Saudi officials were said to be seeking the deportation of 400 Nigerian female pilgrims who arrived in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia for the religious hajj because they traveled without approved male chaperones.
Local media reported that the women were detained from Friday until Monday at King Abdulaziz Airport in Jeddah and only supplied with food and water after strenuous efforts by the Nigerian Consul in Jeddah and a Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
Spokesman Uba Mana said the women were allowed to proceed with their pilgrimage Monday following diplomatic intervention.
He said Saudi authorities held them for not traveling with a male relative due to a "communication gap."
He said an agreement between the countries exempts Nigerian women from requiring a male relative to escort them during the Hajj pilgrimage, which costs about $4,000 per person.
The pilgrims arrived in Jeddah in two separate Max Air flights from Jigawa and Sokoto states.
A source very close to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) hinted last night that diplomatic efforts were still ongoing to stop the deportation.
"As I am talking to you now the matter is beyond the commission, it is now a diplomatic matter between the two countries. The issue now is how to stop the deportation of the pilgrims," the source said.
But the confusion and subsequent detention of women infuriated the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammadu Sa’ad, who is the Amirul Hajj, who called the action of the Saudi authorities “an insult to Nigeria and to this country’s millions of Muslims.”
“They never raised this issue and never demanded that the female pilgrims must have a ‘muharram.’ They did not make this a requirement for issuing visas,” the Sultan said.
“They issued visas to all these pilgrims, only to embarrass, detain and threaten to deport them when they arrived in the holy land. How can they do this to us?... We have done a lot over the years to improve on our hajj operation and we do not deserve this humiliation.”
The Sultan said that he ordered the Nigerian pilgrims to resist any attempt to deport them. “Let the Saudis physically carry them into the planes and deport them,” he said. “They issued them with valid visas, only to shift the goal posts at the very last minute, when they had already arrived in Jeddah.”
More than 17,000 Nigeria pilgrims are already in the holy land.