By Stanley Onyekwere
With less than a week to the start of airlifting of Muslim pilgrims across the world for 2014 Hajj, the Oba of Lagos, Rilwanu Akiolu, has been appointed by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alh. Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, as the Amirul Hajj, to lead Nigeria pilgrims for this year’s exercise. This is coming as the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) said that it had concluded arrangement for flag off 2014 hajj flights, slated on Saturday 16th of September, from the newly constructed airport at Dutse, the capital of Jigawa state. People’s Daily learnt that airlifting of pilgrims is expected to start on the 27th of this month, to run for one month before the closure of the airport at Jeddah on the 28th of September. Announcing the appointment of the Oba Akiolu to lead the country’s contingents for this year’s spiritual exercise in Saudi Arabia, the Sultan, who is the National Amirul Hajj, said that any Muslim leader in the country can do the job even more effectively, hence the decision to delegate his role to the Oba of Lagos. Speaking at the final Hajj stakeholders meeting in Abuja, at the weekend, the Sultan noted that last year, appointed the Shehu of Borno, to lead the team for the hajj operations. “When the FG appointed me the permanent Amrul Hajj in 2010′ I know it won’t be possible for me to go every year and the government agreed that I can appoint somebody to do so,” he explained. On the preparations for a hitch-free 2014 hajj, the Sultan identified the outbreak of Ebola virus disease non issuance of visa for pilgrims and airlifting slot matter as among the hiccups the stakeholders faced this year. “The first is the issue of Ebola outbreak and enters our country and Alhamdulillah, it is restricted in a certain part of the country and been contained by the government. “If you remember last year’s hajj operations, by this time at least we must have had over fifteen thousand visa issuance but as at this morning (Saturday) they (officials at the Saudi embassy) have not started issuing visa for pilgrims; which is less than a week to the kick off of airlifting. “But we are all working very hard with the support of the Saudi Arabia embassy to ensure that they commence issuance of visa immediately. “The airline issue is another one problem. This year we have to go Saudi Arabia cooperating with the authority when they approached us that we must give them 50% of the pilgrims to be airlifted. “But thank God the FG delegation went to Saudi Arabia met them and promised to give them 9500 pilgrims to be airlifted after which they signed all documents”, the Sultan stressed. He however thanked President Good luck Jonathan for his continuous tireless support to hajj operation in the country, thus making their job much easier. Also, the Sultan urged pilgrims to pray for the county, in preparation for the 2015 general elections to have a hitch free election. In a swift responds to the problem of non issuance of visa to intending pilgrims, a representative of the Saudi Arabia embassy in Nigeria, Ibrahim El-Asiry, promised that it will today commence the issuance of the vital document to Nigeria contingent. On his part, NHCON Chairman, Alhaji Muhammed Bello, expressed optimistic that the hajj preparations will continue as plan, after a fruitful deliberation by stakeholders under the leadership of National Amirul Hajj, where issues regarding 2014 hajj operations were discussed and consensus reached. People’s Daily reports that stakeholders were drawn from members of the federal government delegation, the air carriers, aviation ground handlers, the consulate, officials of various states pilgrims’ welfare boards and agencies.