By Ishola Balogun
Independent Hajj Reporters, a civil society organization that monitors and reports Hajj and Umrah activities in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, has urged the Federal and State Governments to subsidize the difference in the prices of air tickets of Nigerian 2023 intending Hajj pilgrims occasioned by the ongoing Sudan hostility.
On Saturday, the commission contemplated an increase of $250 in the flight tickets of the 2023 Hajj intending pilgrims due to the closure of Sudan 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 Sudanese airspace.
“Having paid the approved Hajj fare, we know Nigerian Muslims or Nigerian intending pilgrims would have to pay the difference in the air tickets if time permits;
“but we are worried that with less than 10 days to the commencement of airlift of Nigerian pilgrims to the kingdom of Saudi Arabia, asking pilgrims to pay the difference at this time will definitely derail the airlift exercise.”
A statement by the national coordinator of the CSO Ibrahim Muhammad at the weekend said, “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 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.”
President Muhammadu Buhari 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 Nigerian pilgrims.
While the first five were selected to fly pilgrims from the 36 states and 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 demand for upward review of air tickets are Max Air with 16,326 allocation, Air Peace 11,348, Azman Air 8,660 and Aero Contractors with 7,833 leaving the fate of remaining 44, 167 States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards pilgrims in apparent uncertainty.
The closure of the Sudanese airspace will compel airlines to fly through longer routes to Saudi Arabia which will take approximately 7 hours instead of the usual 4 hours plus. This unfortunate development has added another 2 to 3 hours flight time to the existing airlift cost template for Nigerian Intending pilgrims.
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 in evacuating Nigerians who are stranded in Sudan, we appeal to the government to extend the same gesture to Nigerian intending pilgrims by subsidizing the 2023 Hajj air ticket,” the CSO said.