Saudi airlines get 50% stake in Nigeria’s Hajj traffic right

  • Medview, others kick
  • Pact signed in 2010

The decision by the Federal Government through the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) to award majority of Hajj traffic to foreign airlines has come under serious scrutiny with airlines condemning the action.

The Managing Director of Medview Airlines Plc, Muneer Bankole’s call is coming on heels of NAHCON awarding the lion share of the pilgrims to be airlifted to foreign operators over the years.

Bankole made the call in Abuja during the inauguration of the 28-member Air Carriers Screening Committee for the 2018 Hajj operations.

He called on NAHCON to give priority to indigenous airlines over their foreign counterparts to create employment opportunities for Nigerians.

The Federal Government, it would be recalled had signed a pact in 2010 with Saudi Arabia that 50 per cent of Hajj passengers would be carried by a Saudi Arabian airline, Flynas,

A source in HAHCON who spoke to under condition of anonymity because he was not authorised to speak to the media said Saudi Arabia, being the only country where Hajj is performed, has a royal decree giving Saudi Designated Carriers (not Flynas alone) the right to airlift 50 per cent of Hajj Traffic under Government quota from any country coming for Hajj.

He noted that the arrangement is beyond NAHCON and pre-dates the current leadership of the Commission.

He said before 2010, the Saudi Government collected royalties in lieu of this right. However, it began to demand for an implementation of this right in 2010 after Nigeria, suspended the payment of royalty to Saudi Arabia as a result of its own choice not to participate in the airlift of Nigerian pilgrims.

He further stated that when the Second Board of NAHCON came in 2011, Saudi Arabia re-iterated it’s demand and Nigeria objected.

This, he said led to a series of correspondences, meetings that almost resulted to a diplomatic row between the two countries threatened the performance of Hajj.

“To avoid this, Nigeria sent a delegation in August 2014 under the leadership of the then Minister of State II Foreign Affairs, Dr Nuruddeen Muhammad. The delegation agreed to give the Saudi carriers, 9,500 pilgrims to ensure Hajj 2014 was not affected pending a conclusive resolution of the face-off which was on-going for three years.”, the source stated.

He further stated that in February 2015, a bilateral meeting involving Nigeria’s Ministry of Aviation, NCAA, NAHCON, Airlines, Saudi General Authority on Civil Aviation (GACA) and Saudi Ministry of Hajj was held in Jeddah.

A Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) was signed by the Vice Chairman of GACA for Saudi Arabia and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation for Nigeria. The BASA among other things, provided for a gradual compliance of Nigeria with the Saudi decree.

Nigeria would yield 25 per cent of its pilgrims under Government quota in 2015, 35 per cent in 2016, 45 per cent in 2017 and ultimately 50 per cent from 2018.

“Nigeria is the only country I know of, that has dragged and later agreed on such gradual compliance. All other countries coming for Hajj are in compliance with policy including those that have strong national carriers.”

Aviation consultant and former Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Group Capt. John Ojikutu described it as a total rip off and called on government to query the Saudi authorities over this move.

He lamented that the domestic airlines are not seen championing any of the causes or challenging the government on why there had been preferences for foreign airlines on government aviation policies.

Ojikutu noted that that the way to go about it was to query the Saudi decision to deny the nation the right to fully organize the airlifting of our nationals or find out those behind Flynas Airline.

Speaking further at the commissioning, Bankole commended the commission for the transparency and accountability it has displayed in the handling, screening and selection of air carriers since its inception in 2006.

The screening committee, which is headed by NAHCON Commissioner of Operations, Alhaji Abdullahi Moddibo has its membership drawn from the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), Nigerian Meteorologica Agency (NIMET}, Nigerian Airspace Management Agency (NAMA), and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), Accident Investigation Bureau AIB} and the Nigerian Custom Service

Inaugurating the Committee, the Acting Chairman of NAHCON, Alhaji Yusuf Adebayo charged them to handle the assignment diligently and with the fear of Allah.

The Acting Chairman further advised them to select qualified and competent air carriers with viable capacity that would effectively transport Nigerians pilgrims to and from the Holy Land.

Medview Airline and Medview International Travel and Cargo Ltd are among the eight airlines that applied to participate in the airlift of pilgrims for the 2018 Hajj.

Wole Shadare