A deluge of reasons which include late preparation occasioned by uncertainty over the 2022 Hajj operations, flight cancellation caused by poor turnout of pilgrims and non-approval of some airports by the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) are some of the reasons for the noticeable delays in the airlift of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, Blueprint has gathered.
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) had its inaugural flight at the Maiduguri International Airport with Max Air airlifting the first set of pilgrims Thursday June 9.
Pilgrims in the Holy land
Blueprint’s checks revealed that “so far, of the 33,976 pilgrims NAHCON is expected to airlift from the 36 states and the FCT, 20,743 are already in the Holy land, while the private tour operators had airlifted 4,000 out of the 9,000 seats allocated to them as at Wednesday morning.”
Notwithstanding the challenges, the commission has assured that it would successfully complete the exercise at record time as things have started falling in place.
The commission, it was gathered, had completed the airlift of pilgrims in Adamawa, Benue, Ekiti, Kogi, Lagos, Nasarawa, Ogun, Osun, Ondo and Yobe states.
Reasons for previous delay
Our findings revealed that a plethora of reasons contributed to the initial delay experienced at the commencement of the exercise.
“The challenge of time constraint is one thing that can’t be wished away. Don’t forget that we were just coming out if the COVID-19 pandemic which disrupted every business activity globally. So, the fact is that it wasn’t until March 10 this year that the coast was clear on the 2022 Hajj exercise.No one could really tell. The time was damned too short, but again the commission needed to step up.
“Dearth of information on allocation, new policies, cost of services in Saudi Arabia and a myriad of other factors further combined to place some hurdles in the way of the commission. Take for instance, the hajj fare was announced June 4 by NAHCON which in earnest called for all remittances to be made in order to commence preparations. Naturally, you should expect delays from stakeholders in their response time,” said a source very familiar with Hajj operations in Nigeria.
It was further gathered that “on the 19th of June, NAHCON remitted the fund due to tour operators to Muassassah for proper processing into their individual IBAN accounts. But owing to system errors, the payments could not drop.
“Besides, most of Muassassah employees are new under a new system known as a company and not an establishment as it used to be known.”
Our investigations further revealed that “10 out of the 15 airports NAHCON applied for from the NCAA for airlift were cleared, with the shortfall of 5 inhibiting the process.”
On 287 Kano HSS pilgrims
Speaking on the 287 Kano pilgrims on the Hajj Saving Scheme (HSS), a commission source who craved anonymity recalled that the scheme was first launched October 4, 2020 and “this is the major test for the scheme.”
Executive Secretary Kano State Pilgrims and Welfare Board Mohammad Abba Dambatta, had NAHCON gave the board 2,500 pilgrims under the HSS.
“We received a total of 2,229 allocation and we have about 2,500 intending pilgrims under the hajj savings scheme which is more than the total allocation given to us,” Dambatta had said.
This position was, however, debunked by a top commission source.
“From my knowledge of what transpired on the Kano issue, the state has 287 intending pilgrims under HSS. And in the spirit of fairness and justice, it is just proper that they should be accommodated since that was what the scheme was designed to achieve. This, the commission did and asked Kano pilgrims board to accommodate them in their allocations that were in excess of 2,220. The Hajj fare was sent from Jaiz to the board, it collected the money but refused to avail seats to any of the 287 pilgrims. Is that just and fair?
“I am also aware that NAHCON had earlier sent several written reminders to Kano state on the issue of the pilgrims under HSS, and even invited the Executive Secretary to Abuja for discussion on the matter. He was here, yet refused to act as it has turned out to be now,” said the source who begged for anonymity because he was not officially detailed to comment on the issue.
Commenting on the issues in a telephone interview Wednesday, NAHCON spokesperson, Fatima Sanda Usara assured that “our ultimate goal is to ensure a successful Hajj operation.”
Usara, who said the commission, would not want to be dragged into any issue that could constitute distractions, however assured qualified pilgrims of making the 2022 hajj exercise.
She said: “Yes, like you observed, we had our challenges, and in shaa Allah we have gotten over them. For instance, on the seeming delay, major reasons for that have been addressed.
“The initial flight cancellations we experienced are now a thing of the past because that have reduced to the barest minimum, while our official carriers have deployed additional aircraft each with accompanying increase in flight frequency.
“Above all, a couple of airports have been added for the airlift of pilgrims by NCAA-the aviation regulatory body. It may interest you to know that at the beginning of operations, not all airports had NCAA’s clearance because of one issue r the other. But as we talk today, issues around this have been cleared. So, take it from me, NAHCON will complete airlift God willing.”
On the fate of the HSS pilgrims from Kano, the commission’s image maker said: “The HSS passports were collected and NAHCON will process their visas for them from Kano state’s remaining allocation. This will be done on the basis of first come, first served.”
Speaking on the controversy over the payment of tour operators’ money to the Muassassah, the spokesperson said: “Currently as at 29th June 2022, 01:51pm today 6,278 visas out of 9,038 processed, while only 35 out of 176 IBAN issues remained unresolved,” adding that “tour operators have airlifted over 4,000 pilgrims into Saudi Arabia as at afternoon of 29th June, 2022.”
However, NAHCON warned intending pilgrims to avoid falling into the hands of some unlicensed tour operators.
She said: “Some unlicensed Tour Operators may be hiding behind the IBAN issue to defraud intending pilgrims on the pretext that their accounts have not been funded. We advise intending pilgrims to be rightly guided.”
The commission further made some clarifications on the private tour operators in a statement by Hajiya Usara.
The statement reads: “In clarification to accusations that NAHCON has refused to fund Private Tour Operator’s International Bank Account Number (IBAN), please note that by 19th June, 2022, NAHCON had transferred money along with schedule of payment; meaning, each tour company’s entitlement, to Mu’assasa.
“The remittance was well in excess of what is ultimately to be paid into the individual IBAN accounts of the Tour Operators. Subsequent transfers to these individual accounts are the exclusive responsibility of the Mu’assasa.
“Notwithstanding, the Chairman had called the mu’assass to rectify the logjam who in turn spoke with the bank but the payments still remained hanging. Similarly, NAHCON staff on ground in Saudi Arabia spend almost their whole day in the bank in order to rectify all the bottlenecks, to the extent that one of them was once harassed on the claim that they were becoming nuisance to the bank. But they remain relentless because they know severity of the matter.
“Their persistence began to bear fruits from last week Thursday, because some Tour Operators had their issues resolved while the follow-up still continues.
“Thus, out of 174 cases, almost all have been successfully resolved except about those of 24 tour operator companies. Even these are being treated because NAHCON understands the implication of the hitch to the tour operators. The Commission will not relent even though some few ones are dragging its name unjustifiably.”