About three days to the reported closure of Saudi Arabia airspace, thousands of intending pilgrims from Nigeria are still stranded at Lagos airport.
The PUNCH had reported on Sunday that pilgrims going through the licensed Hajj and Umrah operators were stranded at different airports across the country.
Several intending pilgrims had been passing the night at the Lagos airport due to flight hitches.
Flight delays by Arik Air affected a number of pilgrims. The airline announced on Monday it was set to airlift the pilgrims.
“This is not the first time I would be travelling for Hajj, but this year is different, I’ve been here since Tuesday and still don’t know when I will be airlifted, this is so unfair. I would not have believed it if I was told that I would still be in Nigeria by this time,” a pilgrim who gave her name as Alhaja Bilikisu, told our correspondent.
Another aggrieved pilgrim, Musa Dakoko said, “Why open one to sleep in an open space when a simple communication as to change in plans could have worked? I have always dreamed of travelling for Hajj but these people want to kill that dream for me this year. I feel very pained and frustrated.”
Arik Air, which has only airlifted 300 out of about 7,000 passengers allocated to it by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, promised to resume the airlift within 24 hours, this was on Saturday when our correspondent contacted the PR & Communications Manager, Adebanji Ola.
Out of about 73,000 pilgrims registered with the various state pilgrims’ welfare boards, about 62,000 have been airlifted as of the time of filing this report with about 10,000 still left on the ground in Nigeria.
The National President of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria, Alhaji Nasidi Yahaya, said that all hands were on deck to airlift all intending pilgrims before the closure of Saudi’s airspace.
He said, “We are still pushing. There is an agreement with Max Air to do the flight for them. Hopefully by tomorrow, we will start the flights with bigger aircraft. We visited Max Air this evening and they said they have applied for slots to start immediately.”
“The General Authority of Civil Aviation in Saudi, the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, Hajj Commission and ourselves, we are on top of the issue, there is no cause for alarm.”
The Supreme Court of Saudi Arabia on Sunday announced that Monday, June 19, will mark the first day of Dhul-Hijjah, after sighting the new crescent in the Kingdom.
“Arafat Day falls on Tuesday, June 27, while Wednesday, June 28, will be the first day of Eid Al Adha,’’ the Saudi Arabia apex court said in the statement.