Muslim pilgrims from Nigeria's Northeast Yobe State will have to travel thousands of kilometers to Aminu Kano International Airport in the northwest to fly to Saudi Arabia for this year's Islamic Hajj pilgrimage, instead of departing from Maiduguri - which is only 100 km away but is also a hotbed of the Boko Haram insurgency.
"All our pilgrims from Yobe, 2,316 in total, will be taken to Kano for airlifting," Yobe House of Assembly Speaker Adamu Dala Dogo told the Anadolu Agency.
The decision to ferry departing pilgrims to Kano is intended to ward off possible attacks by insurgents who last week waylaid, robbed and killed travellers coming from Damaturu, capital of Yobe State, along the Damaturu-Maiduguri road.
"It is for safety reasons that we will not take off from Maiduguri," explained Dogo, who is also the Ameerul Hajj of the state.
"Another reason is that the communication cut because of emergency rule," he added.
According to Dogo, 95 percent of this year's pilgrims are self-sponsored first-timers from different areas of the state, while the remaining five percent are sponsored by the government.
Up to 76,000 pilgrims from Nigeria -- pruned down from more than 100,000 initially because of Saudi Arabia's rationalization policy -- are performing this year's Hajj pilgrimage.
Most of them are first-timers due to the policy of restricting the practice to those who have not performed the spiritual journey before.
Pilgrims from Borno State, meanwhile, of which Maiduguri is the capital, will still travel to Saudi from Maiduguri International Airport, according to the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON), the government agency responsible for organizing Hajj for Muslims from across Nigeria.
NAHCON sources told the AA that pilgrims would be accompanied by heavy security provided by the government.
The inaugural flight to Saudi Arabia has already taken off from troubled Maiduguri.
The government has also appointed the state's monarch, Abubakar Umar Garbai El-Kanem, as head of Nigeria's Hajj contingent this year.
Observers see the move as a message directed at the international community, which, Nigerian officials insist, often has the impression that the whole of northeast Nigeria is a no-go-area.
"For the federal government delegation, however, up to 250 medical practitioners will be accompanying us on the holy pilgrimage to attend to our pilgrims," NAHCON Chairman Mohammed Bello told the AA, as airlifting commenced nationwide.
"That is beside the medical teams from the state," he added.
Bello said that 152 flights that are to start in early October would ferry the pilgrims, over 50 percent of which would head first to Medina before returning to Mecca for the Hajj rituals.
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