4 days to go: Over 15,000 Nigerian pilgrims yet to be airlifted

Monday, June 19, 2023

Four days to the closure of Saudi Arabia’s airspace for Hajj flights, thousands of intending pilgrims from Nigeria may miss the annual exercise following delay in their airlift, Daily Trust can report.

The worst hit are the pilgrims going through the licensed Hajj and Umrah operators who have been stranded at different airports for the past few days.

Already, most of the tour operators are under severe pressure from their pilgrims over the delay.

On Saturday, some intending pilgrims, who have been sleeping in mosques and open spaces within the vicinity of the Murtala Muhammed International Airport (MMIA), expressed frustration over the delay in their airlift.

They later took their anger to the premises of Arik Air, the airline contracted by their agents to convey them to Saudi Arabia.

Arik Air, which has only airlifted 300 out of about 7,000 passengers allocated to it by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), promised to resume the airlift within the next 24 hours.

However, checks by our correspondent yesterday revealed that the airlift has not resumed as the intending pilgrims, some of them scheduled to travel five days ago, were yet to be airlifted.

Daily Trust’s analysis indicated that over 6,000 pilgrims might miss the exercise if an alternative airlift arrangement is not made as soon as possible.

To beat the deadline, Arik Air must airlift at least 1,500 passengers on a daily basis.

The airline airlifting from Lagos, Abuja and Kano zones had on Saturday confirmed airlifting 374 passengers out of the allocations given to it.

With the sighting of the crescent for the month of Dhul Hijjah yesterday, it means Arafat Day would be on June 27 while all Hajj flights are expected to have arrived by midnight of June 22.

Out of about 73,000 pilgrims registered with the various state pilgrims’ welfare boards, about 62,000 have been airlifted as of the time of filing this report yesterday with about 10,000 awaiting their airlift which is said to be progressing with the hope of meeting up with the deadline.

However, the fate of intending pilgrims registered through tour operators still hangs in the balance over Arik Air’s challenge  even as the tour operators, apart from being under enormous pressure from the pilgrims, have run into serious debt.

One of them who spoke with our correspondent on condition of anonymity yesterday said, “Most of my pilgrims ought to have been airlifted five days ago to Madinah and we have paid for accommodation in Madinah which has elapsed as I am talking to you. Anytime the pilgrims arrive in Madinah, we have to pay another money and accommodation in Madinah as you know is very costly.”

Another operator had to lodge his pilgrims in a hotel for the past three days, paying N20,000 for each pilgrim, it was learnt.

An elderly woman who travelled from Sagamu, Ogun State to Lagos Airport for the Hajj airlift, was said to have been crying profusely, saying she was tired of sleeping in a hotel and that she should be conveyed to Saudi Arabia.

“These are pilgrims who have paid huge sums of money, some paid N3.6m, N4m and N4.5m only to be facing uncertainty,” one operator said.

As of yesterday evening, it was unclear when the airlift of the tour operators pilgrims would resume but it was learnt that Max Air had been contracted to carry out rescue flights ahead of the deadline for the closure of Saudi airspace.

The National President of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), Alhaji Nasidi Yahaya, told our correspondent that all hands are on deck to airlift all the intending pilgrims before the deadline.

He said, “We are still pushing. There is an agreement with Max Air to do the flight for them. Hopefully by tomorrow, we will start the flights with bigger aircraft. We visited Max Air this evening and they said they have applied for slots to start immediately.”

He, however, clarified that about 5,900 to 6000 are intending pilgrims yet to be airlifted, saying, “Insha Allah, we are optimistic that we would beat the time.

“The GACA (General Authority of Civil Aviation) in Saudi, the NCAA (Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority), Hajj Commission and ourselves, we are on top of the issue, there is no cause for alarm.”

A spokesman with NAHCON, Alhaji Mousa Ubandawaki, also told our correspondent that rescue operations would be activated within the next 24 hours, assuring that no intending pilgrim would be left on the ground in Nigeria.

Meanwhile, the Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia yesterday announced that Monday, June 19, will mark the first day of Dhul-Hijjah, after sighting the new crescent in the Kingdom.

‘‘Arafat Day falls on Tuesday, June 27, while Wednesday, June 28, will be the first day of Eid Al Adha,’’ the Saudi Arabia apex court said in the statement.

Also, yesterday, the Sultan of Sokoto and President of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, declared Monday, June 19, 2023, as the first day of Dhul-Hijjah 1444 AH.

This is contained in a statement Sunday night from the council.

“The Sultanate Council of Sokoto has declared Monday 19 June 2023 as the first day of Zul-Hijjah 1444 AH.

“Accordingly Wednesday 28 June 2023 will be the day of Eidul Adha 1444 AH. His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa‘ad Abubakar, CFR, mni, wishes the entire Muslim Ummah happy Eidul Adha Mubarak in advance,” the statement said.


Source: https://dailytrust.com/4-days-to-go-over-15000-nigerian-pilgrims-yet-to-be-airlifted/