The current crisis in Sudan is threatening Nigeria’s participation in the 2023 Hajj in Saudi Arabia as the four Nigerian airlines approved to fly intending pilgrims from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) on Thursday refused to sign airlift agreement with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
The airlines approved by President Muhammadu Buhari; Air Peace; Azman Air; Aero Contractors and Max Air alongside Saudi Arabian airline, Fly Nas, were scheduled to sign the agreement with the Hajj body but only Fly Nas, which was assigned 40 per cent of the 95,000 of the Nigerian intending pilgrims, signed.
The refusal of the airlines, according to NAHCON Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, was as a result of the ongoing Sudanese crisis, which he said meant the airlines would have to find alternative routes other than Sudan to fly to and from Saudi Arabia.
Addressing journalists after the agreement signing ceremony held at the Hajj House in Abuja, the NAHCON Chairman informed that the agreement with the airlines had been planned before the crisis in Sudan erupted and expressed the hope that the Sudan crisis would abate before the commencement of airlift operations.
While saying that there is a ceasefire in Sudan now, which he said nobody knew how long it would last, Hassan, however, assured that all matters with the Nigerian airlines would be resolved between now and Tuesday next week.
“As you can see we have signed an agreement with Fly Nas, which is the Saudi airline. Fly Nas is carrying about 40% of the pilgrims. We have adjourned till Tuesday in order to deliberate further with the Nigerian airlines.
“This time around the Chief Executive Officers or Chairmen will discuss with us and we intend to have some in-depth discussions before we come to an agreement.
“Of course, the reason why this is delayed is because of the Sudan crisis. We are told that the Sudan airspace has been shut down. It means that the airlines will have to go through another route, which from indication is longer than passing through Sudan.
“We are hopeful that the Sudan conflict will abate and if it does, it means that we will go back to where we are. We have planned our agreement prior to the Sudan crisis. And we know that as we speak that there is a ceasefire in Sudan, how long that will last, we don’t know,” Hassan said.
He added that NAHCON and other stakeholders would keep working towards ensuring successful Hajj operations this year and called on people of goodwill to join in praying for an end to the crisis in Sudan.
“We will keep working, hoping and praying that the ceasefire will last long and the war itself will come to an end so that pilgrims from all over the world, not just Nigeria, will be able to travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj. We require all men of goodwill to join us in praying to Allah to intervene in matters.”
Asked what would happen should the crisis prolong, the NAHCON boss said, “we are on the drawing board. We know that Nigerian pilgrims are not in a position to add anything to the cost of Hajj. So, we will put on our thinking cap on what best we can do in a situation like this.”
Speaking earlier, NAHCON Commissioner Operations, Inspectorate and Licensing, Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa, said the world would not wait for Nigeria to participate in this year’s Hajj exercise and as such the Hajj body would prepare to participate.
He said they were aware of challenges and NAHCON as an organisation had responsibility, adding that the commission would not prevent the airlines from operating profitably but would not allow the pilgrims to be shortchanged.
“The Commission (NAHCON) is aware of the challenges. Hajj is time bound and nobody is going to wait for Nigeria. Therefore, we are bound to continue to prepare such that we will be able to effectively participate in the exercise,” the commissioner said.
Hardawa informed that in order to cushion any eventualities, President Buhari had, while granting approval for the airlines, approved a 65 per cent waiver of all aviation-related charges for them.
He submitted that the refusal of the Nigerian airlines to sign the agreement was not because they were greedy but the current situation was responsible for their decision, adding that NAHCON would allow them to do more consultations.
The commissioner, however, assured that NAHCON would ensure pilgrims get value for their money this year.
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