SAUDI to allow foreigners perform Umrah from November 1
Saudi Arabia will open the Umrah, lesser pilgrimage to Mecca, for Muslims from other countries from November 1, Saudi media reported on Thursday.
The news comes as the kingdom relaxes measures it had taken to check the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.
“The Umrah pilgrimage is allowed for Muslims from across the world,” Saudi state TV said, citing a statement from the Ministry of Pilgrimage.
The Saudi-owned, Dubai-based TV channel Al-Arabiya said Umrah would be allowed from November 1.
Umrah is a pilgrimage which can be undertaken at any time of the year, in contrast to Hajj, which has specific dates, the last 10 days of the 12th month (Dhul-Hijjah) of the Islamic lunar calendar.
Saudi Arabia closed its borders in February to foreign Umrah pilgrims, and in March stopped its own citizens and residents from taking part.
In July, it allowed a limited number of domestic pilgrims to perform the Hajj.
166 nations to attend UN tourism conference in Lagos
Delegates from 166 member countries of the United Nations (UN) World Tourism Organisation (UNWTO) are billed to participate in its 2022 conference scheduled to hold in Lagos between November 14 and 16.
Minister of Information and Culture, Alhaji Lai Mohammed, made this known on Saturday in Lagos.
National tourism and culture organisations, international organisations, destination management organisations and stakeholders from the public and private sectors are expected at the conference.
Also expected to participate are civil society organisations working on tourism, cultural and creative industries and the media.
Mohammed told a news conference that delegates would include the UNWTO top executives, officials and experts led by the secretary-general, ministers and officials of tourism, culture and arts ministries of member states.
There would be two parallel experts’ workshops, a seminar on tourism and the creative industry and a conference on linking tourism, culture and the creative industry.
The minister noted that there would also be exhibitions on gastronomy, fashion, movie, music, visual arts and more, as well as a special programme on the creative industry tagged “A Day with Nollywood.’’
“According to the UNWTO, tourism is an activity in which the visitors’ essential motivation is to learn, discover, experience and consume the tangible and intangible attractions and products in a destination.
“It has positive socio-economic impact, preserves cultural, historical heritage and facilitates harmony and understanding among people.
“The organisation described the creative industry, which includes advertising, architecture, arts and crafts, design, film, video, photography, music, performing arts, and publishing, as the lifeblood of the creative economy.
“It says it is also a growth driver for sustainable development,’’ the minister said. (NAN)
FG: We’re investigating airport officials helping travellers evade COVID-19 requirements
The federal government says it is investigating reports of corrupt airport officials who take bribes from travellers and help them evade COVID-19 quarantine requirements.
Speaking on Monday during the national briefing of the presidential steering committee (PSC) on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, secretary to the government of the federation (SGF), said the government has taken note of the challenges facing travellers with regards to COVID-19 requirements.
There have been recent reports of corrupt airport officials who help passengers travelling of the country evade COVID-19 test and also procure fake vaccine cards for the travellers.
In December, undercover investigation at Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, and the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja, had exposed how government officials forged COVID-19 test results in exchange for bribes.
“The PSC has taken note of the challenges raised by travelers that visit the National International Travel Portal in compliance with travel protocols,” Mustapha said.
“It has similarly noted with dismay, fraudulent activities perpetuated at our international airports by on-duty staff, who extort money out of those who equally wish to evade quarantine requirement. The authorities are conducting necessary investigation in to various reports received.
“Notable progress is still being made in the area of vaccine. Over 3.5m doses of Pfizer is being expected from the US Government this month while about 4m doses of Astrazeneca is being expected early next month. Nigeria will be receiving over 1m doses of J&J shipments on a monthly basis. The PSC is committed to access enough vaccines for the 70% eligible persons in the country in record time.”
Mustapha, who is also the chairman of the presidential steering committee on COVID-19, said there’s need for more caution among Nigerians despite the declining global COVID-19 cases.
Buhari to world leaders: Reject coups in West Africa
President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday tasked the international community to stand up against the recent trend of power hijack by the military in some African countries.
