About two hundred and seventy-eight pilgrims from Borno and Yobe states were at the weekend, prevented from taking off at the Maiduguri International Airport (MIA) for this year’s lesser hajj in Saudi Arabia for security reasons.
Also barred from using the airport was the former Minority Leader of the House of Representatives and Senator representing Borno Central at the National Assembly, Mohammed Ali Ndume, who was not allowed to travel in a chartered flight alongside eight other passengers at the Maiduguri Airport.
It was learnt that a Max Airline plane chartered by a Hajj and Umrah operator, Skynet International Limited, had arrived Maiduguri to convey 278 intending pilgrims who had undergone all security checks and were waiting to be ushered on board the plane when the military allegedly issued the orders directing the plane to take-off empty.
The affected pilgrims had to travel 575 kilometres by road to the Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport (MAKIA) to be airlifted by Max Airlines, Saturday.
In a statement signed by the Director Defence Information, Major General Chris Olukolade, the Military said: “The airport was only observing restriction of the facility to military use in the light of ongoing operations in the area. This followed security assessment of the situation indicating that a sudden massive airlift could not be permitted in the light of the threats and ongoing operations in the area.
“Apparently, the implications of such massive airlift and traffic from the facility in the light of present security situation was not appreciated early enough by those planning the exercise to enable proper security procedure be installed for the important exercise.
“An alternative arrangement was however worked out in concert with the relevant authorities in the state, to enable the movement proceed. This process has continued smoothly despite the inconveniencies, which will be ameliorated as the exercise progress.
“The sensitivity of the situation in the country calls for due caution and conscious effort to avoid yielding to pressure from those who are apparently sympathetic to those working frantically to undermine the nation’s security.
“The public is therefore requested to ignore all insinuations inferring religious or political connotations from the security measures put in place in Maiduguri airport. The intention has never been to jeopardize the airlifting of pilgrims as has been wrongly portrayed.”