The death toll from last Thursday stampede in Mina, Mecca which claimed the lives of 769 Muslims, including 54 Nigerians, could be higher than earlier thought as Saudi Arabia has released to foreign diplomats over 1,000 photographs of the dead from the mishap.
This is just as President Muhammadu Buhari, Tuesday, also formally directed both the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) and the Nigerian Embassy in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to get involved in the Mina stampede mishap with a view to obtaining an accurate number of Nigerian casualties from the last Thursday’s accident.
A statement by the Senior Special Assistant (Media & Publicity) Garba Shehu, Tuesday, quotes the President as issuing the directive following conflicting reports of the exact number of Nigerian fatalities in the accident.
“President Buhari is very concerned that days after the unfortunate incident, some Nigerian families are still grappling with painful uncertainty over the fate of their relatives who travelled to Saudi Arabia for this year’s Hajj,” read the statement posted on Shehu’s Facebook account.
“The President expects the National Hajj Commission to work with the various state pilgrim boards, Islamic organisations and private travel agencies involved in Hajj operations to speedily provide a confirmed and verifiable report on the status of every Nigerian pilgrim in Saudi Arabia.
“President Buhari has also directed the Hajj Commission, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia to give all necessary assistance to Nigerians who are still receiving treatment for injuries suffered in Mina.
“He continues to pray that Almighty Allah will receive the souls of the dead, comfort bereaved families, heal the injured and bring all surviving Nigerian pilgrims safely home.”
This is as latest news of missing Nigerians continue to filter in with fresh reports that the Niger State’s Accountant General Alhaji Shehu Kontagora also lost his life in the accident in Mecca last week.
Government house source in Minna said the remains of the late Alhaji Shehu Kontagora had been found in one of the morgues in the holy land.
Also the Deputy Amiru Hajj Barrister Abubakar Isa was among the deceased. Barrister Isa was a former executive secretary of Niger State Pilgrim Welfare Board during Governor Abdulkadir kure tenure.
Confirming the latest losses, the Chief Press Secretary to the Niger State Governor Dr. Ibrahim Booba, also offered the state government’s official condolence to the family of the deceased.
While Saudi officials could not be immediately reached for comment about the discrepancy surrounding the death toll of the disaster in Mina, the authorities have continued to release more photographs of victims in the accident which was initially believed to have claimed 769 Muslims.
Tariq Fazal Chaudhry, an MP from Pakistan’s governing PML-N political party who is leading his country’s response to the disaster, said Saudi officials gave diplomats “1,100 photos” of the dead. Chaudhry told journalists during a news conference broadcast nationwide on Monday night that the photos could be viewed at Saudi embassies and missions abroad.
“This is the official figure of martyrs from Saudi officials given for the identification process,” Chaudhry said.
His comments echoed those of India external affairs minister, Sushma Swaraj, on Sunday. “Saudi authorities have released photos of 1,090 pilgrims who have died in (the hajj) stampede,” Swaraj wrote on Twitter.
Indian diplomats and government officials declined to discuss or elaborate on Swaraj’s tweet on Monday.
Saudi authorities have said at least 769 people died when two large waves of pilgrims converged on a narrow road last Thursday during the final days of the annual hajj in Mina near the holy city of Mecca. Survivors say the crowding caused people to suffocate and eventually trample one another.
Iran has criticised the kingdom over the hajj disaster, in which many Iranian Shia Muslims died, and daily protests have taken place near the Saudi embassy in Tehran.
Iranian state media has also suggested the death toll was far higher, without providing any corroboration. Iranian state television has said 169 Iranian pilgrims died, while more than 300 remained missing and 100 were injured.
The hajj this year drew some 2 million pilgrims from 180 countries, though in previous years it has drawn more than 3 million without any major incidents.