Hajj Stampede: Nigerian death toll rises to 20

THE number of Nigerian pilgrims that lost their lives in the stampede at Mina, Saudi Arabia, last Thursday, has risen to 20 from the initial six.

There were fears, yesterday, that the death toll may rise further as more states are still searching for their ‘missing’ pilgrims. Taraba, Sokoto and Gombe states have announced the loss of some pilgrims from their states.

Already, two justices of the Court of Appeal and front line journalist and columnist, Hajiya Bilikisu Yusuf, among others have been confirmed dead.

The Chief Justice of Nigeria (CJN), Justice Mahmud Mohammed, has confirmed the death of two Court of Appeal justices among those who died during the deadly stampede at Mina, Saudi Arabia on Thursday.

A statement issued by the CJN gave the names of the deceased as Justice Abdulkadir Jega, who is the brother of the past INEC Chairman, Professor Attahiru Jega; and Justice Musa Hassan Alkali of the Ilorin Division.

The Amirul Hajj of Taraba State, Alhaji Abbas Ibrahim, and two of his wives are also among the dead.

Sokoto State lost nine pilgrims in the stampede. Also, a staff of the National Youth Service Corps, NYSC, (name withheld), also died in the crush.

Taraba State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board confirmed the death of the state’s Amirul Hajj for the 2015 pilgrimage, Alhaji Ibrahim, the First Class ruler of Zing.

Chairman of the board, Alhaji Hamman-Adama Tukur, confirmed the incident.

Tukur explained that the emir died on Thursday during the stampede, adding that the body of the late traditional ruler was buried in Makkah on Friday.

He disclosed that many indigenes of Taraba are still missing, while a few others, whose names he did not mention, but who sustained injuries, are receiving treatment in Saudi hospitals.

Similarly, Sokoto State Government announced that nine pilgrims from the state were among those who lost their lives in the disaster.

In a statement in Sokoto, the government said that its officials, led by the Amirul Hajj and leader of its delegation, the Deputy Governor, Alhaji Ahmad Aliyu, who was still in Saudi Arabia, confirmed the tragedy.

It said that the team was still working round the clock to identify many of the pilgrims from the state who were injured.

According to the statement signed by Imam Imam, Special Adviser to Governor Aminu Tambuwal on Media and Public Affairs, the injured are receiving treatment in hospitals in Saudi Arabia.

In the same vein, the Executive Secretary, Gombe State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Alhaji Usman Gurama, told newsmen in Mina, Saudi Arabia, weekend, that the pilgrims could not be located since Thursday.

He said that members of the medical team had been checking hospitals and mortuaries with a view to locating them or their remains.

He, however, said that for now, it had not been confirmed whether they were among those who died as a result of Thursday’s incident

One of the survivors, Alhaji Dahiru Shittu, yesterday, narrated how he narrowly survived the incident.

Shittu, one of the over 60,000 Nigerians attending this year’s pilgrimage, was among the thousands of people gathered in Mina for the devil stoning rite, part of the hajj activities, when the stampede occurred.

Survivor’s story

“We were trapped between narrow lanes with iron wall of tents on both sides of the road,” he told PREMIUM TIMES in Makkah, Saudi Arabia.

“There was no way out, so people started scaling fences into tents of Algeria and other Arab countries,” he added.

Mr. Shittu, from Igabi Local Government Area of Kaduna State, added that “my friend and I, who was completely exhausted from the previous long distance trekking from Arafat to Muztalifa where we spent the night and set out that morning to Jamra, had no option than to step on other weaker pilgrims to survive.

“You will see relations, mothers and parents abandoning their children and the aged. I was, however, helped by an Arab man to scale the fence into a tent.

“Many male and female pilgrims, dead or alive, were seen naked. We that survived had to scavenge for Ihram (white cloth) of corpses to cover our nakedness.

“Those of us who were alive were gasping for breath in an exhausting struggle, some of whom were later offered ice block by volunteers.

“An Ethiopian pilgrim abandoned his mother who became a ‘ladder’ for those who scaled fences to survive. Many others too were crushed to death in such a manner.”

ROYAL FAMILY ACCUSED

The pilgrim bitterly complained that poor security contributed to the tragedy, saying there was not enough “security around or any rescue team.”

There have been reports that the closure of two essential gates, reportedly at the instance of the Saudi Royal family who were receiving some visitors, was a major cause of the stampede, a fact

Shittu said: “If the gates of those tents from both sides of the road had opened, the death toll would have been very minimal

“The Arabs closed the gates and continued to hit the hands of any pilgrim with a metal as they attempted to scale their fences.”

Another injured survivor said he saw corpses of many Nigerians from Lagos and Sokoto, whom he identified from their uniform.

He said: “There was a woman, who was carrying a baby and I am not sure if she will survive because there were so many bodies piled on top of her and the baby.”

No official figure has been announced by Nigerian authorities of the number of casualties from the country.

Saudi officials said at least 769 people were killed in the stampede, while over 900 people were injured.

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