts into the kingdom while calling on the Nigerian delegation to intensify enlightenment over the matter.
The host ministry treated the Nigerian delegation to a lunch feast alongside contingents from Malaysia and Iraq.
The MoU signing meeting is an annual event whereby countries are invited separately to commit to agreements that will shape their participation in the yearly pilgrimage.