No fewer than 150 intending pilgrims to this year’s hajj in Mecca, Saudi Arabia were left stranded at the international wing of the Murtala Muhammed Airport in Lagos following their inability to show evidence of having secured a travel visa for the journey to the Holy Land.
It was gathered that the pilgrims, mostly from Ogun, Osun and Oyo states had been defrauded by a travel agent hired to secure travel visa, airfares and accommodation for them while in Saudi Arabia.
The pilgrims were expected to travel to Mecca last Friday with Qatar Airways, but the trip was truncated following the failure of the travel agent to show up with their passports and travel visas.
The agent (name withheld) was believed to have raked in about N142.5million from the 150 pilgrims as each of them was said to have paid N950, 000 for visa processing, airfares and other logistics charges.
When Daily Sun visited the airport, it was a pitiable sight as the intending pilgrims had converted the departure hall of the international airport into their sleeping apartment.
It was gathered that Jeddah Airport in Saudi Arabia would officially close today, which means if they failed to travel yesterday night or early today, their dreams of participating in the 2013 hajj exercise to Mecca would have been defeated.
One of the pilgrims, Mr. Abdulwasiu Adeyemi from Abeokuta in Ogun State, who spoke to journalists, said they arrived at the airport as early as 7am last Friday, but were yet to travel for the hajj in Mecca.
Adeyemi said each of them paid the agent N950,000 for the visa, air ticket and accommodation, but lamented that as at last Friday, some of them could not lay hands on international passports containing their visa as the agent failed to show up.
He said the passport was only given to him and some others yesterday and that they were asked to pay additional N280,000 for a return flight ticket for the exercise.
“I’ve never had any business deal with this company (the travel agent). He told us to be at the airport as early as 10am last Friday for our flight with Qatar Airways and we complied, but unfortunately, our passport and visas were not given to us by the agent as he claimed that they were not ready then.”
Another affected pilgrim, Alhaja Muibat Arogunjo, lamented that the agent had turned her pilgrimage into a thing of sorrow .
Arogunjo said she had spent all the money in her savings for the exercise and could no longer cough out more funds for a new ticket. But a representative of the agent at the Lagos airport, who declined to mention his name, told journalists that the pilgrims were not defrauded by the company.
“It is the delay in the return of their visas by the Saudi Arabian Embassy in Nigeria that led to the inability of the pilgrims to travel at the agreed date,” said the official.
Source: Sun News