The problem with Sierra Leone’s pilgrims
This is not the first time our Muslim faithful have been subjected to humiliation and all sorts of embarrassment each time they intend to embark on a pilgrimage to the holy land of Mecca.
And it is likely it might not be the last, as long as the holy journey remains to be organized by people whose sole interest is to amass extra profit out of the exercise at the expense of the intending pilgrims.
The bitter experience of 2003 when hundreds of pilgrims were left stranded in Abuja, Nigeria is still fresh in the minds of many Sierra Leoneans here at home and abroad. The pilgrims had to return home without performing the Hajj and came to be referred to as the ‘Abuja Alhajis’ or ‘Abuja Hajas’.
The entire process was reportedly spearheaded by a well placed politician who is to day a senior cabinet minister.
After that sad episode, year in and year out pilgrims would undertake all expenses relating to the pilgrimage, but alas a good number of them would later be left stranded at the Lungi international airport for no fault of theirs.
In certain instances, it was the now deposed Libyan leader, the executed Muammar Gaddafi who used to come in promptly to salvage the situation. This is no more.
That is why when news broke out that a dozen or so pilgrims could not make the journey last weekend due to poor traveling arrangements on the part of the organizers, references were made to the corrupt and satanic attitude of many so-called Muslim leaders who receive monies from unsuspecting intending pilgrims only to divert them elsewhere.
It was disheartening to hear that some of the pilgrims were actually forced out of the planes they were supposed to travel with when airline officials discovered that their names were not listed on the manifest.
What a great embarrassment not just to the intending pilgrims but to friends and family members who escorted their loved ones to the airport!
The sad thing about this unfortunate drama is that not a single pilgrim has ever been compensated or had his or her fees refunded after the abortive trip. The unlucky pilgrims would be left to suffer both the financial and emotional loss as well as the embarrassment.
This is too bad for a country that prides itself on religious fair play.
In the light of the shameful development (and in the absence of the once generous Col. Gaddafi), we urge the government of Sierra Leone to do all in its power to ensure that the stranded passengers are ferried across to Mecca so that they too could perform the Hajj. As part of efforts to stop the corrupt practice, government should step up an investigation into this latest saga and bring to book all those who would be found culpable.
This practice is becoming notorious. Its high time government put a final stop to it.
That is our concern as a medium.
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