Minister of Foreign Affairs, Ambassador Olugbenga A. Ashiru, yesterday met with Prince Abdul Aziz bin Abdullah bin Abdul Aziz, Acting Foreign Minister of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in New York on the sidelines of the ongoing United Nations General Assembly.
Ashiru, according to a statement from the ministry, registered Nigeria's strong objection to the treatment meted out to many Nigerian female pilgrims, who after fulfilling the visa requirements were denied entry to Saudi Arabia in order to perform Hajj, one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam.
In referring to what he described as worrisome development, the Minister expressed Nigeria's particular concern at the denial of consular access to the detained female pilgrims by both the Nigerian Ambassador and Consul-General in Saudi Arabia, which he said is in contravention of the Vienna Convention.
He also expressed the view that the action of the Saudi Authorities was not only unfortunate but did not truly reflect the historic friendly ties between the two nations. He therefore requested the Saudi Authorities to immediately find an appropriate solution to the problem while ensuring that the intending pilgrims are treated with respect and dignity so that they can consummate their religious duties and obligations.
In his response, the Saudi Acting Foreign Minister, while expressing regrets at the development, informed his counterpart that the denial of entry to unaccompanied female pilgrims to perform the Hajj was not a Saudi Arabian regulation but an Islamic requirement that all women must be accompanied by Mahrams (male guardians).
He however said that efforts are being made to find an immediate solution to the problem, hoping that Nigerian pilgrims will in future comply fully with this Islamic injunction in order to avoid such unpalatable consequences.
The Nigerian government, while calling for restraint on the part of those affected by the recent action of the Saudi government, assured Nigerians that all efforts are being made to find an early solution to the worrisome development and reiterated its determination to protect the legitimate interests of its citizens abroad.