IHR seeks improved security at airports, Hajj camps

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AS the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) gets ready to transport intending pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, the Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR), an organisation that monitors and reports Hajj and Umrah activities, has called on agencies responsible for security across all departure points to ensure safe airlift of the pilgrims.

IHR, in a statement, signed by its National Coordinator, Ibrahim Mohammed, said the call became necessary due to what was experienced during previous year’s Hajj operation.

“Nigerians will recall that pilgrims from Niger State had to be ferried to Abuja because of inadequate security around Minna airport.

“Also, a Kaduna-bound aircraft had to be diverted to Kano due to security concerns while a convoy of vehicles conveying intending pilgrims in Sokoto State was attacked by suspected bandits, leading to the death of a security agent,” IHR said.

The organisation also said preparations for this year’s airlift is already being challenged by the Sudan conflict and urged the authorities to ensure that adequate security personnel are deployed in all departure centres.

It advised all state Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards and agencies to take a cue from NAHCON by coming up with a committee handed the mandate to ensure the protection of all intending pilgrims and facilities.

“Various security outfits exist across the states and local government areas and it is our belief that it will not take too much to select capable hands to work round the clock until all pilgrims are airlifted.

“The same scenario should be replicated during return journeys. No resources or efforts to ensure adequate security are too much,” IHR said.

Earlier, the organisation urged the federal and state governments to subsidise the differences in the prices of air tickets of the intending pilgrims.

An increase of $250 in the flight tickets of the intending pilgrims had been announced due to the closure of Sudan’s airspace because of the ongoing war in the North African country.

The 2023 Hajj fare was based on airlifting Nigerian pilgrims through Sudan airspace to Saudi Arabia, whereby flight ticket prices were calculated based on the number of flight hours to Saudi Arabia via the Sudanese airspace.

In a statement by Muhammad, IHR said having paid the approved Hajj fare, intending pilgrims would have to pay the differences in the air tickets if time permits, but it was worried that with less than 10 days to the commencement of airlift of pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, asking pilgrims to pay the difference at this time would derail the airlift exercise.

“We are appealing to the federal and state governments to liaise with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and offer to settle the differences for the respective number of pilgrims from their states in the event that Sudan’s airspace remains closed before the commencement of airlift.

“We appeal that the Federal Government takes 50 percent while states pay the balance of 50 percent for the numbers of intending pilgrims from their states.”

The Federal Government had approved Saudi-based Flynas and other Nigerian airlines, including Max Air, Air Peace, Azman Air, Aero Contractors, Arik Air and Value Jet, to fly the intending pilgrims.

While the first five were selected to fly pilgrims from the 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Arik and Value Jet were selected to offer charter services to pilgrims travelling through private tour operators.

So far, only Saudi’s Flynas agreed to airlift the pilgrims at the pre-Sudan crisis air ticket price. Flynas is to transport 28,515. The local airliners that demanded upward review of air tickets are Max Air with 16,326 pilgrims, Air Peace with 11,348 pilgrims, Azman Air with 8,660 pilgrims and Aero Contractors with 7,833 pilgrims, leaving the fate of the remaining 44,167 intending pilgrims from various states in apparent uncertainty.

The closure of Sudan’s airspace will compel airlines to fly through longer routes to Saudi Arabia which will take approximately seven hours, instead of about four hours.

The increase in the air tickets comes after pilgrims have completed the payment of Hajj fare as announced by NAHCON.

“While we commend the Federal Government’s efforts at evacuating Nigerians who are stranded in Sudan, we appeal to the government to extend the same gesture to Nigerian intending pilgrims by subsidising the 2023 Hajj air ticket,” IHR said.

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