(Published in my ISLAMIC PERSPECTIVE COlumn today in LEADERSHIP)
By Abubakar Bello Kaoje
As we are aware, Hajj operation is time-bound and this requires a carefully-planned sequence of events for implementation. If for whatever reason, the time of a particular event is skipped, it would also eventually affect the other plans. For instance, the Nigerian Pilgrims are not the only pilgrims performing Hajj, it is a world wide affair, and the Hajj authorities in Nigeria have to therefore wait for Saudi Government to invite them for a meeting which would culminate into signing a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on the admittance of the number of pilgrims to perform Hajj every year.
Based on the number of pilgrims admitted, the central body would coordinate and organize meetings with the 36 states of the Federation and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and the Armed Forces on how best to distribute and allocate the Hajj seats to these 38 organizational units.
Another difficult area in the administration of Hajj affairs is the decision of Hajj fares. Because of the different components in the Hajj fare, it takes time before the Hajj package decision is finalised. Decisions on the airfare, accommodation in Makkah and Madina, the ever fluctuating exchange rate of the US dollar in relation to the Naira, etc, all are decisions which must be reached before the Hajj package is determined. To decide on the airfare is the most cumbersome of all Hajj decisions. Being a purely technical area, the central body and the State Pilgrims' Welfare Boards across the country cannot alone decide the airfare. The government agencies like the Ministry of Aviation, the National Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), National Airspace Management Authority (NAMA) and the Federal Airport Authority (FAAN), these aviation experts would sit down to closely scrutinize the documents of the prospective Carriers with a laid-down procedure, sometimes it would take them two to three weeks to enable the pre-qualification of the Airlines for the airlift exercise.
Often times, the Hajj authorities are left with dilemma of selecting the Air carriers as most of the bidders for the job of airlifting the pilgrims are not owners of the Aircrafts. To employ the services of foreign Airlines will be difficult as the fare offered by Nigeria is not of international standards and therefore not attractive enough for foreign Airlines. Another reason is the attitudes of our pilgrims of carrying over size and multiple luggage and the delays or failure of the pilgrims to turn out on a scheduled flight. Also some of the Airports used for Hajj lack facilities required by Foreign airlines.
Thus, the Nigerian Hajj authorities have no alternative but to carry on and manage with such indigenous Airlines. This requires close monitoring of the agreement documents entered with their business partners. Sometimes, some of the Airlines assure the screening Committee of bringing the required capacity of Aircrafts and positioning the Aircraft on the agreed date and if you ask them any documents as regards to their assurances they would produce them, but on the day of positioning the Aircrafts the story would be different. They fail to fulfil their promises not because they want to disappoint, but that the success for scouting their Aircrafts depends largely on the vagaries of market forces.