Two judges of the Court of Appeal, Justices Abdulkadir Jega and Musa Hassan Alkali, have been confirmed dead in the tragedy in Mecca last Thursday in which some 769 persons died.
Daily Trust Newspaper reports that the death of these two eminent jurists were confirmed on Sunday by several sources in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria, and it is feared that some 100 Nigerians may have lost their lives in the disaster.
Among those whose deaths were also confirmed last night were the Emir of Zing and Amirul-hajj (leader of delegation) of Taraba State to this year’s hajj exercise, Alhaji Abbas Sambo. Other seven members of his family died in last Thursday’s catastrophe.
The Chairman of the Taraba State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Hamman-Adama Tukur, who confirmed the death of the first class monarch on the telephone from Saudi Arabia, explained that the emir died last Thursday at the site of the Jamrat where they went to fulfil one of the Hajj rites (symbolic stoning of the devil).
Tukur who said that the body of the late traditional ruler was recovered and buried in Makkah last Friday, disclosed that many indigenes of Taraba State were still missing while a few others who sustained injuries were receiving treating in some Saudi Hospitals.
The Chief Press Secretary to the governor of Taraba State, Alhaji Hassan Mijinyawa also confirmed the death of the monarch but said consultations were still on between the state government and the Zing Traditional Council before a formal pronouncement would be made.
Over the same incident, a Sokoto State hajj official told Daily Trust on Sunday that the caretaker chairman of Illela Local Government Area, Engr Bello Gidan Hamma, his mother, stepmother and two wives died. The official said the hajj leader from Illela also lost his life.
The official said another local government area that lost pilgrims in the stampede is Binji. “Of the 23 pilgrims from that local government area, 20 are feared dead,” he said. The hajj official said most of them were women. “Most of the victims are family members. You know, our pilgrims move in groups, mostly comprising family members.”
Unlike the Zing monarch who died, the Emir of Gusau Ibrahim Bello only sustained injuries in the stampede. But some of his associates who were together with him that day were not that lucky.
Kebbi State Deputy Governor, Alh Samaila Dabai Yombe confirmed the death of Justice Abdulkadir Jega in an interview with our correspondent yesterday in Mina, Saudi Arabia, saying, “Yes, the CJ of Kebbi State, Justice Abdulkadir Jega has died as a result of the incident that occurred while on our way from Muzdalifa to Jamra to perform the first ritual of stoning the Jamratul Akbar (the big Jamra) where we were caught up in the sardine-like crowd of worshipers.”
The deputy governor stated that the Amirul Hajj and Emir of Argungu, Alhaji Samaila Mera, Speaker of the State House of Assembly and his deputy, Governor Atiku Bagudu’s family were among pilgrims who survived the incident.
The deputy governor, however, insisted that the incident at Jamrat was not a stampede, adding, “Whoever said it was a stampede either does not know the meaning of a stampede or he is not saying the truth. What actually happened was that all the pilgrims scheduled to throw Jamrat at that time were channelled to one particular street. At a time we got to a certain point around 8:00am, a military vehicle was set across to create a barrier and then some of the Saudi soldiers were standing by, suggesting that you cannot go beyond that point.
“About 5,000 people coming from the same direction were not aware of the road block in front, which resulted to a tight and stationary human traffic, which made it very difficult for us to even stand. So, we continued to squat to make room for fresh air while the temperature was about 47 degrees celsius. Pilgrims, in efforts to get fresh air, attempted to scale fences of tents on both sides of the road. Very few succeeded, while most people just succumb to the situation. It was at this juncture that we saw dead bodies piling up around us.”
Yombe added that apart from the CJ who was confirmed dead from bodies deposited at the mortuary, only two pilgrims from the state are yet to be accounted for and, according to him, “they are most likely to be among those who missed their way, and may later be found.”
The late Justice Abubakar Jega was a brother to the immediate past chairman of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC), Professor Attahiru Jega and the Deputy Editor-in-Chief of Daily Trust titles, Malam Mahmud Jega.
