RIP: Hajiya Bilkisu Yusuf
Thirty Nigerian pilgrims have been identified among the 717 pilgrims killed during the stampede at Mina, Saudi Arabia on Thursday, and the figures may increase - as health workers and rescue team continue to identify the corpses, a senior official of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) told THISDAY on Friday.
The NAHCON’s official who spoke with THISDAY from Saudi Arabia, said the Chairman of the Commission, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar urged the Saudi government to involve countries, whose citizens were killed in the stampede in the investigation.
"For now, investigation is still ongoing; we are still trying to get the total number of Nigerian pilgrims who died and sustained different degree of injuries. But so far, we have identified 30 of the corpses. And unfortunately, the figures may increase", the NAHCON’s official who pleaded anonymity told THISDAY.
This revelation came as Saudi Arabia yesterday set up a committee to investigate the cause of the deadly incident, one of the worst-ever tragedies at the annual Muslim pilgrimage. The Chairman of the Borno State Pilgrims Board, Professor Tijjani Almiskin, a prominent Nigerian female journalist, Bilkisu Yusuf, and a member of the Nigerian medical team, Dr. Hafsat Shittu were among many Nigerians killed in the stampede.
THISDAY gathered that many of the Nigerian victims were from Lagos, Kastina and Borno states. The stampede occurred during the symbolic stoning of the devil ritual.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia's health minister has said that the stampede may have been caused by pilgrims failing to follow instructions from authorities. In a statement posted on the ministry's website Friday, the minister, Khalid al-Falih, said an investigation would be conducted urgently into the worst disaster to strike the annual Hajj pilgrimage for 25 years.
According to the minister, "The investigations into the incident of the stampede that took place today in Mina, which was perhaps because some pilgrims moved without following instructions by the relevant authorities, will be fast and will be announced as has happened in other incidents".
On his part, the Saudi King, Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, said he had ordered a review of the Hajj plans after the disaster, in which two large groups of pilgrims collided with each other at a crossroad in Mina, a few kilometres east of Mecca, on their way to performing the "stoning of the devil" ritual at Jamarat.
The findings of the investigation will be submitted to King Salman, "who will take appropriate measures" in response, the Saudi Press agency said.
A Kenyan survivor who returned to the pillars on Friday told AFP news agency that his group lost three people, including one whose fate remains unknown. "I can blame the Saudi government because they did not control the situation. I was there. I survived," Isaac Saleh said as tears welled in his eyes.