The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, and the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj have adopted new measures to simplify the annual ritual and secure pilgrims.
Over 2000 pilgrims died last year following a stampede on their way the Jamarat for the symbolic stoning of the devil. About10 per cent of the victims were Nigerians.
In order to avoid a repeat of the disaster, the Saudi ministry has decided to schedule the stoning ritual in batches for all countries.
The Nigerian officials have also decided to use the services of guides who will be leading Nigerian pilgrims in batches of 250 people-
The head of Makkah operations for NAHCON, Aliyu Tanko, who spoke to Journalists on Sunday after an enlightenment program for pilgrims from Adamawa State, said “the authorities have designed a new format that they want us to follow”.
Mr. Tanko said the new format begins with the movement of pilgrims from their accommodations in Makkah to Muna.
No pilgrim will be left in Makkah, he said.
“After this, movement of pilgrims will begin in buses to the plain of Arafat in the night of the 8th of Dhul Hijjah.
“When movement of Pilgrim to Arafat begins there would be no any other vehicle on the road apart from the buses conveying the pilgrims,” he said.
He also said by the new arrangement, pilgrims would have the opportunity to stay in Arafat throughout the day unlike in previous years when some pilgrims would be arriving Arafat at almost close to sunset.
“With the new arrangement, we hope that all our pilgrims would be in Arafat by 9-10 in the morning so that they would have the full day to do all their supplications”.
By sunset the pilgrims would move from Arafat to Muzdalifa.
The NAHCON boss also said that this year, staying throughout the night in Muzdalifa after spending the whole day at Arafat is optional.
Previously, pilgrims proceed to Muzdalifa from Arafat where they would spend the whole night, pick their pebbles and proceed to the Jamarat for the stoning ritual the following morning.
Mr. Tanko however, said, in the new arrangement, “Pilgrims can perform their Maghrib and Isha prayer, rest a little in Muzdalifa and then proceed back to their tents in Muna and relax”.
He said pilgrims could, however, stay overnight in Muzdalifa and proceed to their tents at dawn the following day.
Mr. Tanko said Hajj authorities have also decided to modify the process of stoning the Jamarat for security reasons.
“This year, there is a major change. Before this year, when pilgrims arrive at Muzdalifa, they pick their pebbles and go to Jamarat where they throw their pebbles.
“But because of what happened last year and in order to protect the lives of pilgrims, the authorities decided to ask everybody to return to their tents in Muna, rest and wait for their schedule as there would be time scheduled for each country,” he said.
He also said, on its part, NAHCON has secured the services of guides who are assigned to every state.
He said the job of the guides would be to lead Nigerian pilgrims from their tents in batches of 250 to Jamarat for the stoning and back.
“These guides are people who know the terrain very well. We have enough trained guides for all our pilgrims. We have about 18 to 20 for each state.
“By this arrangement, the issue of pilgrims missing their way back from Jamarat which used to be rampant is now over,” he said.
Mr Tanko said the schedule to be released by the Saudi authorities will be circulated among Nigerian pilgrims by Monday.
He also said the commission will take the enlightenment to all Nigerian pilgrims in Makkah in their accommodation. He said his team would be having a parley$ with pilgrims from the Nigerian Armed Forces late on Sunday.