By Yunusa Musa
One Abubakar Abdulakdir, attempted in a recent publication to misinform the public on the facts behind government’s efforts to regulate the airlift of Nigerian Muslim pilgrims. He deliberately indulged in peddling false information and insinuations thereby creating a false impression as if there were forces out to thwart Max Air preparation to airlift more than 40, 000 pilgrims. First, there are eight airlines, namely, Kabo Air, Med-View Airlines, Meridian Airlines, Max Air, Air Jupiter, Sky Power Express Airways, Saudi Arabian Airways and Egypt Air that applied to convey this 66, 000 state pilgrims. They applied following the tender advertised by NAHCON titled ‘Application for Airlift of Pilgrims under State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards/Agencies/ Commissions For 2014 Hajj’. Air Jupiter and Meridian Air were allegedly disqualified after failing to produce the required Air Operator Certificate (AOC).
It is noteworthy that in this same tender; Item 7 of the conditions for airlift of pilgrims states, “Maximum number of pilgrims to be airlifted by each carrier is 40,000, irrespective of number of aircraft it intends to deploy.” Now, is it fair that Meridian and Air Jupiter were disqualified from airlifting pilgrims after fall short of AOC requirement as stipulated in the tender while another airline will want to circumvent the rule? That is the crux of the matter. Regrettably, it is only in Nigeria that players will want to dictate the rules of the game to the referees. It is even baffling that one airline will be able to convey 40, 000 pilgrims out of the 66, 000 tendered for by eight airlines yet they are not satisfied. Question: Was the provision that states: “maximum number of pilgrims to be airlifted by each carrier is 40,000 irrespective of number of aircraft it intends to deploy” sneaked into the tender after it has been advertised or was it part of the guidelines seen by Max Air and others before they applied?
Moreover, Meridian Air which was owned by influential Galadima Kano started airlift of pilgrims before any of the above applicants; yet this year, Meridian Air and Air Jupiter were disqualified because they failed to meet the requirements. And contrary to what he said about Kabo Air, Kabo and Meridian where once barred from airlifting pilgrims during late General Abacha regime because government was not comfortable with its monopoly and wanted to try a different approach that will result in saving costs for pilgrims, and having revenue to serve like Malaysia Tabu-Hajj. This was despite the closeness of the late Dankabo to Abacha. Importantly, then, there were no proper regulations guiding the airlift of pilgrims in particular and hajj administration in general because of non-existence of institution legally empowered to regulate hajj activities like National Hajj Commission of Nigeria which was established by NAHCON Establishment Act 2006.
Interestingly, government policy of not allowing one single carrier to airlift more than 40, 000 pilgrims was ratified when hajj seat allocation to Nigerian pilgrims were 95, 000. Since last year, it has been reduced to 76, 000. 10, 000 out of this number go to tour operators with a separate air carrier thus leaving 66, 000 states pilgrims. It is even improper to allow one carrier to airlift 40, 000 leaving 26, 000 for others. Government should have cut the number to reflect the new allocations of 76, 000 hajj seats.
Again, it is the height of ignorance to say that Nigeria Communications commission (NCC) does not have the power to limit the numbers of subscribers on telecom operators’ network. NCC sets limits to numbers of subscribers that each telecom operators can have based on the numbers of base stations, capacity of each network’s transmission equipment, how efficient such network service is and other conditions. Contrary to the writer’s postulations, why did government license MTN, GLO, Aietel and Etisalat and not only MTN so that it can monopolize the market?
He also said states pilgrims’ welfare boards chose Max Air based on its capacity factors only. If that was the case, are we saying that Max Air has more airlines or capacity than Saudi Air or Egypt Air? Currently in 2014, Saudi Air and Egypt Air were approved by government. Why is it that no single state takes them as their first choice to airlift their pilgrims? The reasons are obvious. We should try as much as possible to allow a sleeping dog lie. Though I acknowledged that Max Air has made positive contribution in hajj exercise; but we should try and subject ourselves to the rules and regulations of the system and allow spirit of fair distribution and equal opportunity to prevail.
However, if the writer had taken time to reflect on the history of hajj airlift, he would have noticed the monopoly enjoyed by Kabo air in those days comes with its consequences. Kabo then had five functional Boeing 747 planes in its fleet, yet because the airline was allowed that monopoly. The exercise was characterized by confusion – except if the writer wants to take us back to the Dark Age when airlift of pilgrims was a free for all. Pilgrims spent days at the airport awaiting airlift; they carried all sorts of junks because of non-regulation. However, as a result of proper regulation and effective implementation of policies; Nigerian pilgrims now arrive home with their luggage, hardly pilgrims spend more than 24 hours at the airport before being evacuated. Pilgrims are now being treated with dignity because airliners know the consequences of doing otherwise. Players should respect the rules of the empire. Importantly, no empire should allow his risk exposure beyond a manageable number.
Finally, the management of pilgrims is not just about having aircraft but rendering quality services. If the regulator cannot create and guarantee avenue to others to have reasonable number of pilgrims to airlift, then there is no point opening the application to everybody. Aviation is not like import and export or other general merchandise business. For aviation experts to make such recommendation of giving maximum numbers of pilgrims to air carriers, they must be wisdom behind it – which I will be ready to investigate and discuss at a later date.
Yunusa Musa wrote in from Kano