NAHCON justifies concession
Indications emerged yesterday that the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) may have given a Saudi Arabian airline Flynas, 45 per cent of the traffic right to fly pilgrims for this year Hajj.
But aviation consultant and former Commandant, Murtala Muhammed Airport, Lagos, Group Captain John Ojikutu described as fraudulent, declaration that the Saudi Arabian government wants over 100 countries participating in hajj to allocate 50 per cent of their nationals (traffic) to one airline, Flynas.
A source in NAHCON who spoke to New Telegraph 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 choice not to participate in the airlift of Nigerian pilgrims.
He said that when the Second Board of NAHCON came in 2011, Saudi Arabia re-iterated its 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, which 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 ongoing 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.
The Vice Chairman of GACA for Saudi Arabia and Permanent Secretary, Ministry of Aviation for Nigeria, signed a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (GACA).
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,” he said.
Meanwhile, Ojikutu labelled the declaration as “beyond belief and a way influential Nigerians are circumventing the system to deny genuine operators market share.”
He also carpeted the reason behind handing foreign airlines multiple designation, stressing that Nigeria has no clearly defined policy for growth of its airlines especially given certain exclusivity as it regards to hajj operations. Ojikutu, in a statement to the media, described current hajj arrangement as a total rip off and called on the government to query the Saudi authorities over this move.
He lamented: “Which existing law allows only Saudi airlines to airlift nationals of other countries for hajj, if such a law is not a conjuncture of NAHCON? Unfortunately, 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.
“By the way, how does Adamu Hassan of NAHCON wants anyone to believe his cock and bull story that the Saudi government wants all countries of over 100 participating in the hajj to allocate 50 per cent of their nationals to just one single airline called Flynas?
Where has that airline gotten the capacity?” He noted that some persons have entrenched themselves in NAHCON even when they are out, wondering why they still have influence over the government.
He stated that the way to go about it was to query the Saudi decision to deny the nation the right to fully organise the airlifting of Nigerian nationals or find out those behind Flynas Airline.