By Mustapha Adamu
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON)on Monday denied social media reports that it had abandoned about 487 intending pilgrims who registered through Kano State.
Speaking with newsmen in Makkah in reaction to the allegation, the NAHCON’s commissioner of operations, Abdullahi Saleh, disclosed that the commission didn’t leave any pilgrim behind.
However, according to him, the abandoned intending pilgrims were those who had registered through private tour operators.
Saleh noted, therefore, that all the 44,450 pilgrims who registered through States’ Pilgrims Welfare Boards had been airlifted to Saudi Arabia before the airspace was shut on August 4, 2019.
He said the last batch of pilgrims that came into Saudi Arabia was not even up to 200 in Flynas, an airline with more than 400 capacity.
Saleh said no travel agency had come to NAHCON to lodge a complaint about its problem in line with the advice given to them by the commission.
“Private tour operators had a wider latitude of choice to determine the airlines that would bring their pilgrims. They depend on scheduled carriers that run weekly frequency.
“NAHCON has advised them to disclose information on the airlines they are using in good time in order to assist them if they have a problem.
“They didn’t do so. They didn’t even come to NAHCON to say this is the airline we want to use.
“Even as I’m talking to you now, no travel agency has come to us to assist them because they have a problem.
“What they did was their own plan. And as it is, they came so late that even the one they approached could not help them because airspace of Saudi Arabia had been officially closed on the 4th of August,” he added.
The commissioner, however, said that the pilgrims’ rights would be protected, adding that the culprits would be brought to book, after investigation.
He said NAHCON would not hesitate to sanction the culprits by withdrawing their licenses and prosecuting them.
According to him, such punitive action would serve as a deterrent to other private tour operators.
He said out of 20,000 slots given to licensed private tour operators, 19,780 registered with them to come to Saudi Arabia for Hajj.
Recall that the irate pilgrims staged a protest at Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport last week to register their grievance over the SAS development