By Alhaji M.B. Jalloh, Press Attaché, Sierra Leone Embassy, Riyadh
Sierra Leone’s profile over the weekend leapfrogged positively in the global Hajj affairs with one of the best awards given to the nation’s Pilgrims and the Management of the Sierra Leone National Hajj Coordinating Committee (SLNHCC) for their “exemplary performance” last year.
The award was presented to Sierra Leone during this year’s pre-Hajj arrangements with the ‘IDLA’A’ National Establishment for the Provision of Service to Pilgrims in the holy city Madina.
Presenting the certificate of award and appreciation in a colourful ceremony, Head of Administration of the Establishment, Hatem Jafar Bali said Sierra Leone was rated high in last year’s Hajj as one of the most peaceful, competent and disciplined West African nations during the annual pilgrimage.
“Sierra Leone pilgrims conducted themselves peacefully and in orderly manners since their arrival to their departure. The pilgrims were law-abiding and they followed the rules and regulations. They got to the airport promptly and flew out immediately after Hajj”, Administrator Bali said in the presence of his colleagues, Dr. Ahmed Assad Khalid, Essam Abdul-Aziz and other senior Board members of the Madina based Establishment.
He furthered that, “the Sierra Leone officials, too, were always on the ground to attend to the pilgrims – their efficient management of pilgrims in the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah was second to none, adding, “indeed your organisation for 2016 Hajj was fantastic from every point; be it transportation, accommodation in Madina and Makkah close to the Two Holy Mosques, to name but a few, were all impressive.”
Responding on behalf of the Sierra Leone National Hajj Coordinating Committee, (supervised by the Vice President of Sierra Leone, Hon. Ambassador Victor Bockarie Foh), the Special Assistant to His Excellency the President on Social Affairs, Alhaji Sheka Sahid Kamara (alias Shekito) who also doubles as the Secretary General of Sierra Leone National Hajj Coordinating Committee currently leading the pre-Hajj team to Saudi Arabia expressed profound gratitude and appreciation for the adulation and accolade to Sierra Leone.
He conveyed heartfelt greetings and felicitations from His Excellency the President of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma to the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, His Majesty King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, his Government and the people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Alhaji Shekito attributed the successes to the Sierra Leone Hajj affairs over the years due to the involvement of the wise leadership of His Excellency, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma in 2010. “The involvement of our President in the Hajj affairs shows the importance the Head of State himself attaches to the Muslim pilgrimage,” the SLNHCC Scribe told the Hajj officials.
He said the president was pleased with the facilities and achievements in Makkah, Madinah and all the holy sites which always enabled pilgrims to perform their rituals easily and comfortably over the years.
Alhaji Sheka Kamara who led the 2016 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia also paid a special tribute to King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud, the then Crown Prince, Minister of Interior and Chairman of the Supreme Hajj Committee, His Royal Highness, Prince Muhammad Bin Naif, the then Minister of Hajj, Dr. Bandar Bin M. Hajjar, the Governor of Makkah Region, Prince Khaled Al-Faisal and the entire Government and people of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the provision of large-scale services and facilities provided to pilgrims last year.
Alhaji Shekito considers the current Saudi Monarch’s era as a golden one, not only for Saudis, but also for the entire Muslim nations, as far as Hajj is concerned. The Sierra Leone Hajj Affairs Secretary General added: “This award will serve as a motivation for us to continue to work hard for the comfort of our pilgrims and the promotion of Sierra Leone as a country of law-abiding citizens.”
He reiterated that the accolade would also spur the committee to double its effort in order to achieve its desired aims to uplift Sierra Leone’s Hajj affairs to an enviable height.
Alhaji Shekito assured the Hajj officials that: “This is a new challenge though, but I can assure that, with the commitment and dedication of our team, we will not disappoint you. We shall continue to strive for excellence and improvement for our pilgrims who have always reposed their trust and confidence in us. ”
The Hajj Mission scribe promised to take the award to the Vice President, the Minister of Social Affairs – who is in charge of religious affairs in Sierra Leone, Dr. Sylvia Olayinka Blyden and the Hajj Chairman, Alhaji Minkailu Mansaray for an official presentation to His Excellency the President of the Republic of Sierra Leone, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma.
For his part, Sierra Leone’s resident Ambassador in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Alhaji Mohamed Sillah Kargbo, “the award is not only prestigious, but ennobling and dignifying, and a call to more dedicated services to Islam and humanity.”
The Ambassador on behalf of His Excellency the President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma also showered his unreserved praise on the Custodian of the Two Holy Mosques, Saudi King Salman bin Abdulaziz Al-Saud and his entire Government for the excellent facilities and arrangements put in place for use by the pilgrims in last year’s Hajj.
He pointed out that the pilgrims successfully and peacefully performed the Hajj rituals with ease and comfort due to the excellent services and facilities provided to them by the Saudi Government. Ambassador Kargbo also commended the Saudi Government for the effective security measures it takes annually to ensure the safety of all pilgrims.
Ambassador Kargbo expressed satisfaction with the relationship between the two countries, pointing out that, Sierra Leone and Saudi Arabia started enjoying cordial relationship since both countries entered into diplomatic relations in 1979 – a relationship, he said, has grown rapidly over the years, particularly under the leadership of the incumbent President Koroma who was officially invited to the Kingdom twice by the Saudi King this year.
This latest award in Saudi Arabia coincided with the ranking of Sierra Leone as the most peaceful nation in West Africa and the third most peaceful country in Africa by the Global Peace Index.
Sierra Leone and Ghana had the highest ranking of all West African countries, with Sierra Leone placed 39th out of 163 nations studied while Ghana is positioned 43rd. The countries, according to the report, were ranked according to their levels of peacefulness. According to the Executive Summary of the index, “This report presents the most comprehensive data-driven analysis to-date on trends in peace, its economic value, and how to develop peaceful societies.”
It would be recalled that before Government took over the organization of the Hajj in 2010, Sierra Leone pilgrims underwent difficulties in terms of accommodation, feeding, transportation, to name but a few. But with Government’s intervention, their problems got minimized. That year, the Government formed the National Hajj Coordinating Committee. One of the objectives of the Hajj Committee is to effectively handle the Hajj program in a transparent and responsible fashion and to ensure that all the Hajj affairs of the Sierra Leone pilgrims are unified under one banner.
Sierra Leone’s President, Dr. Ernest Bai Koroma has also been hailed in making the Hajj for pilgrims from his country successful in terms of fiscal assistance to them, thus, helping to reduce some of their huge expenses since he was elected in 2007. President Koroma has equally been commended by his nationals resident in Saudi Arabia, a cross section of whom annually performs Hajj along with the incoming Sierra Leone pilgrims, for the smooth administration of the Sierra Leone Hajj affairs since 2010, and they consider this marked difference as ‘huge plus’ for the President.
Meanwhile, a number of contracts and agreements covering the main services to be provided to pilgrims from Sierra Leone during this year’s Hajj – food, transportation and accommodation have been signed by the current head of the pre-Hajj team, Alhaji Sheka Sahid Kamara on behalf of the Government of the Republic of Sierra Leone. The contracts and agreements were signed with all Hajj service providers and the renowned Establishment Office for pilgrims from Africa and non -Arab countries.