Airlift Of Pilgrims Begins Wednesday


All things being equal, the outbound movement of intending pilgrims from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia would commence on Wednesday, May 15, with the inaugural flight scheduled to take off from the Sultan Abubakar III International Airport, Sokoto, with the first batch of Kebbi State pilgrims on board.

Already the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria had announced Air Peace, Max Air and a Saudi airline, Flynas as air carrier for the 2024 hajj. Flynas will kick-start the outbound flight on May 15 with Kebbi pilgrims. Other states Flynas will subsequently ferry to Holy Land for 2024 pilgrimage are Lagos, Osun, Ogun, Borno, Niger, Sokoto, Kebbi, Yobe and Zamfara.

Air Peace would transport pilgrims from Abia, Akwa Ibom, Anambra, Bayelsa, Cross River, Delta, Ebonyi, Edo, Ekiti, Enugu, FCT, Imo, Kwara, Ondo and Rivers.

Max Air with the highest allocation will be flying pilgrims from Bauchi, Benue, Kano, Katsina, Kogi, Nasarawa, Adamawa, Oyo, Taraba, Kaduna, Gombe, Jigawa and Plateau states as well as Armed Forces pilgrims.

The chairman of NAHCON, Malam Ahmad Jalal Arabi, while assuring the readiness and commitment of the commission to airlift everyone to and from Saudi Arabia without any difficulty, said over 65, 000 pilgrims would be performing this year’s Hajj ritual in the Islamic holy land.

Arabi, who spoke in an exclusive chat with LEADERSHIP recently, said even as every Hajj comes with its challenges, the commission under his leadership is working round the clock with all the stakeholders to provide effective and efficient services to Nigerian pilgrims.

“Every Hajj has its own challenges and that is the beauty of pilgrimage. Hajj morally is a revolving ritual that happens every year with 95 percent participants being new faces. So, there you are having the challenges of getting 95 percent people to key into the previous percentage and everybody is unique. But we are getting there gradually in the same boat with other stakeholders which are mainly the states, agencies of government and of course the tour operators.

„The NAHCON act is supervisory, which gives us the mandate to ensure we coordinate and make sure that anything on Hajj is scrutinised so that at least there is uniformity, concession and collaboration in approach. Looking in that direction, I want to believe that we seem to be doing well,“ Arabi said.

He expressed confidence that the challenge of the 2023 congestion at masha’ir – shortage of tents and poor hygiene in Muna – will not reoccur at this year‘s hajj, saying less number of Nigerian pilgrims will perform this year‘s year compared to 2023.

Recall that the 2023 Hajj rituals did not go down smoothly for many Nigerian pilgrims who had to stand under the scorching sun due to the shortage of tents in Muna.

95,000 Nigerian pilgrims performed the 2023 hajj, but thousands of them could not get spaces in the overcrowded tent in Muna and Arafat, forcing them to stay under the sun which peaked at over 40 degree Celsius.

„Historically, the space where you have tents in Muna was conceived and created for only 950, 000 people globally. That was why until recently there was never any permanent structure there, it was all tents. But of course, as we progress there have been developments and they are now well fitted, air-conditioned, rugs and so on.

„So, not only it has become a challenge to any nation such as ours that planned for something less but ended up with much more. What do I mean by that, the 2023 plan was to have 65,000 pilgrims from Nigeria but we ended up having 95,000? Then, think about Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Turkey, Egypt and other Muslim and non-Muslim countries that take pilgrims to the Holy Land. A place that was conceived and meant for 950, 000 people and here you are calling millions. So, it doesn‘t take rocket science for you to know that there would be overcrowding and confusion.

„The preparation for this year’s Hajj was characterised with different challenges but to the glory of God we are able to overcome the challenges. About 65,500 pilgrims of the states pilgrims’ boards, Agencies and Commissions and the Tour operators will be participating in this year’s Hajj. So, we are going to this year‘s hajj with less number of pilgrims when compared to 2023 and this simply means that there would be less congestion and more spaces to the pilgrims at the masha’ir unlike last year.

“The various challenges faced by the Nigerian pilgrims this year can only be compensated with effective and efficient service delivery. A feat that can only be actualized through partnership, collaboration and teamwork on the airlifting, accommodation, transportation, feeding and Mashair activities,” Arabi stated.

The 2024 Hajj rituals are set to begin from the evening of Friday, June 14 and wrap up on the evening of Wednesday, June 19. The timing is contingent upon the sighting of the moon of Dhul Hijjah, the 12th month of the Islamic calendar.


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