Two thousand seven hundred Muslims are stranded at the Aviation Social Centre near the Kotoka International Airport in the latest episode of the recurrent adversity that befalls would-be Ghanaian pilgrims to Mecca.
The first batch, comprising 362 of the prospective pilgrims, was expected to have left Accra for Jeddah at dawn last Saturday, but by press time Sunday neither the officials of the Interim Hajj Management Committee (IHMC) nor the pilgrims had any clue as to the whereabouts of the plane which was expected to take them to the Holy city.
While officials of the Hajj committee told the Daily Graphic that the plane had left Saudi Arabia for Accra, aviation officials at the airport said it was rather in the UK and was yet to take off from London for Saudi Arabia before re-routing from Jeddah to Accra to airlift the pilgrims.
Most of the pilgrims, who are from Ashanti and the three northern regions were transported to Accra by the IHMC after their documents had been certified by Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) officials. And since the idea this year was that they would immediately board the plane when they arrived in Accra no places of convenience were provided for them.
As a result, the would-be pilgrims have been forced, under the circumstances, to answer the calls of nature in the open.
A Hajj committee official said the pilgrims had refused to go to the Trade Fair Centre where facilities were available to relieve them of their difficulties.
Some of the pilgrims told the Daily Graphic that they had not had their baths for days, while others had started spending the money meant for their upkeep in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The stranded pilgrims, therefore, appealed to the government to intervene to help them to fulfill their life-long dream of performing the Hajj.
A 75-year-old stranded pilgrim from Walewale, Madam Meri Mahama, said although her agent had given her documents, including the ticket, she could not find the agent and did not know her fate.
Madam Mahama, who was one of the 499 people who could not embark on the pilgrimage last year, was lying on the floor, using her luggage as a pillow.
Another disappointed pilgrim, Mallam Ibrahim Ali from Obuasi, told the Daily Graphic that the situation was too bad for him, as most of them had not had their baths for days, while they responded to the calls of nature in the open.
When contacted the Chairman of the Hajj Committee, Ustaz Seidu Ahmed, told the Daily Graphic that officials of the Ghana Civil Aviation Authority (GCAA) had gone to Saudi Arabia to inspect the Aircraft (ALAMA from Libya) which was expected to arrive in the country by 10.00 p.m. last Saturday to convey the first batch within two hours of arrival. But that was not to be.
The members of the committee and the Hajj agents had since held a series of crisis meetings on how to address the problem.
The Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is obligatory on Muslims who have the financial wherewithal and are in good health.
However, Ghanaian pilgrims have annually had difficulties in performing the Hajj, with issues ranging from departure problems, poor accommodation in Saudi Arabia to delays in returning home.
To address the situation, the Hajj Board was disbanded in 2005 and in its stead the National Hajj Council (NHC) was formed to manage the operations of the Hajj.
The first outing of the NHC in the 2005/6 Hajj saw a marked improvement over the previous ones, but last year's Hajj turned disastrous and the NHC was unable to airlift 499 prospective pilgrims to perform the Hajj.
That generated a lot of dissatisfaction among Muslim stakeholder organisations, a situation which led to the formation of the Ghana Pilgrimage Organisation (GPO). The NHC refused to be incorporated into the GPO.
Subsequent to that, an Interim Hajj Management Committee was constituted, under the auspices of the National Chief Imam, with members drawn from the NHC and the regional Imams to organise this year's Hajj.
The COMOG, Al Suna Wal Jamaa and FOMWAG however, opted out and declared they had nothing to do with this year's Hajj.
The members of the committee made a commitment to airlift all the 499 pilgrims who were disappointed last year at no additional cost and promised to organise an improved Hajj this year.
This year's Hajj starts on December 18, 2007 and the Jeddah Airport is expected to be closed by December 15.
In a related development, Alhaji Mohammed Mumuni, running mate of Professor J.E.A. Mills NDC flag bearer in the 2004 elections, has called on the Interior Ministry and NADMO to offer relief and toilet facilities to relieve the difficulties of the stranded pilgrims.
He described conditions of the piligrims as "depressing and unacceptable" and called for action now to address the situation.
Alhaji Mumuni made the call when he interacted with the pilgrims at the centre Sunday during which he distributed food and water to them.