The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria today said the airlift of pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia will begin on May 25, 2023.
The commission also stated that the four local airlines to airlift Nigerian pilgrims for the 2023 Hajj exercise have requested that the Hajj fare be increased by $250.
The Chairman/CEO of NAHCON, Hassan Zikrullah, said this in Abuja during a one-day workshop for Hajj officials organised by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, reports Saturday PUNCH.
The event was hosted by NAHCON while officials of the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah serve as resource persons.
Zikrullah said the airlines – Air Peace, Azman, Max Air and Aero Contractors – based the request on the crisis in Sudan, which they said would require a longer travel time to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The airlines had refused to sign the airlift agreement with NAHCON due to the additional financial cost of using another route.
The NAHCON CEO, however, assured that the pilgrims would not be asked to bear the additional cost.
He said, “Our local airlines after several negotiations accepted the sum of $250 to the increase in the cost of air tickets for this year’s operation. We are still looking for all avenues to resolve the attendant consequences of this money. We are still paying earnestly for a quick and peaceful resolution to the conflict in Sudan so that the airspace could be open and there will be a stop to the mindless killing of the people of Sudan.
“At NAHCON, we are looking for all ways to ensure that we resolve the issue of this additional cost. We have decided that whatever decision we will take, it will not require the pilgrims to pay additional funds into the hands of the respective pilgrim boards in their state. They will not need to pay more money.”
Zikrullah also recalled that the commission realised that there were two additional service charges of $63 from Saudi Arabia which were not captured during earlier negotiations ahead of the announcement of the final fare.
He said NAHCON had already written to the Ministry of Hajj calling attention to the increase, adding that “we are hoping for a positive response”.
The NAHCON boss also said the commission “has decided not to add this burden to our intended pilgrims “.
Zikrullah said the commission was now a self-sustainable entity which does not enjoy government sponsorship, noting that the commission rather generates revenue for the government.
Speaking on the airlift of pilgrims, Hassan also disclosed that the commission has “mapped out a 25 days strategic airlift plan beginning May 25 that will see to the successful airlift of all Nigerian pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”
He said while the advanced team of officials will leave on May 21, pilgrims will start travelling on May 25.
Zikrullah said going by the schedules and plan, the evacuation of all Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia will be concluded within 25 days.
During the training, he expressed delight that Nigeria was chosen for the workshop.
“The information we have is that Nigeria is the only beneficiary of this type of workshop among countries from black Africa. We feel honoured to be recognized and be part of this training”, he said.
Zikrullah added that Nigeria is known for constant training of all its offices in all aspects of Hajj management, adding that Nigeria is among few nations that have so far established a Hajj training institute anywhere outside the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with a former University Vice Chancellor as its rector.
“Training is a fundamental part of NAHCON because Hajj requires professionalism in the areas of ICT, Hajj management, electronic ticketing, catering and the like, hence the establishment of the Hajj Training Institute”, he added.
Speaking, the Director-General and Consultant to the Deputy Minister for Hajj and Umrah in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Dr. Badr Alsolami while thanking NAHCON for hosting the workshop, said the ministry decided to organise the training because of the seriousness that Nigerian Hajj officials attach to the success of each year’s Hajj pilgrimage.
He declared that Nigeria operates one of the best Hajj operations during the annual Hajj exercise.
Alsolami said, “Nigeria is one of the best organising countries that come for Hajj every year. That is why we are here to make sure they continue doing well. I sincerely hope NAHCON wins this year’s award for the best Hajj Affairs office, they deserve it.”
He said that the workshop will specifically train Nigerian Hajj officials on crowd management and communication.
Alsolami observed that his team has prepared well for the workshop and they have come along with some products including audio-visual materials in both English and Hausa for distribution to Nigerian pilgrims.
“Our goal is to reach every pilgrim for them to understand the services that will be rendered to them and what is expected of them as well”, he said.
He added that the impact of the workshop will be measured during the forthcoming Hajj exercise and the outcome will also be shared with other Hajj participating countries.