Hajj: Five Days to Deadline, Less Than Half Of Nigerian Pilgrims Airlifted
EMERGENCY DIGEST- Few days to the commencement of this year’s hajj, there are fears that thousands of Nigerian pilgrims may miss the exercise, Daily Trust can report.
As of the time of filing this report, less than half of the 43,000 pilgrims from Nigeria had been airlifted.
According to the figure from NAHCON, 19,764 pilgrims have been airlifted from 23 states and the Armed Forces. Kano and Kaduna State which have the highest number of pilgrims still have many of them awaiting airlift.
As of yesterday, 1,593 out of 2,491 Kaduna pilgrims had been airlifted; while in Kano, only 399 pilgrims of the 2,229 slots given to the state had been airlifted.
The Saudi authorities had said all pilgrims must arrive by July 3 at 23:59 pm.
About 3,000 pilgrims of licensed tour operators, who made deposits to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Treasury Single Account domiciled in the Central Bank of Nigeria, but whose accounts in Saudi Arabia were yet to be credited to enable them process their accommodation in Makkah and Madinah and pay for other services, may miss this year’s hajj.
Amidst this, NAHCON said the offer for additional slots promised Nigeria by the Saudi Arabia could no longer be actualised.
Some hajj operators told Daily Trust that after paying about N1.3m for onward transfer to Saudi Arabia service providers, they were yet to receive payment in their virtual accounts in Saudi Arabia.
Of the 43,008 slots given to Nigeria by Saudi Arabia, 9,032 were allocated to licensed tour operators under the aegis of Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria.
From the figure, 50 seats were given to 176 prequalified operators who were required to pay N1.3m on each pilgrim for onward transfer to service providers (Muasassah) in Saudi Arabia.
The fund covers some components of the hajj fare, including hotel accommodation, feeding in Muna, Arafa and local transportation.
One of the affected tour operators said each of the tour operators remitted about N55m amounting to over N10bn.
He said when NAHCON eventually credited their account, 61 tour operators did not get alert, noting that without the money, visa processing and other arrangements cannot be carried out.
“As I’m talking to you, they’re still meeting, a lot of us have not been credited and the airports in Madinah and Makkah will be closed this week.
“Two of our members collapsed as a result of this; while others were hospitalized as a result of high blood pressure and fear of running into debt because most operators are already missing their flights because we booked scheduled flights and when we want to change the flight we pay as much as N200,000 on one person,” he said.
A meeting was ongoing as of press time yesterday; while an official of NAHCON said the issue of the remittance was being resolved.
Intending pilgrims protest in Kano
Many intending pilgrims yesterday protested in Kano over the non-allocation of seats to them despite having completed their payments.
They were at the head office of Jaiz Bank which processed their payment through the Hajj Savings Scheme and the office of the Kano State Pilgrims Board.
The protesters, numbering 284, said they were shocked to find out that after completing their payment, no seat was reserved for them, noting that some of them started the saving scheme in 2019.
The leader of the protesters, Hassan Zakari, alleged that the state pilgrims’ board had not been forthcoming with them.
Sources told Daily Trust that names of aggrieved intending pilgrims had been sent to the state pilgrims’ board and had been documented without any allocation to them this year because of the limited slots allocated to them.
Fatima Abdullahi of Tamburawa area of Dawakin Kudu Local Government, said she was told to return her bag and uniform Monday evening.
Reacting, the Executive Secretary of Kano Pilgrim’s Board, Mohammad Abba Dambatta, said the board was doing all it could to resolve the problem, noting that there was no allocation this year for those on savings’ scheme, especially those from Jaiz Bank.
“We received a total of 2,229 allocation and we have about 2,500 intending pilgrims under the hajj savings scheme which is more than the total allocation given to us,” he said.
‘NAHCON’s request for additional slots turned down’
NAHCON has confirmed that its request for additional slots from Saudi Arabia had been turned down.
Its spokesperson, Fatima Sanda Usara, in a statement, said NAHCON’s Commissioner of Operations, Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa led a delegation to actualize the offer, but it was eventually turned down by the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah.
She said the request to have some of the officials above 65 years to travel because of their experience in hajj operation was also not granted.
According to her, Nigeria’s hajj industry is left with its initial allocation of 43,008.
She said NAHCON solicited the understanding of those aggrieved.
“Indeed, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, the NAHCON Chairman and other NAHCON management members, did their best to make sure that slots were distributed equitably. It was however clear right from the start that not everyone who is qualified would make it to this year’s Hajj due to the relatively low number of allocated slots.”
She said the “commission is aware of the agitation from all its publics, to wit, the states pilgrims welfare boards, subscribers through the Hajj Savings Scheme, Private Tour Operators, including its own staff as well. NAHCON management is consoled because it did not ostracize any group in the distribution of available hajj seats, but of course, not all would be successful, because the commission was working within the boundaries of what was available,” the statement added.
With the development, many tour operators, who were initially granted about 80 to 100 slots, would be left with a shortfall despite making arrangements with some airlines and service providers in Saudi Arabia.
A hajj stakeholder, who spoke with our correspondent, said: “Many of the operators who have booked with airlines are going to run into huge losses because the slots allocated to the tour operators have been significantly reduced while they have made payment for some services.”
Managing Director, Al-Qibla International Services, Abdulfatah Abdulmojeed, said the development came with a great cost to the operators in terms of accommodation and flights booked which would not be refunded.
He said: “It has happened and NAHCON also tried its best. What one would have expected is that rather than give allocation in anticipation, they’d have given the actual number.”
CSO seeks probe of hajj seat racketeering
Meanwhile, Independent Hajj Reporters, a civil society organisation that monitors hajj and umrah activities, has urged NAHCON and anti-corruption agencies to probe the widespread allegations of hajj 2002 BTA fraud and seats racketeering across the country.
In a statement, it said it received numerous complaints from intending pilgrims that some officials across the states’ boards colluded with others outside the hajj industry to sell seats to “desperate intending pilgrims who are ready to purchase such seats at any price.”