Monday, 28 September 2015

Hajj Stampede: Nigerian death toll rises to 20

THE number of Nigerian pilgrims that lost their lives in the stampede at Mina, Saudi Arabia, last Thursday, has risen to 20 from the initial six.

There were fears, yesterday, that the death toll may rise further as more states are still searching for their ‘missing’ pilgrims. Taraba, Sokoto and Gombe states have announced the loss of some pilgrims from their states. Already, two justices of the Court of Appeal, Justice Abubakar Abdulkadir Jega, brother of former INEC Chairman, Profesor Attahiru Jega, and Justice Musa Hassan Alkali, and front line journalist and columnist, Hajiya Bilikisu Yusuf, among others have been confirmed dead.
The Amirul Hajj of Taraba State, Alhaji Abbas Ibrahim, and two of his wives are also among the dead. Sokoto State lost nine pilgrims in the stampede. Also, a staff of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, (name withheld), also died in the crush. Taraba State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board confirmed the death of the state’s Amirul Hajj for the 2015 pilgrimage, Alhaji Ibrahim, the First Class ruler of Zing. Chairman of the board, Alhaji Hamman-Adama Tukur, confirmed the incident.Tukur explained that the emir died on Thursday during the stampede, adding that the body of the later traditional ruler was buried in Makkah on Friday. He disclosed that many indigenes of Taraba are still missing, while a few others, whose names he did not mention, but who sustained injuries, are receiving treatment in Saudi hospitals.
Alhaji Hassan Mijinyawa, Chief Press Secretary to Taraba Governor, also confirmed the death of the monarch. He, however, said consultation was still ongoing between the state government and the Zing Traditional Council, before a formal pronouncement would be made. The Zing Traditional Council has also confirmed that the Emir died along with two of his four wives during the stampede. The Tafidan Zing, Gurama Bawa, who confirmed the death of the wives, said the late emir was aged 62 and had been on the throne for 19 years. He left behind, two wives and 13 children. Similarly, Sokoto State Government announced that nine pilgrims from the state were among those who lost their lives in the disaster.
In a statement in Sokoto, the government said that its officials, led by the Amirul Hajj and leader of its delegation, the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmad Aliyu, who was still in Saudi Arabia, confirmed the tragedy. It said that the team was still working round the clock to identify many of the pilgrims from the state who were injured. According to the statement signed by Imam Imam, Special Adviser to Governor Aminu Tambuwal on Media and Public Affairs, the injured are receiving treatment in hospitals in Saudi Arabia.
The search In the same vein, the Executive Secretary, Gombe State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Usman Gurama, told newsmen in Mina, Saudi Arabia, weekend, that the pilgrims could not be located since Thursday. He said that members of the medical team had been checking hospitals and mortuaries with a view to locating them or their remains. He, however, said that for now, it had not been confirmed whether they were among those who died as a result of Thursday’s incident
One of the survivors, Alhaji Dahiru Shittu, yesterday, narrated how he narrowly survived the incident. Shittu, one of the over 60,000 Nigerians attending this year’s pilgrimage, was among the thousands of people gathered in Mina for the devil stoning rite, part of the hajj activities, when the stampede occurred.
Survivor’s story
“We were trapped between narrow lanes with iron wall of tents on both sides of the road,” he toldPREMIUM TIMES in Makkah, Saudi Arabia. “There was no way out, so people started scaling fences into tents of Algeria and other Arab countries,” he added. Mr. Shittu, from Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, added that “my friend and I, who was completely exhausted from the previous long distance trekking from Arafat to Muztalifa where we spent the night and set out that morning to Jamra, had no option than to step on other weaker pilgrims to survive.
“You will see relations, mothers and parents abandoning their children and the aged. I was, however, helped by an Arab man to scale the fence into a tent. “Many male and female pilgrims, dead or alive, were seen naked. We that survived had to scavenge for Ihram (white cloth) of corpses to cover our nakedness. “Those of us who were alive were gasping for breath in an exhausting struggle, some of whom were later offered ice block by volunteers. “An Ethiopian pilgrim abandoned his mother who became a ‘ladder’ for those who scaled fences to survive. Many others too were crushed to death in such a manner.”
Royal family fingered
The pilgrim lamented that poor security contributed to the tragedy, saying there was not enough “security around or any rescue team.” There have been reports that the closure of two essential gates, reportedly at the instance of the Saudi Royal family who were receiving some visitors, was a major cause of the stampede, a fact Shittu said: “If the gates of those tents from both sides of the road had opened, the death toll would have been very minimal
“The Arabs closed the gates and continued to hit the hands of any pilgrim with a metal as they attempted to scale their fences.” The survivor, who suffered an injury on his leg, lamented the inadequate medical attention received by some survivors, saying “I did not receive any medical attention from either the Saudi, NAHCON (Nigerian officials) or Kaduna authorities despite my complaints.” He said he saw corpses of many Nigerians from Lagos and Sokoto, whom he identified from their uniform. He said: “There was a woman, who was carrying a baby and I am not sure if she will survive because there were so many bodies piled on top of her and the baby.”
No official figure
No official figure has been announced by Nigerian authorities of the number of casualties from the country. However, Sokoto State has confirmed that at least nine of its pilgrims were killed in the stampede while Taraba has confirmed three. Saudi officials said at least 769 people were killed in the stampede, while over 900 people were injured. Lamenting his present state, Mr. Shittu said he “was completely traumatized. I thought it was the end of the world.“That did not discourage me from wanting to come back for Hajj again, because this is part of the test of faith.”
Zakzaky’s demand
Prominent Muslim cleric and leader of Nigeria’s Muslim Shi’ite movement, Sheikh Ibraheem Zakzaky, says the alleged perpetrators of the recent stampede tragedy in Saudi Arabia should face the death penalty. Zakzaky spoke, weekend, when members of the Media Forum of the Islamic Movement paid him Sallah homage at his residence at Gyellesu, Zaria.Zakzaky’s pronouncement comes on the heels of a condolence message by the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, urging all Muslims to remain focused and firm in Islam in spite of the Saudi incident.
Zakzaky noted that management of Hajj operations ought to be the responsibility of the Muslim world and not the exclusive right of the Saudi royal family alone.According to him, “the Al-Saud family cannot be trusted, when its hands are soaked with Muslims’ blood in countries such as Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria.“The Al-Saud prince, whose convoy caused the tragedy and is complicit in the crime, should be punished by death as they caused the death of thousands of innocent pilgrims.’’
The Sultan, who reacted to the stampede tragedy in a statement by the Jama’atu Nasril Islam, JNI, described the incident as one tragedy too many.The statement, signed by the JNI Secretary General, Dr. Khalid Abubakar Aliyu, said that “with humility and total submission to Allah the Exalted, the Sultan of Sokoto condoles the MuslimUmmah over the Jamarat stampede tragedy, which led to the death of several pilgrims, while completing the rites of Hajj in one of the sites of worship in Saudi Arabia. This is one tragedy too many.“JNI shares the pains and worries  of victims’ families and urge them to persevere and put their trust in Allah.”

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