Coronavirus: Group appeals to FG, states on education of intending pilgrims

THE Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR), an organisation that reports hajj and umrah activities, has called on the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), state Muslim pilgrims welfare boards as well as private hajj and umrah tour operators to design a uniform national enlightenment programme on the prevention of coronavirus for intending pilgrims to this year’s hajj.

A statement signed by the group’s national coordinator, Ibrahim Muhammed and publicity secretary, Abubakar Mahmoud, in Abuja, said states’ Muslim pilgrims boards were currently holding enlightenment and educational programmes for Hajj 2020 intending pilgrims in their various hajj camps or designated areas.

In view of this, the IHR said, NAHCON should ensure that such programmes encompass how to prevent coronavirus by the pilgrims.

The statement reads in part: “Prevention is important and the best way to prevent this borderless infectious disease is to enlighten intending pilgrims. This call becomes imperative given the proactive steps being taken by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, especially the banning of umrah and other strict measures being put in place to control and possibly eliminate coronavirus from the country and the Two Holy Mosques.

“Pilgrims should also be cautioned against unnecessary panic and apprehension as that may have a serious negative impact on those who intend to register for Hajj 2020 exercise.

“Medical experts should be contracted to enlighten intending pilgrims at this early stage and measures should be put in place to detect any cases. Coronavirus is now being adjudged as a crowd-threatening infectious disease and hajj is the largest gathering with millions of people from over 180 countries in one place.

“This year’s pilgrims enlightenment and education should involve a process of sensitising intending pilgrims and other hajj stakeholders to the need to increase control over their health and also upgrade health literacy efforts to increase healthy behaviours.”

Meanwhile, the group has called on the Nigerian Immigration Services (NIS) to ensure availability of e-passport booklet, especially the 32-page with a five-year validity period for adults and minors, for intending pilgrims to this year’s hajj.

In a separate statement signed by the national coordinator, Mohammed, the group lamented that the scarcity of the document was slowing down the registration of intending pilgrims in the country.

“Reports emanating from our members, especially in Kaduna, Yobe and Kebbi states, show that virtually all intending pilgrims who applied to obtain the e-passport were informed that the e-passport booklets were not available.”

“Most intending pilgrims whose data have been captured are yet to receive the e-passport booklets,” the group said.

The group said the timely issuance of e-passport to intending pilgrims was vital to the success of this year’s hajj and this should be a top priority for all stakeholders.

“Registration of pilgrims, documentation of pilgrim’s bio-data, processing of visa and issuance of relevant financial and other important hajj travelling documents are based on the e-passport data page.

“For example, the guideline for Hajj 2020 pilgrim’s registration issued by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), makes e-passport a prerequisite identity document before any intending pilgrim could be registered.

“Item 3.2 (iii) Under registration of intending pilgrims states that intending pilgrims “must be known with valid Nigeria travels documents’ and item (ix) categorically stated that intending pilgrims “must have an e-passport with a validity period of at least 6 months from the date of departure to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”

“Therefore, we urge the Nigerian Immigration Service and other related government agencies to do all they can to ensure the availability of this important travel document for Hajj 2020 intending pilgrims.

“Reports reaching IHR indicates that the shortage of e-passport booklet is discouraging some intending pilgrims, especially those from rural areas who are finding it difficult to be transporting to and from NIS offices in search of e-passport,” it said.

The statement added that “hajj operations are about early planning and timely implementation of pre-hajj activities, especially the off-shore documentation of pilgrims to allow for proper data compilation for airlifts and other services.”

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