THE MUCH-awaited airlifting of Ghanaian pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform the annual Muslim ritual of Hajj took place successfully yesterday albeit with some controversies.
DAILY GUIDE learnt that two of the pilgrims died in Dubai and Jeddah airports. The reports indicated that the first person died on board the plane en route to the Muslim Holy Land.
This brings to four the number of pilgrims that passed away over the past one week. Yet another report claims a man ran amok at Jeddah airport and was 'arrested' by the Saudi police for medical observation.
Meanwhile, at the Kotoka International Airport, it was confusion galore over boarding passes, culminating in the manhandling of one of the Hajj agents, Abdul Manu, by some of the irate pilgrims.
The controversy raged on with some agents taking their share of the 'booty', while criminals managed to infiltrate the process as boarding passes were sold between ¢1 million and ¢2 million to the already over-stretched pilgrims.
The situation gave the security personnel at the airport a hectic time, prompting the Interior Minister, Hon. Kwamena Bartels and the Special Aide to President Kufour, Prince Moro Andani, to intervene, but the process continued without a hitch.
The Interior Minister earlier said that the airlines were secured by government and that about 1600 pilgrims were expected to be airlifted by press time to Jeddah Airport.
The Minister, who was at the airport in the company of Hon. Boniface Abubakar Saddique, Minister for Water Resources, Works and Housing and Alhaji M.N. D. Jawula, Chief Director, Ministry of Health, assured pilgrims of government's continued support, and urged them to exercise restraint.
Mr. Bartels said government would further investigate why there had been lapses in the organization of the 2007 Hajj.
But Abdulai Zakaria, alias Samson Kwakwa, Chairman of the Interim Hajj Council tasked with the responsibility of organizing this year's Hajj, strongly refuted the Interior Minister's claim that government secured the airlines for the Hajj pilgrims to be air-lifted.
Alhaji Kwakwa noted that the airlifting of pilgrims was the result of initial contractual agreements between the Committee and the Libyan-based ALAMA airlines, adding that he had documents to prove his case.
He said the three Boeing 747, capable of airlifting about 450 passengers, flew from Kano, Nigeria, with the fourth airline, Trister, coming from Jeddah.
DAILY GUIDE gathered that there was a nasty incident last Saturday at a meeting between members of the Hajj Committee and Hajj agents over allocation of quotas given to each of them, thereby prompting the President to send his Special Aide to intervene in the matter.
Prince Andani was shocked at the seeming confusion over the allocation issue and had to meet those involved at the Licensing Police Station.
That development led many, including the Spokesperson for the Interim Hajj Committee, Alhaji Abdul-Rahman Gomda, to stay away from the meeting.
However, Alhaji Gomda was yesterday found in the midst of the pilgrims, trying to calm them down. He is expected to leave for Jeddah this morning.
Meanwhile, following the plea from the Ghana government for an extension of the time for the closure of the Jeddah Airport, the deadline had been extended to today at 9.00 pm Saudi time ( 6.00 pm Ghana time.)
The first batch of about 360 Ghanaian pilgrims was airlifted from the Kotoka International Airport en route to Jeddah to perform this year's Hajj last Saturday.
The organization of Hajj in Ghana has over the years been saddled with problems, with the pilgrims bearing the brunt of it.
This year, the Interim Hajj Management Committee had problems airlifting pilgrims after a Saudi Arabian-registered brokerage company, Allama Travel and Tourism Company, was earlier reported to have failed to deliver on its side of the deal.
The company failed to deliver its promise on the agreed date, thus creating copious inconveniences for pilgrims and the Committee.
By Abubakar Salifu