At long last the much-awaited aircraft to airlift prospective pilgrims from the Tamale Airport touched down yesterday evening to the delight of the Vice President, Dr. Mahamudu Bawumia and the National Chief Imam, Sheikh Osman Nuhu Sharubutu.
They had kept wake in Tamale since their arrival there on Thursday for the Hajj 2017 flight to Saudi Arabia.
The delay of the flight caused untold hardships for the stranded pilgrims, their relatives, the vice president and the National Chief Imam, who decided to stay on until the departure of the first batch of the pilgrims.
A few hours before the touchdown of the aircraft, Dr Bawumia, Sheikh Nuhu Sharubutu and the Northern Regional Minister visited the over 500 pilgrims to give them pep talks.
The Chief Imam, after praying for a successful resolution of the problem, encouraged them to take heart as the pilgrimage comes with occasional challenges.
Dr Bawumia, on the other hand, explained that an aircraft which was on its way to airlift the pilgrims developed a technical problem and had to return to its Jeddah base.
He announced to the relief of the stranded pilgrims that a replacement was airborne and was due to touch down any moment from then. Indeed, it did not take too long for the aircraft to touch down.
In its explanation earlier, the Ghana Hajj Board, through its Head of Communications, explained that they had suffered a last-minute delay in the airlift of 506 pilgrims from Tamale to Madina, Saudi Arabia.
The board corroborated what the vice president had said to the effect that the company handling the airline called NAS Air or FlyNas, which aircraft was supposed to touch down in Tamale Thursday evening to airlift the first batch, said it had suffered a technical hitch and therefore could not make the trip from Jeddah.
Although some of the pilgrims had complained about not being sufficiently informed about the reason why they had not been able to make the trip, the Hajj Board's Head of Communications, Abdul Rahman Alhassan Gomda, mentioned that the board told the pilgrims in clear language that the cause of the delay was from the airline and not the board.
“As at 1:30 pm word had come from Jeddah that an aircraft was airborne for Tamale to lift the first batch,” Alhaji Gomda said, adding, “We are expecting the plane to touch down this evening (Friday) by 6:30 pm.”
He also said that the Board Chairman, Sheikh I.C. Quaye, had sent a strongly-worded correspondence to the management of the airline expressing concern about the turn of events.
The communications director said Sheikh I.C. Quaye specifically requested the airline to consider doubling the second flight to cater for the shortfall.
“They have embarrassed us and we have every right to register our protest about the way they have treated us,” he said.
At the flagging off ceremony last Thursday, Sheikh I.C. Quaye had said, “We have made all the necessary arrangements for your comfort; we have entered into agreement with various housing and food agents and agencies who will provide and meet all your needs.”
According to him, buses had been provided to convey pilgrims from Harab to Mecca and that the packages include three square meals for all pilgrims.
Sheikh I. C Quaye hinted that President Akufo-Addo had vowed to put an end to the seeming annual sufferings encountered by pilgrims.
He indicated that a welfare team had therefore been put together to ensure the general welfare of pilgrims and to give assistance to the aged and the weak, with all their medical assistance.
An advance team had been dispatched to Saudi Arabia to prepare the grounds and receive pilgrims on arrival at Madina and Mecca.
Sheikh I. C. Quaye advised the pilgrims to observe the laws of the Saudi Kingdom and also pray for the country, as well as its leaders for God's guidance.
He urged pilgrims to avoid traveling with any prohibited items such as narcotics.
“We want all of you to go to Mecca and perform the hajj with comfort and ease and while in the holy land; be keepers of one another, stay in unity and promote a common cause.”
The Northern Regional Minister, Salifu Saeed, expressed his gratitude to the various chiefs, traditional rulers, Imams and opinion leaders in the region for their effort to ensure a successful hajj.
By William Yaw Owusu