Information reaching the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, from the Private Tour Operators’ sector especially from the Lagos axis, calls for concern. The Commission is not unaware of the situation and had before now deployed all its resources to arrest the situation before it turns irredeemable. NAHCON is about to seal a fresh deal that would see all pilgrims from the private sector that paid to be airlifted by Arik Air securely in Saudi Arabia as planned.
Indeed, NAHCON entered agreement with Arik Air to transport about 7,000 pilgrims registered with the private travel agencies for the 2023 Hajj. Arik on its part signed the deal with a Saudi based airline to ferry its allocation using two aircraft to be stationed in Lagos, Kano and Abuja. The said airline actually provided the agreed aircraft but having conveyed the first set of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, it never returned to finish its job. This led to pilgrims feeling abandoned.
In fairness to both Arik and its partner, funds that were supposed to be advanced for the engagement was yet to be released at the time of airlift due to certain financial restrictions, a development that crippled the agreement despite NAHCON’s assurances.
The Commission has so far injected resources to keep this contract alive as well as exploring other options of engaging more local and foreign airlines to conclude the airlift of private tour operators’ pilgrims. The discussions have been positive with a couple of them about to sign agreements for the movement to continue.
No doubt, the Commission made this charter arrangement on behalf of private Hajj operators to cushion the effect of the dwindling number of scheduled airlines plying the Nigeria -Jeddah route. With 20,000 slots allocation, it was obvious the sector would do better with an organized charter arrangement to apprehend a frenzy situation during peak Hajj period. Otherwise, it is the sole responsibility of private tour companies to ferry their pilgrims successfully.
NAHCON reiterates its commitment to transport all pilgrims that registered for the 2023 Hajj within the season’s time frame. While the Commission understands the panic mode some of our pilgrims have entered, however, the Commission reassures of a strategic plan to move every intending pilgrim on ground before closure of Jeddah airport. The intending pilgrims at Lagos departure center that begun some agitations are advised to calm down and await their airlift to Saudi Arabia soonest.
Fatima Sanda Usara,
Assistant Director, Public Affairs,