The current Sudanese crisis is jeopardizing 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) refused to sign an airlift agreement with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) on Thursday.
President Muhammadu Buhari-approved airlines, Air Peace, Azman Air, Aero Contractors, and Max Air, along with Saudi Arabian airline, Fly Nas, were scheduled to sign the agreement with the Hajj body, but only Fly Nas, which was assigned 40% of the 95,000 Nigerian intending pilgrims, signed.
According to NAHCON Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO), Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, the airlines’ refusal was due to the ongoing Sudanese crisis, which meant the airlines would have to find alternative routes to and from Saudi Arabia other than Sudan.
Addressing journalists following the agreement signing ceremony at the Hajj House in Abuja, the NAHCON Chairman stated that the agreement with the airlines was planned before the Sudan crisis erupted and expressed hope that the Sudan crisis would be resolved before the start of airlift operations.
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While stating that there is a ceasefire in Sudan that no one knows how long it will last, Hassan assured that all issues with Nigerian airlines would be resolved between now and Tuesday next week.
“As you can see, we have signed an agreement with the Saudi airline Fly Nas.” About 40% of the pilgrims are being transported by Fly Nas. We have adjourned until Tuesday to continue discussions with Nigerian Airlines.
“This time, the CEOs or Chairmen will meet with us, and we intend to have some in-depth discussions before reaching an agreement.”
“Of course, the Sudan crisis has caused this to be delayed.” According to reports, Sudan’s airspace has been closed. It means that the airlines will have to take a different route, which appears to be longer than passing through Sudan.
“We are hopeful that the Sudan conflict will end, and if it does, we will return to where we were.” Prior to the Sudan crisis, we planned our agreement. And we know that there is a ceasefire in Sudan right now, but we don’t know how long it will last,” Hassan said.
He added that NAHCON and other stakeholders would continue to work to ensure successful Hajj operations this year, and he urged people of goodwill to join him in praying for an end to the Sudan crisis.
“We will continue to work, hoping and praying that the ceasefire will last and the war will end so that pilgrims from all over the world, not just Nigerians, can travel to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.” We need all good men to join us in praying to Allah to intervene in these matters.”
When asked what would happen if the crisis lasted longer, NAHCON’s president said, “We’re thinking about it.” We know that Nigerian pilgrims cannot afford to increase the cost of Hajj. So, we’ll put on our thinking caps and see what we can come up with in this situation.”
Earlier, Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa, NAHCON Commissioner Operations, Inspectorate, and Licencing, stated that the world would not wait for Nigeria to participate in this year’s Hajj, and thus the Hajj body would prepare to participate.
He stated that they were aware of the challenges and that NAHCON had responsibility, adding that the commission would not prevent the airlines from operating profitably but would not allow pilgrims to be shortchanged.
“The Commission (NAHCON) is well aware of the difficulties.” Nobody is going to wait for Nigeria to perform Hajj. As a result, we must continue to prepare so that we can participate in the exercise effectively,” the commissioner stated.
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Hardawa stated that, in order to cushion any eventualities, President Buhari approved a 65 percent waiver of all aviation-related charges for the airlines while approving them.
He claimed that the refusal of Nigerian airlines to sign the agreement was not due to greed, but rather to the current state of affairs, and that NAHCON would allow them to conduct additional consultations.
The commissioner, on the other hand, assured pilgrims that NAHCON would make sure they got their money’s worth this year.