For the past three weeks that the 2022 Hajj airlift operations started with the inaugural flight of 530 Borno pilgrims on June 5, the media focus has naturally fallen on the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) which is not unexpected.
Like every Hajj exercise which usually comes with unique challenges, the ongoing exercise has been on with the problem of delay airlift, cancellation, delay in issuance of visa for intending pilgrims and sundry other issues.
Indeed, the fumes from the paint in the house are pretty strong. Undeniably, there are many chefs in the kitchen right now, especially from the media, intending pilgrims, their relations and the public who in spite of the assurances and re-assurances have continued to doubt the capabilities, capacity and the assurances of the commission to airlift all registered Nigerian Pilgrims.
While we hasten to affirm that as an institution that is managing affairs of people and organization of diverse backgrounds, we cannot embark on any sense of self-righteousness in our approach, but we learn and evolve within the frames of best practices every single day.
As such we recognize that there will always be space for improvement, we are therefore irrevocably committed to re-evaluating our processes to re-enforce pilgrims airlift, protection and welfare, even as we shall leave no stone unturned in ensuring that no Nigerian Pilgrims is left here in the shores of the country.
We have engaged and achieved the mutual agreement between the Saudi authorities and some of the airlines for quick intervention and injection of three more aircrafts to the fleet which will translate into many more evacuations that will benefit the pilgrims.
The story behind the 2022 Hajj arrangement is well documented. First the Saudi government only gave indication to conduct Hajj this year at about the middle of March when everyone had almost given up hope that there would not be Holy pilgrimage this year.
Even after the announcement and formal invite to National Hajj Commission of Nigeria(NAHCON) , there was another long wait to officially consummate the pronouncement or issued out guideline in the tradition of signing a contract in terms of Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) which eventually did not take place. Thus, practically the on-going Hajj exercise is being held as a pilot or crash programme.
Then, it was not until the middle of Ramadan that the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and the General Ministry on Civil Aviation (GACA) informed the Commission that it had granted approval to Azman airline, Max Air and the Saudi- based FlyNas as the pilgrims carriers to the Hajj, notwithstanding the outcome of the screening and interview the Commission and relevant aviation authorities carried out in Nigeria. In other words, NAHCON was not given the chance to do the due diligence and protocols to assess the capacity of the airlines.
Other mitigating factors were the new protocol on issuance of visa. Unlike before, visa process is now undertaken through the portals established by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Because of the on-going global fight against terrorism funding, every single fund transferred to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia are properly screened and verified which at times causes delay in transactions,. This in the main was the reason many of the registered Tour Operators could not access their fund in Saudi Arabia to process Hajj visa for their clients.
While it may be difficult for the genie to be put back in the bottle, with regards to the aforementioned obstacles, NAHCON is determined to cement its role in Hajj Management globally.
Therefore, the Commission won’t leave any stone unturned to ensuring that all registered Nigerian pilgrims are airlifted before the deadline of 5th July but also that the sense of esteem of the pilgrims are uncompromisingly preserved.
Ubandawaki, Assistant Director,
Information and Publications, NAHCON, Abuja.