President Buhari, who spoke at the 76th Session of the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York, the United States of America (USA), warned that rising cases of coup in West Africa were eroding the democratic gains of the past decades.
According to the President, the unconstitutional takeover of power had sometimes been in reaction to unilateral change of constitution by some leaders, admonishing those elected to lead countries to reject the temptation of staying beyond their constitutional term of office.
He affirmed Nigeria’s support of efforts by ECOWAS, AU and the UN to address this growing challenge, saying “as leaders of our individual member states, we need to adhere to the constitutional provisions of our countries, particularly on term limits. This is one area that generates crisis and political tension in our sub-region.”
The President urged the international community not only to deal with the symptoms of conflict but also the immediate causes that fuel conflicts in the first place.
“These include poor and undemocratic governance, human rights abuses, poverty, ignorance, injustice and inequalities.
“There are no easy solutions to these conditions. They require long term investments and more effective international cooperation.
“In this connection, my delegation underscores the importance of promoting peaceful, unfettered, and inclusive participation of states in global actions towards conflict prevention.
“This will facilitate the achievement of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the African Union Agenda 2063,” he said.
The President’s speech, delivered from the podium of the General Assembly hall, addressed other matters on the international agenda of interest to Nigeria, including the COVID-19 pandemic, Arms Trade Treaty, climate change, terrorism, anti-corruption, debt suspension, international trade, UN Security Council Reform, Palestinian Question and racial discrimination, among others.
On international trade, President Buhari called for reforms that will engender recovery from the COVID-19 crisis, build resilience to future shocks and pursue transformative development strategies that can deliver the 2030 Sustainable Development Goals.
He said: “Nigeria reaffirms that international trade is an engine for development and sustained economic growth, as well as the global eradication of poverty.
‘‘My delegation would like to reaffirm the critical role that a universal, rules-based, open, non-discriminatory and equitable multilateral trading system can play in stimulating economic growth and development.
‘‘Fair and equitable trade would eventually eliminate the need for aid.
‘‘My country and indeed all African countries do not intend to stay indefinitely looking for aid. All we need is a fair and equitable system of international trade.”
On the issue of debt in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, the Nigerian leader urged G20 countries to extend its debt suspension initiatives to all developing countries, least developed countries, small island developing states facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.
The President also called for outright debt cancellation for countries facing the most severe challenges.
“Developing countries have been faced with unsustainable debt burdens even before the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has increased the risk of new wave of deepening debt, where vital public financial resources are allocated to external debt servicing and repayments at the expense of domestic health and financing for critical developmental needs.
“I must commend the current initiatives by the international financial institutions and the G20 aimed at significantly mitigating the economic situation of the indebted countries and urge for more efforts in this regard.
“Therefore, there is an urgent need to consider expansion and extension of the Debt Service Suspension Initiative to include all Developing, Least Developed Countries and Small Island Developing States facing fiscal and liquidity challenges.
“In addition, a review of the eligibility criteria for debt suspension, including outright cancellation, is needed for countries facing the most severe challenges.’’
The President also used the occasion of the speech to renew his advocacy for equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines, outlining steps Nigeria has taken to achieve “moderate success” in containing the virus and halt its deadly onslaught in the country.
“Nigeria remains grateful for the assistance received from our partners and friends all over the world.
‘‘Vaccination is the key to our safe emergence from the pandemic.
“We fully support the COVAX initiative from which we have benefitted. We also thank the United States of America, Turkey, India, China, European Union and others for the vaccines provided.
‘‘Despite the acknowledgement, however, I would like to reiterate my call for a fairer and more equitable distribution of vaccines to all countries so that, together, we can fight and contain the pandemic.
“The rising wave of newer and more contagious strains makes this even more urgent. No country can afford the socio-economic implications of prolonged shutdown. It is imperative to underscore that no one is safe until everyone is safe.’’
On Nigeria’s intervention to halt the pandemic, the President said: ‘‘At the outset, we recognised detection and contact tracing to be important tools in combating the virus.
‘‘In this connection, from a mere four laboratories with testing and detection capacities, we ramped up the facilities to over 140 centres today.
