As has been stated repeatedly, the 2022 Hajj is a different kind of phenomenon coming with challenges never experienced in the lifetime of this generation due to alterations caused by the covid-19 pandemic.
Saudi Arabia, the host country of the annual Hajj, is pulling up from the pandemic cautiously, hence has introduced certain policies to help her evade any ugly situation for her internal and foreign pilgrims with regards to the virus. Many Hajj participating countries are still grappling to adjust to some of these policies, Nigeria inclusive.
It would be recalled that on June 14th last week, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced that about 100, 000 pilgrims had arrived into the Kingdom from all ports for the 2022 Hajj.
This is an exercise that started on 31st May, 2022. Hence, 15 days after opening of the Jeddah and Madinah airports, plus the Jeddah Islamic seaport, only about 12 percent of the expected 850,000 foreign pilgrims had arrived. This illustrates a global slow pace compared to other years.
Take for instance figures from Saudi Arabia's GASTAT (General Authority for Statistics) in 2019 -- a total of 557,282 foreign pilgrims arrived into the Kingdom within 13 days from the first flight that arrived on 18th July to 31st July of the year.
At the time of writing this piece, news reports indicate that certain countries were still struggling with registration of pilgrims.
Pakistan, with the second largest Hajj contingent in the world after Indonesia, was in a fix to resolve an imbroglio over pilgrims that have fully paid, but due to a glitch in some banks' data, many of them are yet disenfranchised. Hence the country's Hajj ministry was still contemplating how to manage the situation.
Nigeria has had its own share of challenges, but thankfully, the matter has been resolved. With the hurried way the year's Hajj was organized globally, Nigeria's Hajj industry experienced delay in meeting one of the aviation processes in the host country.
However, the matter has been put to rest and in a matter of hours, the momentum in the Hajj airlift will pick up. So far, the country's air carriers have deployed aircraft to speed up ferrying of pilgrims for the 2022 Hajj season. FlyNas has deployed two aircraft with a 433-seat capacity, Azman air has also deployed aircraft with a 400-seat capacity while Max Air, with a 560-passenger capacity is about to deploy its second aircraft for the Hajj dispatch.
It is in tune with this development that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria is entreating State Pilgrims' Welfare Boards to quicken the screening and conveyance of their pilgrims to the airports for onward trip to Saudi Arabia to cover lost grounds.
Similarly, pilgrims are advised to answer the call of their boards to proceed for take-off to the holy land whenever they are summoned to do so. The Commission has promised to ensure that all registered pilgrims for this year's Hajj are successfully moved to Saudi Arabia before closure of Jeddah airport. However, this is possible only with the cooperation of both the state officials and the pilgrims.
While praying for successful Hajj for Nigerian pilgrims, the NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, assures Hajj stakeholders of NAHCON's commitment towards delivering proper services to pilgrims always and a dedication in ensuring their welfare .