By Fatima Sanda Usara
This year’s Hajj has been a turbulent one for the Hajj industry in Nigeria, though the situation is not distinctly noticeable in Nigeria alone. Other countries are battling with their own portion of hiccups as well. Little wonder why GACA extended its airspace to other countries after acceding to Nigeria’s request.
Some of the most serious reasons responsible for the country’s challenges revolve around aviation inconsistencies, failure to follow flight itinerary that led to 25 flight cancellations, slow visa processing due to insufficiency of funds in some Tour Operators’ wallet to enable spontaneous visa processing, and some noticeable anomalies in selecting eligible pilgrims to perform the Hajj thereby slowing down the process. At times also, poor server issues forced suspension of visa issuance.
Indeed, at the time of signing of airlift agreement for the 2022 Hajj, all air carriers where charged with the responsibility of providing two big capacity aircraft for the airlift. This they promised. Despite that their entitlements were paid in line with signed agreement, only one of the carriers fulfilled this clause by the end of the regular operations period. This also affected the airlift operations.
Besides, an agreement was entered with one of the airlines to provide aircraft that would transport Licensed Tour Operators’ pilgrims for the Hajj, this never materialized.
To address the aforementioned anomalies, NAHCON invited them over and over again to comply, unfortunately two provided small capacity aircraft instead.
For the umpteenth time, NAHCON has explained reason for the visa delays for Private Tour Operators and the leadership of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operations in Nigeria is conversant with the steps taken to resolve the deadlock. Still, so many allegations are flying around though the Commission has explained the issues in clear terms in the past.
The newest is an allegation that seem to insinuate that NAHCON collected additional monies from stranded pilgrims of Licensed Tour Operators. In unambiguous terms, NAHCON does not collect Hajj fare from any pilgrim, whether from the private or public quota. It has never been the Commission’s tradition nor will it start now. Whoever has claims of being financially short-changed can forward their grievances to the appropriate offices for investigation.
As stated before now, the NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan did not abandon pilgrims and would never do so, but had to be in Saudi Arabia for issues relating to their wellbeing.
The Commission is well aware of the unfounded allegations being spewed from various corners but is determined not to be distracted from the immediate crisis in its hands. Even now with the extension of deadline, the Commission has to contend with unfulfilled promises and agreements entered with certain stakeholders. Let it be stated again that NAHCON is a regulatory body with the interest of the pilgrims as its priority. Therefore the Commission under the leadership of Zikrullah Kunle Hassan will address issues raised at the right time, in order words, when it is done serving the guests of the Almighty whom The Almighty chose to answer His call.
Airlift of pilgrims has continued till the end of deadline approved by GACA. So far, over 40,000 out of 43,000 pilgrims have been airlifted into the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, these include Tour operators.
Fatima Sanda Usara is Assistant Director, Public Affairs, NAHCON