Deputy Governor, of Nigeria’s northwestern state of Kebbi, Alhaji Samaila Dabai Yombe has debunked the story that pilgrims in Saudi Arabia stampeded to death on Thursday while going for the rite of stoning the devil in Mina.
Yombe said that the incident at Jamrat was not a stampede at all. Rather, people were packed like sardines under a crushing heat of 47 degrees celsius, making Nigeria’s Senate leader, Ali Ndume blast the Saudis for treating Nigerians shabbily.
According to Yombe: “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 confirmed the death of the two court of appeal judges from Nigeria, one of whom was the brother of Attahiru Jega, the former chairman of INEC.
“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.”
About 100 Nigerian pilgrims may have died in the tragedy as the head count of missing pilgrims continued, making Nigeria the third country with highest losses. Iran so far has recorded the highest losses of 134 pilgrims, followed by Morocco (87).
On Saturday, two judges of the Court of Appeal, Justices Abdulkadir Jega and Musa Hassan Alkali, were confirmed dead in the tragedy, along with the Emir of Zing, his two wives and seven other members of his family.
The Amirul-hajj (leader of delegation) of Taraba State to this year’s hajj exercise, Alhaji Abbas Sambo also died, along with seven members of his family .
Among the nine pilgrims from Sokoto who died were the caretaker chairman of Illela Local Government Area, Engr Bello Gidan Hamma, his mother, stepmother and two wives. The hajj leader from Illela also died.
Binji, another council area even fears that 20 of the 23 pilgrims sent to Saudi Arabia may also have died.
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.
This latest tragedy in Saudi Arabia came after the September 11 crane crash in Makkah which killed six Nigerians and injured six others.
*Alhaji Yombe spoke with Daily Trust in Mecca