NIGERIA: Military Bars Aircraft from Lifting 278 Borno Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia

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Pilgrims from Borno State were on Friday, compelled to travel seven hours by road to Kano to board flight to this year's lesser hajj in Saudi Arabia as the military barred  the use of Maiduguri International Airport for lifting the passengers to holy land.

Also barred from using the airport was the former minority leader of the House of Representatives and senator presently representing Borno Central at the National Assembly, Mohammed Ali Ndume who was not allowed to travel in a chartered flight.

It was gathered that all efforts of the Governor Kashim Shettima to persuade the military to rescind its decision fell on deaf ears as the air craft were ordered to leave the terminal empty.

It took the intervention of prominent politicians in the state to calm the aggrieved 278 pilgrims who had planned to board the flight to Saudi Arabia as they were persuaded to take a seven-hour bus ride to the Aminu Kano International Airport, Kano, a journey which normally would have lasted five hours without the numerous military checkpoints on the highway.

It was learnt that a max airline chartered by a Hajj and Umrah operator, Skynet International Limited, had arrived Maiduguri to convey 278 intending pilgrims who had undergone all security checks and were waiting to be ushered on board the plane when the military allegedly  issued the orders directing the plane to take-off empty.

The military gave no explanation than citing that the decision was ordered from above and for security reasons.

Explanations by officials of Borno State Government, including Governor Shettima that pilgrims carrying pocket money and moving to Kano by road from Maiduguri could be at risk given past instances of attacks along Maiduguri-Damaturu-Potiskum route, was ignored.

Also the explanation of Skynet which chartered the max airline  that written letters had been sent to the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria and military authorities including the Brigade command, the police headquarters and the air force authorities and that it was duly authorised to go on with the operations held no water.

The hajj operator had equally explained that previous exercises took place in 2011, 2012 and 2013 at the peak of the Boko Haram insurgency in Maiduguri without beach in security was not accepted.

Tension was rising at the airport as intending pilgrims were becoming agitated, until the Governor sent the Borno State Secretary to the Government (SSG), Ambassador Baba Ahmed Jidda to address  the pilgrims and calm their nerves. The pilgrims left in numerous buses driving through the night in order not to miss the flight's inaugural slot to Saudi Arabia.

Just as the pilgrims were coming to terms with the need to go through the tedious and unsafe journey by road to Kano, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume who arrived the airport a little later alongside a serving member of House of Representatives, representing Gwoza, Chibok, Damboa Federal Constituency, Hon. Peter Biye to catch the 8-seater flight chartered by the Borno state government who moments earlier brought some officials of the state government from Abuja was stopped from boarding the plane.

The military equally ordered the plane to take-off empty, leaving behind all eight persons, including the two lawmakers scheduled to board the flight to Abuja from Maiduguri.

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