Stampede: MURIC Accuses Saudi Of Criminal Negligence
Accusing the Saudi authorities of criminal negligence for which they must be held accountable, the group said the kingdom “lied when they tried to put the blame squarely on African pilgrims.”
Recalling the events leading to the gory stampede, of which its members were eyewitnesses, MURIC in its statement signed by Prof. Ishaq Akintola, its Director, said: “We left Muzdalifah for Muna around 6 a.m. on that fateful day. We branched in the NAHCON camp to drop our personal effects and headed straight to the jamaraat which were less than three kilometers away. To our surprise, the road was blocked by Egyptian pilgrims who had cast their own stones and were returning to their camp.
“Instead of taking the route designated for returning pilgrims, they stubbornly took the route meant for those who were going. The road became narrow and movement became difficult. The atmosphere became charged and even breathing and visibility were affected.
“The few policemen who were around desperately threw water at us to save us from collapsing. It became glaring to us at that moment that a monumental stampede was just around the corner,” it added.
Continuing, the group testified that the incident was caused by security breakdown on the part of the Saudi authorities, and “would not have occurred at all if Saudi security agents had disallowed pilgrims returning from the jamaraat from taking the same route on their way back.
“The practice over the years has always been to take a detour but this was not enforced on Thursday. The fact that the road to the same jamaraat became very free and safe yesterday and this morning when Saudi security agents strictly enforced the rules by disallowing returning pilgrims to use the same route as those going proves that our hypothesis is correct,” the group said.
While urging the Federal Government to demand compensation from the Saudis for families of the bereaved, the group urged the kingdom to “involve the world Muslim Ummah in the planning and implementation of the annual hajj exercise in view of the emerging scenario of complacency on the part of the Saudi authorities.”
The statement also urged the Federal Government to participate in investigating the tragedy, while applauding the professionalism of Nigerian officials in the team, even as it expressed sadness over “the death of highly qualified Nigerians like Professor Tijani El-Miskin and Bilkisu Yusuf in the stampede.”
Of the lives that were lost in the incident, there were about 30 Nigerians, including justices Abdulkadir Jega, Presiding Justice of Abuja Division and Musa Hassan Alkali of the Ilorin Division of the Court of Appeal.
In a condolence message, the Chief Justice of Nigeria, (CJN) Justice Mahmud Mohammed, on Saturday commiserated with the Court of Appeal and the families of the two revered jurists. Their loss, he noted, was not just a huge loss to the Judiciary but Nigeria.
MURIC affirmed: “National Hajj Commission performed their duties as expected. The current chairman of NAHCON, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar, was seen on several occasions getting personally involved in operations and keeping vigil at nights to ensure a smooth hajj exercise.
“He stayed among the pilgrims and officials, rode in the same buses with them and shunned all offers for VIP treatment.”
Meanwhile, the Trade Union Congress of Nigeria (TUC), also on Sunday, expressed shock at the stampede that occurred Thursday, at the ritual ‘Stoning of the Devil’ during the Hajj, urging the kingdom to accept responsibility for the catastrophic loss, describing it as one incident too many in the history of the annual pilgrimage.
The statement by President, Bobboi Bala Kaigama, in Abuja, said it expected the Saudi authorities to have by now addressed these challenges, rather than allowing worshipers perish, saying: “It is so painful that while we were yet grappling with the over a hundred people killed in Mecca when a construction crane fell on the crowded Grand Mosque another one was happening.
“It was the ninth in a string of such incidents since 1990 and we had thought that by now Saudi government should have addressed the cause of such avoidable deaths. It just does not make any sense for people to die in places of worship, especially at an occasion as important as Islam’s most important feast and day of the stoning ritual.
“Apart from the 1,426 pilgrims that died in 1990, 350 pilgrims also died in 2006 which eventually prompted Saudi Arabia to employ some remedial measures. We do not expect this kind of colossal loss at this time and age again. It’s just too grave to bear,” TUC stated.
Also, taking a swipe at its neighbour, Iran’s supreme leader, Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, demanded apology from at Saudi Arabia.
“Instead of passing the buck and playing a blame game, the Saudis should accept their responsibility and apologise to the world’s Muslims and the bereaved families,” he said.
While 155 Iranians are said to have died in the carnage, Tehran says 323 of its citizens are still missing four days after the stampede and had summoned Saudi’s charge d’Affaires for the third time since the stampede on Saturday.
President Hassan Rouhani of Iran appealed for UN mediation with the Saudis in a meeting with UN scribe, Ban Ki-moon in New York, because “sadly, Riyadh isn’t offering enough co-operation on the missing pilgrims and the transfer of the dead and injured.”