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Mecca Reopens for Limited ‘umrah’ Pilgrimages

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A handout picture provided by Saudi Ministry of Media on August 2, 2020, shows Muslim pilgrims circumambulating around the Kaaba, Islam’s holiest shrine, at the centre of the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca. PHOTO: AFP
Mask-clad Muslims circled Islam’s holiest site along socially distanced paths on Sunday, as Saudi authorities partially resumed the year-round umrah pilgrimage amid extensive health precautions after seven-month coronavirus hiatus.

Thousands of worshippers entered the Grand Mosque in the holy city of Mecca in batches to perform the ritual of circling the sacred Kaaba, a cubic structure towards which Muslims around the world pray.

Authorities of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia have announced a phased reopening of Mecca for Umrah pilgrimage hitherto suspended amid the widespread coronavirus pandemic.

The umrah, the pilgrimage that can be undertaken at any time, usually attracts millions of Muslims from across the globe each year but it was suspended in March due to the coronavirus pandemic.

It will be revived in three phases, with Saudi Hajj Minister Mohammad Benten saying last week that 6,000 pilgrims per day will be allowed in the first stage to perform the umrah “meticulously and within a specified period of time”.

A raft of precautions have been adopted to ward off any outbreaks during the umrah, according to state media.

The revered Black Stone in the eastern corner of the Kaaba — which it is customary but not mandatory to touch during the pilgrimage — will be out of reach, while the Grand Mosque will be sterilised before and after each group of worshippers.

Each group of 20 or 25 pilgrims will be accompanied by a health worker and medical teams will be on the ground in case of an emergency, Benten said.

Under the second stage from October 18, the number of umrah pilgrims will be increased to 15,000 per day, with a maximum of 40,000 people, including pilgrims and other worshippers, allowed to perform prayers at the mosque.

Visitors from abroad will be permitted in the third stage from November 1, when capacity will be raised to 20,000 and 60,000, respectively.

The decision to resume the pilgrimage was in response to the “aspirations of Muslims home and abroad” to perform the ritual and visit the holy sites, the interior ministry said last month.

It added that the umrah would be allowed to return to full capacity once the threat of the pandemic has abated.

Until then, the health ministry will vet countries from which pilgrims are allowed to enter based on the health risks.

Saudi Arabia suspended the umrah in March and scaled back the annual hajj over fears that the coronavirus could spread to Islam’s holiest cities.

The hajj went ahead in late July, on the smallest scale in modern history, with only up to 10,000 Muslims allowed to take part — a far cry from the 2.5 million who participated last year.

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Nigeria lauds improved collaboration in AFI Region, signs MoU with Sierra Leone, Rwanda

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MINISTER of Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika has commended International Civil Aviation Organisation (ICAO) stressing that it’s leadership stance in collaboration has led member states of the African Indian-Ocean ( AFI) region to pool resources in resolving challenges and enhance safety in the Sub-region.

Sirika made this known at the 7th AFI Aviation Week in Abuja, Nigeria holding from 16th – 20th May where the nation signed Memorandum of Understandings, (MoUs) with Sierra Leone and Rwanda for technical support to enhance safety and security of Civil Aviation in the region.

According to him, ICAO’s leadership has set the bar for Member States to collaborate in resolving challenges particularly in the area of enhancing safety in our Sub-region.

He explained that one of the outcomes of such collaboration is the Comprehensive Regional Implementation Plan for Aviation Safety in Africa, which metamorphosized in the West Africa region into the Banjul Accord Group Aviation Safety Oversight Organization (BAGASOO), in Abuja, which is hosted and substantially funded by Nigeria stating that this organisation has continued to support the Member States in improving their safety oversight capabilities and human resource development.

On the MoUs, Sirika said they will aid to strengthen safety and efficiency of the sector as well as cooperation in the region.

The Aviation Minister stated that, aviation being an enabler and a positive factor for growth, development and robustness of the economy, informed the sector to enter into partnerships with other countries.