Justice Alkali, though a judge of the Court of Appeal, was of Ilorin Division.
The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN) Justice Mahmud Mohammed said in a condolence message signed by his media aide, Ahuraka Isah, yesterday that he was extending his heartfelt commiserations to the Court of Appeal and the families of the two Justices of the Court of Appeal, Abubakar Jega and Musa Alkali who died during the unfortunate incident last Thursday.
The CJN said the death of the revered jurists is not just a huge loss to the Judiciary but Nigeria in entirety, adding that both men of the Bench contributed immensely to the development of Nigeria’s jurisprudence.
Among other Nigerians that have been confirmed dead are the Deputy Secretary General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and a lecturer at the University of Maiduguri, Professor Tijjani El-Miskin as well as a veteran journalist and human rights activist Hajiya Bilikisu Yusuf.
While the casualty figures for Nigeria were not confirmed by officials of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and the Saudi government, those of Iran (134), Morocco (87), India (14) Pakistan (7), Algeria (3), Indonesia (3) and Netherland (1) were confirmed by Saudi government.
The Leader of the Nigerian Senate, Senator Mohammed Ali Ndume, told Daily Trust on Sunday, from Saudi Arabia at the weekend that part of the reasons why the tragedy has affected many Nigerians was because of the shabby treatment the Saudi authorities meted out to pilgrims from this part of the world.
Expressing his astonishment, Senator Ndume said, “Hajj is not a privilege; it’s a right of every Muslim. All those Nigerians who died paid to be there. The Saudis don’t do any favour to any Nigerian who goes on hajj. It’s our religious duty, but we’re kept at a location that is very far, some four kilometres, to the site of the final rites. We, as Nigerians, must review how we are treated by the Saudi authorities. We’ll insist that the National Assembly takes a position on this matter. Other nationals are better treated, but Africans are approached with disdain by the Saudis. It is unfair.”
This deadly ‘stampede’ in Saudi Arabia was coming on the heels of the September 11 crane crash in Makkah which killed six Nigerians and injured six others.
Chairman of NAHCON Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammed, said last Sunday that 20 Nigerian pilgrims had earlier died in Saudi Arabia since the beginning of this year’s Hajj exercise, including the six that died in the September 11 crane accident in Makkah. Mohammed had said that apart from the six victims of the crane crash, 14 other pilgrims died due to cardiac arrest and other ailments.
However, between last Sunday and yesterday, health officials confirmed that three other Nigerians also died due to ailments: one a male in the FCT camp died after returning from the Jamarat but was not involved in the stampede.
In Kogi State, our correspondent in the state capital Lokoja, learnt that Hajiya Nana Folunsho from Adavi Local Government Area in the Central Senatorial Zone of the state died of heart attack following the Hajj tragedy. Until her death, Hajiya Nana Funsho was the Head, Vocational Education Center at Adavi Local Government Area of Kogi State. She was a devoted Muslim and a likeable personality in her community.
Of the pilgrims from Nigeria, those from Sokoto State may have suffered the highest casualty figures, but the figures have not been confirmed. Sources who said the figures could be quite high, and that the deceased were mostly from Binji and Ilella local government areas.
Other states that may have “badly” affected by the stampede are Borno and Yobe. Already, it has been known that Borno lost its pilgrims board executive chairman, Professor Tijjani El-Miskin.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia Health Minister Khalid Al-Falih said that the death tolls of all nationals to the 2015 Hajj, put earlier at 717, had risen to 769 and the injured to 934 by last night.
There had been no official response from the Nigerian hajj officials by last night “because NAHCON and state pilgrims boards are busy identifying corpses in morgues, visiting hospitals in Mina, Jeddah and Makkah to identify the injured,” a source said. But another source remarked, “NAHCON may announce the casualty figure as soon as state officials conclude their head counts in Makkah. It is only then that those not present can be feared death.”
But multiple Nigerian official sources who put Nigeria’s death toll at 100 said this may make Nigeria’s loss the third highest after Pakistan and Iran that lost 236 and 134 pilgrims respectively.