‘‘Similarly, we built isolation centres and emergency hospital wards in record time all over the country. We carry out genomic sequencing in designated laboratories across the country with a view to detecting variants in circulation.
‘‘In addition, over 40,000 health care workers have recently been trained on Infection, Prevention and Control measures with the support of various partners.
‘‘Through the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control, we have established 16 infectious disease treatment centres located within our Teaching Hospitals and Federal Medical Centres.’’
On the fight against terrorism, the President told the UN General Assembly that the Nigerian security forces have recorded considerable success.
‘‘As a result of the renewed vigour of Nigeria’s military, many terrorist fighters are voluntarily surrendering to our security forces,’’ he said.
The President noted that while terrorism continues to dominate security discourse worldwide, in Nigeria, the Boko Haram terrorists group, though fragmented by internal strife and weakened by our defence forces, is still active and preying on soft targets.
‘‘Nigeria will continue to work closely with UN Counter-Terrorism bodies and entities with a view to bringing this scourge to an end, ’’ he said, adding that the country would spare no effort in addressing the challenges of terrorism posed by the activities of Boko Haram in North-East Nigeria and the Lake Chad region, as well as banditry in the North-West and North-Central Nigeria.
‘‘I and three other Nigerian Heads of State served actively as peace keepers and Nigeria continues to support peacekeeping efforts. We know the sacrifice involved; we also know how important peacekeeping is for those in vulnerable situations.
‘‘Nigeria will continue to play its part fully in supporting United Nations peacekeeping operations within Africa and beyond,’’ he said.
The Nigerian leader also renewed the call for the reforms of the UN Security Council, stressing that intergovernmental negotiations on the issue was taking too long.
‘‘No reform of the United Nations system is more urgent than that of the Security Council. Stakeholders around the world are asking how such power could be concentrated, with scant representation.
‘‘The intergovernmental negotiations have taken too long, some 15 years.
‘‘We must avoid going in circles. Consensus has been achieved in some of the elements of this reform, especially that of the representation of Africa on the basis of the Elzuwini consensus and the Sirte Declaration.
‘‘It is unreasonable to expect unanimity in this matter. The issue, indeed, is about justice, not unanimity. Without justice, the legitimacy (even efficacy) of our Organisation is called to question.
‘‘We can and must make substantial, irreversible progress on Security Council reform in the current session,’’ he said.
On the Palestinian question, the President encouraged Israel and Palestine to re-engage in dialogue based on relevant UN resolutions and Initiatives.
‘‘The two-state solution has the support of the international community and is widely acknowledged as the path to lasting peace,’’ he said.
President Buhari expressed deep concern at the devastating effects of small arms and weapons, calling for accountability in conventional arms trade.
“Nigeria remains deeply concerned over the illicit trade, transfer, and circulation of small arms and light weapons. Their excessive accumulation and uncontrolled spread in many regions of the world are having devastating humanitarian and socio-economic consequences, especially on the continent of Africa.
“It is on this note that my delegation calls for the worldwide application of the Arms Trade Treaty to codify accountability in conventional arms trade, which is critical to the security of nations. This is in recognition of the need for a broad-based global partnership in the ongoing battle against trans-border crimes, including terrorism and piracy.”
President Buhari concluded his UN speech at the 76th annual general debate with praise for the outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel.
He also pledged Nigeria’s unalloyed support for multilateralism and faith in the UN as the pre-eminent body for solving current and emerging global challenges.
‘‘Our organisation is at the peak of the multilateral system.
‘‘It is also the pre-eminent body for solving our current and emerging challenges, and for developing norms that are protective of us all. We need to re-commit to it, rejuvenate it to better serve us.
‘‘Nigeria re-affirms its faith in the United Nations and is further resolved to continue to work with all Member-States for peace and security, development and the protection of human rights.
‘‘In the current moment, hope for these, is dependent on how we assist each other to get Covid-19 out of all countries, regardless of their classification. We can and must do so.
‘‘In this regard, let me close my statement by paying special tribute to a great and humane internationalist, and an exemplary practitioner of multilateral cooperation. I am speaking of Chancellor Angela Merkel of the Federal Republic of Germany. As she exits the stage, we wish her well,’’ he said.
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