Hajj Operations: Shortchanging Local Operators

0

As a highly religious country, Nigeria has over the years maintained yearly airlift of adherents to the Holy lands in Saudi Arabia and Israel for Muslims and Christians respectively.

These airlifts have become part of the annual programme for the aviation industry and it provides lifeline in terms of revenues for operators that engage in the exercise. In fact, domestic carriers that are willing and are qualified to participate in the exercise always look forward to the yearly Hajj airlift.

But there was a time a new law was introduced that about 50 per cent of the airlift should be reserved for Saudi Arabia airlines, while Nigerian carriers carry out the rest.

This was at a time kicked against by the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), when it became clear that the rule was selective; it was not for all countries participating in the exercise. But later the rule was reintroduced and currently subsists.

This could be a background to the current rift between Medview Airline, which has been involved in the airlift of pilgrims for Hajj in the last 10 years and National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).

THISDAY learnt from a source close to Medview that NAHCON has allegedly breached contractual agreement with Medview on the airlifting of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, by denying the airline the opportunity to airlift pilgrims back to Nigeria and forcing it to partner with a foreign carrier, Flynas after Medview has concluded documented partnership with another Nigerian carrier, Max Air.

This alleged breach has forced Medview to petition the Presidency.
Documents with various dates by a source close to the airline, alleged that NAHCON through Abdullahi Mukhtar, its Acting Chairman, acted “wickedly, in contravention of the agreement and frustrated” Med-View Airline from continuing with the exercise.

This is as a source in NAHCON said that the on-going hajj exercise was flawed with “personal interests.”

Med-View insisted that the action of NAHCON through Mukhtar amounted to economic sabotage, claiming that he attempted to compel the airline to partner with a Saudi Arabian’s carrier, Flynas despite its partnership with another Nigerian airline, Max Air, which is also participating in the exercise, thus taking jobs away from Nigerian carriers that create jobs for the country’s citizens.

Medview was finally denied the opportunity to airlift Nigerian pilgrims back to the country.

The solicitor to Med-View, Debo Adeleke, the Principal Lead Counsel, Maritime, Commercial and Immigration Law Chambers, in an interview explained that Med-View made a down payment of $8,897,663.63 as the total contractual sum for the airlift of 5, 720 pilgrims on May 20, 2019 with First Bank as the guarantor.

According to him, the contractual agreement stipulated that on execution of the contract, NAHCON was to make 50 per cent payment to Med-View, which was supposed to be $4,448,831.08 to enable the airline to conclude all necessary arrangements for the commencement of the hajj operations.

But, rather than 50 per cent in the contractual sum, the commission made available only 25 per cent payment on July 15, 2019, five days into the exercise. According to him, Med-View was given $2,412,539.
Before the airline was disallowed from continuing with the outbound exercise, it had already airlifted 4,383 pilgrims in five days of the exercise, with eight airlifts, according to NAHCON website.

A letter dated July 5, 2019, signed by Alhaji Muneer Bankole, the Chief Executive Officer, Medview Airline and addressed to the Chairman, NAHCON, demanded for payment of $900,000 to be made available to General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) and TAIBA, $400,000 and $500, 000, respectively.

THISDAY could not get official response from NAHCON to react to the allegation by Medview Airline, but a management staff of the commission said in a telephone interview that the Hajj exercise was marred by “personal interests.”

The official said that NAHCON erred by removing Medview from continuing with the inbound flights and noted that it was not the duty of NAHCON to compel a carrier to partner with any other airline, especially when such had been approved by the commission.

Meanwhile, industry think-tank group, Aviation Round Table (ART), has queried the ceding of 50 per cent airlift of Nigerian pilgrims for the Hajj to Saudi Arabia airliner, thus denying domestic airlines 100 per cent opportunity to airlift Nigerian indigenes to the Holy land, the way Egypt, Indonesia, Bangladesh and other countries are doing.

The Secretary General, ART, Group Captain John Ojikutu (retd) said the body is irked over the federal government’s decision to concede the airlift of over 50 per cent of pilgrims to a non-Nigerian carrier Fly Nas of Saudi Arabia and described it as exploitation.

Ojikutu excoriated NAHCON for he what he described as a unilateral decision by the commission to deny Nigerian operators the chance to generate revenue for the benefit of the country and remarked that it is “exploitation of the commercial agreements in the Bilateral Air Services Agreement (BASAs).”