A total of 1, 078 Nigerian pilgrims have departed the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as of 7pm, Nigerian time on the first day of airlift back to Nigeria less than a week after successfully completing this year’s Hajj rites in Makkah.
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) had last Sunday revealed its preparedness to begin the homeward airlift of Nigerian pilgrims on Tuesday, June 4, assuring that it will complete the return operations by August 3.
Unlike 2022, when it had about 43,000 slots for the first post-Covid Hajj exercise, which was described as “emergency Hajj”, Nigeria was allotted 95,000 slots by Saudi authorities this year.
NAHCON allocated 75,000 slots to the various state pilgrims welfare boards, including the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while the remaining 20,000 was given to private tour operators.
Two flights operated by Saudi airline, FlyNas, departed the King Abdulazziz International Airport in Jeddah for Sokoto and Lagos respectively today.
The first flight, which departed Jeddah at 1:55pm local time (11:55am, Nigerian time) had 426 Sokoto pilgrims with one official on board.
The second flight departed Jeddah for Lagos at 5:57pm, Saudi time (3:57pm, Nigerian time) with 387 Osun pilgrims with two officials, bringing the total airlifts to 813.
The third flight of the day, operated by Nigerian airliner, Air Peace, departed Jeddah for Lagos with 265 pilgrims, made up of 262 Kwara State pilgrims and three from FCT with four officials onboard at 9pm Saudi time.
Meanwhile, a NAHCON official, who spoke with Tribune Online on condition of anonymity from Makkah Tuesday evening, said despite the fact that the homebound airlift may experience slow pace, the Nigerian Hajj body is determined to fast track the airlift of the country’s contingent.
According to the official, given the fact that most countries would airlift their pilgrims from Jeddah and Madinah, many flights would be leaving the airports almost at the same time which might slow down departure operations.
He added that the majority of Nigerian pilgrims will depart Saudi Arabia through Jeddah, since almost all Nigerian pilgrims had visited Madinah before the commencement of Hajj rites.
This, he said, would make it cumbersome for NAHCON to first transport the pilgrims to Madinah by road before airlifting them to Nigeria.
“Most of our pilgrims, if not all, have visited Madinah before the commencement of Hajj rites. It will be difficult to transport them back there for airlifting back to Nigeria.
“The journey is more than six hours by road. Jeddah is the best option for us as departure point of our pilgrims,” he said, assuring that NAHCON will not leave any stones unturned in ensuring timely airlift of Nigerian pilgrims back home.
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