Tour operators in Nigeria have said the cancellation of the annual hajj pilgrimage for the second year due to COVID-19 pandemic is a big blow to their businesses.
The annual hajj is one of the largest gatherings of humans on earth, but this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca like last year will see the extraordinary deluge of 2.5 million people from around the world reduced to a paltry 60,000 Saudi residents, to curtail the spread of coronavirus.
A tour operator and businessman, Abubaakr Siddeeq Muhammad, who is the managing director and chief executive office of Comerel Travels and Tours Nigeria Limited, said the current situation is unpalatable for the country’s private tour operators and their counterparts around the globe.
In an interview with LEADERSHIP, Muhammad said the cancellation of the hajj would amount to heavy job loss in the Hajj industry, stressing that many of the operators can no longer afford to pay their workers.
“It is not going to be easy for us and it is not a good decision for the tour operators.
“It will be difficult for most of the tour operators, especially this year because the majority of us can no longer afford to pay salaries. We can’t pay salaries when we are not earning money,” he said.
The astute businessman and Islamic scholar however stated that they have accepted the cancellation in good faith and put their trust in God.
“We have no option but to put our trust in Allah. We accept the decision of the Saudi Arabia in good faith because it was Allah’s divine design. We also have to understand with the Saudi Arabia because they are being careful due to the different variance of COVID-19,” he said.
Muhammad appealed to intending pilgrims to leave their hajj deposit and roll it over for next year’s hajj, saying that special consideration will be given to them when Saudi Arabia finally began full-scale hajj operation.
Meanwhile, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has described the cancellation as an act of God, saying it was what Allah had decreed being played by Saudi Arabia.
The commission in a statement signed by the head of public affairs, Fatima Sanda Usara, said no matter how painful the cancellation was, it respects the decision of Saudi Arabia and urged State Pilgrims Welfare Boards to grant refund requests to any intending pilgrim without delay, while those who desire to roll over should wait for further decision by the board.
NAHCON chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, applauded the resilience of Nigerian intending pilgrims and the support they have shown in this long and tortuous wait.
In last year’s hajj, as few as 1,000 people already residing in Saudi Arabia were selected to take part in the hajj. Two-thirds were foreign residents from among the 160 different nationalities that would have normally been represented at the hajj.