The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), on Thursday, said it had concluded plans to finish the airlifting of all intending pilgrims to the Holy Land for this year’s pilgrimage by July 3.
This is beside the pilgrims airlifted by private tour operators across the country.
The Saudi government had allocated 43,008 slots to Nigeria, out of which licensed tour operators, under the aegis of Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria, got 9,032.
NAHCON’s Executive Chairman, Alhaji Zikirullah Kunle Hassan, who disclosed these while briefing journalists in Abuja on Thursday, said the Commission had contracted three airlines to fly the pilgrims to Saudi Arabia.
He was reacting to fears in certain quarters that barely three days to the commencement of this year’s Hajj ceremony, thousands of Nigerian pilgrims may miss the exercise because they have not been airlifted to the Holy Land.
“So far, everything is smooth. We are back to full Hajj operations after two-year interregnum. We have everything in place. We expect to finish flight operations by July 3,” he assured.
According to him, over 22,000 pilgrims have been airlifted from 23 states and the Armed Forces with Kano and Kaduna State having the highest number of pilgrims.
The Executive Chairman further confirmed that NAHCON’s request for additional slots from Saudi Arabia had been turned down by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
He also said it was true that the request to have some officials who are above 65 years to travel because of their experience in hajj operation was also not granted.
Nonetheless, Hassan blamed the initial hiccups in the airlifting of the pilgrims on the short notice of the Saudi authorities for countries to mobilise their pilgrims for this year’s Hajj.
He, however, regretted that while the contracted airlines were ready to fly the pilgrims to the Islamic capital of the world for the religious expedition, most of the state pilgrims’ boards were not ready with their people for airlifting.
On the challenges faced by nearly 3,000 pilgrims of licensed tour operators, who made deposits to NAHCON’s Treasury Single Account domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria, but whose accounts in Saudi Arabia were yet to be credited to enable them process their accommodation in Makkah and Madinah and pay for other services, Hassan assured that the Commission was working with the relevant authorities in Saudi Arabia to address the issue.