Nigeria, Saudi ministers meet to resolve hajj dispute
Abuja: Nigeria and Saudi Arabia held high level talks on Saturday to resolve diplomatic tensions generated by Riyadh's decision to deport 1,000 Nigerian women hajj pilgrims who were not accompanied by male guardians.
Nigeria retaliated yesterday to the move by stopping all hajj flights to Saudi Arabia.
Nigeria's minister of foreign affairs, Olugbenga Ashiru and Saudi Arabia's acting minister of foreign affairs, Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz met in Washington and the former registered his protest to the Saudi move.
Ashiru told PTI on phone from New York that he used the meeting to register Nigeria's strong objection to the treatment meted out to many Nigerian female pilgrims, who after fulfilling the visa requirements were denied entry into Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj.
The meeting came after the dispute escalated following Nigeria's move to stop all hajj flights in what was seen as a retaliatory step that could affect Saudi Arabia's tourism sector considering the fact that a large number of pilgrims come from Nigeria.
"I also expressed the view that the action of the Saudi Authorities was not only unfortunate but did not truly reflect the historic friendly ties between the two nations.
"I urged the Saudi Authorities to immediately find an appropriate solution to the problem while ensuring that these intending pilgrims are treated with respect and dignity so that they can consummate their religious duties and obligations," Ashiru said.
According to him, his counterpart expressed regret at the development and informed him that the denial of entry to unaccompanied female pilgrims was due to a requirement that all women must be accompanied by 'Mahrams' or their male guardians.
"He however informed me that efforts are being made to find an immediate solution to the problem and he expressed the hope that Nigerian pilgrims will in future fully comply with this Islamic injunction in order to avoid such unpalatable consequences," the minister said.
Nigerian women pilgrims were detained on arrival to Saudi Arabia a week ago because they were not accompanied by a male guardian.
This angered Nigeria which sends a large number of Muslim pilgrims every year and it summoned the Saudi envoy to the country to seek explanation.
In Saudi Arabia, women must be accompanied by or have permission from a "mahram" -- a male guardian -- in order to travel. But in the past, authorities allowed women to perform the annual hajj pilgrimage in groups with male tour operators.