Nigeria: 95,000 Citizens to Perform 2008 Hajj

Abuja, Nigeria - About 95,000 Nigerian Muslim faithful are to join other Muslims across the world in performing this year's holy pilgrimage to Mecca.

This disclosure was made yesterday in Abuja by the chairman, National Hajj Commission,Alhaji Mohammed Umar Bello, at a meeting between the commission and state chairmen, secretaries of Muslim Pilgrim Welfare Boards and other stakeholders, to commence the process of selecting air carriers for the 2008 pilgrimage.

The chairman said that as much as 95,000 Nigerian Muslim pilgrims would be airlifted to the holy land for this year's pilgrimage.

Following this, he called on would-be carriers to realise that the fate of the 95,000 Nigerians was completely dependent on how well they performed their function of airlifting the pilgrims.

He noted that from past experiences, the missing link in the whole Hajj operation has always been in the area of airlifting of the faithful to and from the holy land.

Bello said that during last year's Hajj, the selected carriers were sanctioned due to unsatisfactory performance, stressing that the commission would be even more strict this time with carriers who would eventually emerge after the selection process.

He maintained that all the airlines that would eventually be chosen would enter into an agreement that would guide their operations with the commission.

"This whole essence is to ensure that all went well, as well as making sure that the best is chosen for the country's pilgrims," he stated.

He noted that following reports of past hajj operations, as well as those of the Federal Government delegations, the commission decided to invite bids from foreign and local airlines to participate in the selection process.

The chairman challenged the selection committee to approach its assignment with dedication and diligence in arriving at the choice of airlines for the operation.

He also called on all airline operators in the country to join hands in ensuring that this year's exercise was hitch-free, especially after the selection is completed.

Bello added that the vision was to see that Nigeria does not only become the hub of hajj operation in the West African sub-region, but also export expertise in this area.

Yesterday's process began with the opening of bids from seven local airlines and one from Egypt Air, while other foreign airlines have one week within which to submit their bids for consideration.

Speaking to Leadership later, the commission's commissioner in charge of operations, Dr. Yusuf Badmus, noted that factors such as aviation fuel, global inflation, among others, would guide the final price of the air fare.

He warned that any air carrier that has less than 300 capacity would not be considered in the selection process, while also assuring that the interest of the pilgrims would not be compromised in the final choice.

The commissioner added that the commission would ensure that selected carriers have the capability to return pilgrims back to the country with their luggage after the Hajj.

The bids opened yesterday ranged from $1,450 to $2,300 for the northern region, while the southern region ranged from $1,550 to $2,500, as air fare per pilgrim.

The final selection is expected in the next two weeks.