The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), has reiterated its commitment to transport all pilgrims that registered for the 2023 Hajj within the season’s time frame.
The commission’s Assistant Director, Public Affairs, Mrs Fatima Usara, gave the assurance in a statement on Sunday.
She advised prospective pilgrims in Lagos, currently agitating, to calm down and await their transportation to Saudi Arabia.
Usara said that the commission understands the reason for their agitation, but reassured of a strategic plan to move every intending pilgrim on ground before closure of Jeddah airport.
He said that the information reaching the commission 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 becomes irredeemable.
“NAHCON is about to seal a fresh deal that would see all pilgrims from the private sector transported by Arik Air to Saudi Arabia as planned.”
She revealed that NAHCON entered into 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 a 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 are yet to be released at the time of transporting the pilgrims.
“This is due to certain financial restrictions, a development that crippled the agreement despite NAHCON’s assurances.”
Usara said that the commission injected resources to keep the contract alive as well as exploring other options of engaging more local and foreign airlines to conclude the transportation of private tour operators’ pilgrims.
According to her, 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 the peak hajj period.
“Otherwise, it is the sole responsibility of private tour companies to ferry their pilgrims successfully,” she added. (NAN)