Lawwali Sharif, a traditional medicine seller at Garin Makau in Udubo, Gamawa Local Government Area of Bauchi State was among the intending pilgrims swindled by the state’s Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board.
Sharif is a three-time victim of the board. His ordeals started in 2020 when his colleagues with whom he had planned to travel to the holy land were later airlifted, leaving him behind. Although the COVID-19 pandemic stopped them from going to Hajj in 2020. Despite paying twice, Sharif was denied travelling alongside others who were later airlifted the following year.
“I paid my Hajj fares since 2020, that time it was N1.5 million, but then COVID-19 came and prevent us from going for Hajj. So last year we were instructed to add another N1 million to the money we paid in 2020,” Sharif told WikkiTimes, adding he complied with the instruction. “This year, there was an increase of N419,000. In fact, I even added N1,000 to it.”
According to him, after they have undergone a series of training, screening and vaccination, they were told to “wait” as their luggage and other necessary documents for them to be airlifted were not available.
“We have finalised everything including the COVID-19 vaccine. We did everything. All that we were expecting was for us to receive our luggage and journey to Saudi Arabia,” Sharif said. “We have 42 intending pilgrims from Udubo and 19 from Gamawa town but all of a sudden, we were told that there were more than 70 pilgrims from Gamawa alone and we don’t even know the others. Then they sidelined us and denied us going for the Holy exercise.”
Sharif said after realising his name and others were excluded from those going for the pilgrimage, he began to explore ways to have his seat back but to no avail as the only option given to him by the board was to follow international flights.
“I did all that I can to follow up on the matter but it proved futile. I even asked them to refund my money as I got a slot in Gombe State but they refused; instead, they insisted that I should follow international flights. I don’t have the means to follow international as I have exhausted all my money,” he narrated.
“We paid our Hajj deposits through Gamawa LGA. I paid for mine through Sarkin Udubo. So after paying the money we never thought that something like this might come up. What I perceived is that politics was brought into the system. All of us that were affected are supporters of Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) and it was All Progressives Congress (APC) that won in Gamawa,” he opined.
Sharif said, initially they were 11 of them affected by the sudden change, but five people were later considered and the remaining six were denied slots despite paying.
“They later returned the slots to five of us. Presently we are six; myself, Muhammed Gidado from Gesa, Sale Maidoya from Lariye, a Fulani man from Birniwa, one from Bakori while the other one is from the western part of Raga,” he said.
Sharif said following his experience with the Bauchi State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, he will, next year, consider travelling to the holy land through neighbouring Gombe or Yobe states.
WikkiTimes could not reach the other shortchanged intending pilgrims, apart from one Muhammed Gidado who is now bedridden. Like Sharif, Gidado, a farmer, had been denied his slot twice.
Although this year’s denial hurt Gidado, he said he could have been suffocating in the holy land now had he made it there. At the time he spoke to WikkiTimes, Gidado was battling with a respiratory-related ailment.
The bedridden Gidado told WikkiTimes in a telephone conversation that days after he was denied going to Hajj, he fell sick and had to undergo surgery. He believes he might have died while heading to Saudi Arabia or while performing the Hajj rites.
“What happened was that they came to give intending pilgrims their luggage but ours didn’t come. They told us that they will bring it later but afterwards, we realised that our names and seats were substituted by the Hajj officials. From then I went to Madakin Gololo [a monarch] and I told him what happened, but I prayed that may Allah choose what is best for me,” he said.
“They didn’t refund our money to us. This is the third year am paying for Hajj but Allah has not given me the opportunity,” the pacific Gidado added. “After COVID-19, I paid but they said they are going to consider those who have deposited their money with them in the previous year. So this year again I paid, I added the money to make it N2.9 million, but they shortchanged us. We were screened, vaccinated — but all for nothing.”
He continued: “After they denied us, they later told us that we can go through international flights. As a first-timer, I objected, because you have no accommodation, no guide should in case a problem arises. Had it been that I have been to Saudi Arabia before, I would have accepted it. Now am waiting until the next Hajj.”
Both Gidado and Sharif who spoke to us via the telephone could not share the receipts of the payments made to the board.
When WikkiTimes contacted Muhammed Sani Yunusa, Information Officer for the Bauchi State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, his number was unreachable. However, an SMS and WhatsApp message was sent to him. He read the latter without acknowledging or responding.
This publication is produced with support from the Wole Soyinka Centre for Investigative Journalism (WSCIJ) under the Collaborative Media Engagement for Development Inclusivity and Accountability Project (CMEDIA) funded by the MacArthur Foundation