Despite repeated assurances to the contrary, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has resorted to charging additional $100 each from the 75,000 states pilgrims because of the Sudan’s civil war.
The local air carriers had earlier demanded an increase per pilgrim as additional cost occasioned by additional flight time to Saudi Arabia because of the closure of the Sudan air space. Consequently, $250 was agreed between the carriers and commission after the negotiations.
The commission said the federal government has waived the remaining 35 percent aviation charges (having waived 65 percent earlier), which translates to $55.
“The liability of the remaining $195 wil be borne by 75,000 pilgrims which is calculated at $117 per pilgrim (one hundred and seventeen Dollars),” the commission said in a letter dated May 18, signed by NAHCON chairman and CEO Zikirullah Kunle Hassan, and sent to the state governors and the Minister of State for FCT Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu; and copied the executive secretaries of the state pilgrims boards.
The commission, according to the official communications, said it will deduct $100 each from the $800 Basic Traveling Allowance (BTA) of the pilgrims.
Parts of the letter reads, “the Commission resolved to reduce the Basic Travelling Allowance (BTA) for 2023 Haj Pilgrims to the sum of $700 (Seven hundred Dollars) as against Eight Hundred Dollars ($800.00) previously provided.”
This newspaper had earlier reported plans by the hajj commission to deduct the fare increase from the pilgrims BTA. But on Saturday May 13, Mr Hassan, during his opening remarks at the Opening Ceremony and Dinner of a One- Day Workshop Seminar on Hajj Management, impliedly denied that, saying the commission will not ask pilgrims to make any increment.
The air ticket component of the 2023 hajj fare for northern states was pegged at $1,780 (N826, 810 at N464.5/$ official exchange rate). While the southern states pay $1, 950 (N898,000).
With the $250 increment now, the flight ticket will rise to $2,030 (N942,935) for northern pilgrims, and $2,200 (N1,021,900) for southern pilgrims.
However, findings by this newspaper revealed that an average return ticket from Abuja to Jeddah, Saudi Arabia through Egypt Air cost N887,502; while the same return ticket cost N538,841 on Ethiopian Airlines.
Aviation experts told this newspaper that this makes Nigerian hajj flight ticket one of the most expensive in the world.
This is clear from the way it surpassed the return ticket being charged by Ethiopian Air (N538,841); and Egypt Air’s N887,502 to Jeddah and Madinah.
Also, both Ethiopian and Egypt airlines are equally spending almost 7 hours flight time to Jeddah/ Madinah from Nigeria due to the Sudan conflict which is the raison d’être for the $250 hike.
In the letter, NAHCON said all the BTA of the 75,000 pilgrims will be deducted and share to the four local airlines – Max Air, Air Peace, Azman Air and Aero Contractors.- that refused to sign the airlift agreement because of the Sudan conflict.
The Saudi Arabian -designated airline Flynas, which was the only carrier that signed the agreement despite the conflict in Sudan, was surprisingly excluded from the sharing even though its over 28,000 allocated pilgrims from Lagos, Ogun, Osun, Oyo, Niger, Zamfara, Sokoto and Kebbi states will be affected by the $100 deduction.
It was reliably gathered that state executive secretaries of the nine states allocated to Flynas are planning a showdown with NAHCON tomorrow Monday. They vow to resist the commission plans to deduct their pilgrims BTA and give to other airlines that won’t airlift their pilgrims, a source said.
Aviation stakeholders have criticized NAHCON over this arbitrary decision, saying “why deducting Flynas pilgrims BTA to share it to others.”
This newspaper findings revealed that some cross sections of intending pilgrims are also planning serious showdown with the hajj commission over the $100 BTA deduction.
A Lagos intending pilgrim, Muftahu Azeez, said “what NAHCON is planning to do is ridiculous and unacceptable. You can’t deduct my BTA and pay for the air ticket of other pilgrims. We have started mobilizing other pilgrims to oppose this by all means possible,” he said.
Another pilgrim from Niger state, Ndagi Alhaji Sule, said, “NAHCON’s planned deduction is a fantasy. Impossible. Our airline (Flynas) is not charging additional fare. Why then is NAHCON deducting our BTA? This doesn’t make any sense. They should rescind it before it generates into something else.”
A pilgrim from Zamfara, who declined being named said, “We have heard this plan and we are already planning a protest at the NAHCON headquarters Abuja. We’ll certainly resist it.”
A lawyer, who is an intending pilgrim from Ogun state, Barrister Gaffaru Adams said, “what NAHCON is trying to do is an illegality. I am afraid that this deduction will open floodgates litigations against the commission. Already, some intending pilgrims are mulling to challenge this aberration in a court of law. The commission lacks such powers.”
Despite all this confusion, Hajj industry experts have expressed fears that the 2023 hajj may suffer setbacks because of the shoddy arrangements made by some of the approved air carriers. “As I am speaking to you now, only two approved airlines have secured slots with the Saudi General Authority from Civil Aviation (GAGA). This is just some few days to the beginning of pilgrims airlift.”
In an interview with BBC Hausa Service on Sunday, NAHCON commissioner in charge of Personnel Management and Finance, Mr Nura Yakasai, confirmed that the commission had resolved to deduct $100 from the pilgrims BTA.
However, when our correspondent contacted him Sunday evening to find out whether the commission would share the deducted funds to the local and foreign approved airlines, he declined to comment. He also refused to explain the justification for deducting the BTA from pilgrims of nine states whose approved airline (Flynas) didn’t seek for an increment over the Sudan crisis.
Mr Yakasai referred our reporter to the interview he granted BBC Hausa even though the interview didn’t address the issues this newspaper raised with him.
Rather, Mr Yakasai’s BBC interview has further created an atmosphere of uncertainty when he said the commission is yet to get approval of the fare increment from the Presidency even though it gone ahead to begin the deductions, nor agreed with the airlines with the $17 differentials.