From left, Commisioner Banjul Accord Accident Investigation Agency (BAGAIA), Engineer Charles Irikefe Erhueh with Minister of Aviation, Nigeria, Senator Hadi Sirika and Commissioner Accident Investigation Bureau (AIB) Nigeria, Engineer Akin Olateru at the opening ceremony of the 7th AFI Aviation Week in Abuja, Nigeria holding from 16th – 20th May

“This is the only way to continue to make these initiatives relevant and sustainable, while contributing to the strengthening of safety, security and facilitation in the region, bearing in mind that a safe, secure and efficient air transport system is a natural impetus for socio-economic development of the region and a means to support trade and tourism”.

The MoUs were signed by the Nigeria’s Director General, Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, NCAA, Captain Musa Nuhu and representatives of the two countries at the opening ceremony of the Conference in Abuja.

Explaining further, the NCAA Director General, Captain Nuhu said, the partnership with the two African countries is to assist each other where there are gaps or deficiencies in the system, adding that no civil aviation authorities globally have the capacity to do everything.

The experience of the last two years, Captain Nuhu emphasized has underscored the fact that overcoming challenges and achieving meaningful growth in the industry, can only be done through cooperation, collaboration and co-ordination amongst stakeholders.

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Crime

BREAKING: Accountant-General of the Federation, Ahmed Idris, Arrested Over N80 Billion Fraud

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Nigeria’s Accountant-General, Ahmed Idris, has been arrested over alleged money laundering and diversion of public funds estimated at N80 billion.

Those familiar with the development said Mr Idris was intercepted in Kano by operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) on Monday evening and is being flown to Abuja, the nation’s capital, for interrogation.

Our sources said the EFCC has for sometime now been investigating a case of diversion of at least N80 billion in public funds which was allegedly laundered through some bogus contracts.

The companies used in laundering the funds have allegedly been linked to family members and associates of the accountant-general, investigators said.

Our sources further said after progress was made in the investigation, Mr Idris was summoned repeatedly for interrogation but he failed to honour the invitations.

“We kept inviting him but he kept dodging us,” one of our sources said. “We were left with no choice than to keep him under watch and arrest him.”

The spokesperson for the EFCC could not be reached to comment for his story. One of his subordinates said he is travelling in the United Kingdom at this time.

However, a top EFCC official confirmed the development but asked not to be named because he had no permission to discuss the matter with the media.

Mr Uwujaren later issued a statement saying, “Operatives of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission, EFCC, on Monday, May 16, 2022 arrested serving Accountant General of the Federation, Mr. Ahmed Idris in connection with diversion of funds and money laundering activities to the tune of N80billion( Eighty Billion Naira only).

“The Commission’s verified intelligence showed that the AGF raked off the funds through bogus consultancies and other illegal activities using proxies, family members and close associates.

“The funds were laundered through real estate investments in Kano and Abuja.

Mr Idris was arrested after failing to honour invitations by the EFCC to respond to issues connected to the fraudulent acts.”

President Muhammed Buhari appointed Mr Idris accountant-general on June 25, 2015.

The position became vacant at the time after the former Accountant General, Jonah Otunla, left office on June 12, 2015.

President Buhari reappointed Mr Idris for a second four-year term in June 2019, amid criticisms from labour groups who said the accountant-general should retire after turning 60.

Mr Idris, a native of Kano State, North-west Nigeria, was born on November 25, 1960, and was until his appointment in 2015 the Director of Finance and Accounts, Federal Ministry of Mines and Steel Development.

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Abuja-Kaduna Train Services to Resume May 23rd

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The Federal Government says train services will resume along the Abuja Kaduna train rail line on Monday, the 23rd of May, 2022.

In a statement by the Deputy Director, Public Relations, Mr Mahmud Yakubu said the Federal Government gave the directive for the resumption.

According to the statement, plans are still on to ensure that those abducted on the 28th of March along the same route due to bandits’ attack are released unhurt.

It emphasises that security would be adequately provided for would-be passengers and that every potential commuter must present a valid Id card, National identity number, NIN and proof of ticket purchase at entry and exit points.

The first train would depart the Idu end of the rail line at 9.50 am.

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