From Awareness Times Newspaper in Freetown

Local News
In Sierra Leone, Government Abandons Pilgrims Under Rains at Airport
By Our Correspondent
Nov 1, 2010, 12:50

Over One Hundred and Fifty intending Muslim pilgrims to this year’s Hajj in Mecca, yesterday October 31st 2010, spent the night in total despair and unbelief as they watched some four hundred of their compatriots board a special flight but they themselves could not board the plane for reasons that were ill-explained to them.

The pilgrims, many of them undertaking trip on Government funding, were left to their own devices on the tarmac with no accommodation or feeding arrangements undertaken for them despite instructions for this to be done being reportedly given by the Hon. Vice President, Alhaji Sam-Sumana.

When a heavy downpour of rain, thunder and lightening hit Lungi International airport, it was reportedly a sorry sight to watch these old men and women scurrying around in total confusion trying to find a safe place to take refuge from the pouring rains.

Eventually, they huddled around the airport Police Station on the premises but many of them were left wet, cold and very hungry as we went to press last night.

Meanwhile, Government sources within the Office of the Vice President say that Chief Sam-Sumana is furious that this kind of mess occurred. He is reported to have personally flown over to Lungi in the late hours of the afternoon when he received the news of the pilgrims being left behind and had left instructions for their feeding and accommodation arrangements to be handled. However, as soon as he turned his back headed for Freetown, the assigned Government employees simply went about their business and left the pilgrims to their own devices saying there was no money to handle feeding or accommodation.

One of the affected pilgrims telephoned up the Awareness Times last night with sobs and through her telephone line, we were able to interview many of the abandoned pilgrims. None of them had any kind words for the Ernest Bai Koroma Government whom had been supposed to arrange their trip to Mecca under ‘scholarship’ meaning the Government would have used from donations like a reported US$500,000 from Libya’s Colonel Ghadafi, to pay for their tickets and board in Mecca.

It will be recalled that Sierra Leone is regularly plagued with this kind of problems. The most sensational one occurred about six years back when the current Mines Minister Hon. Alpha Kanu, had on-boarded hundreds of intending pilgrims into a special flight purportedly bound for Mecca, only for the flight to stop in Abuja where the pilgrims were abandoned. 

As a result of this, a musical song was released that year with a chant that ‘Mecca turn to Abuja’. At that time, Alpha Kanu was an ordinary businessman involved in flights and ticketing arrangements.

Meanwhile, the lucky pilgrims, many of whom were not Government sponsored would be arriving in Mecca today under the leadership of Employment Minister, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray who is making his second trip to Mecca. The number of lucky pilgrims this year includes numerous Paramount Chiefs from Sierra Leone and Liberia as well as the country’s Administrator & Registrar-General, Madam Maseray Kallay.

© Copyright 2005, Freetown, Sierra Leone.