The Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR) has warned that ongoing conflict in Sudan may disrupt the smooth airlift of Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for 2023 hajj exercise.
The faith-based civil society organization in a statement signed by its national coordinator Ibrahim Muhammad on Friday said the war has already led to the abrupt shutdown of the Sudanese airspace.
The CSO said Nigeria “through NAHCON must quickly review the pending challenges and come up with alternative options as a backup measure.”
According to the NAHCON timetable, the airlift of Nigerian intending pilgrims to the holy land will begin on May 21, 2023.
Nigerian hajj air carriers’ transit through Sudan airspace during their trips to Saudi Arabia, and it takes an average of four to five hours to reach the kingdom.
However, the closure of Sudan airspace will invariably force the Hajj air carriers to transit through alternative routes that will take more than seven hours from Nigeria, thereby increasing the scheduled timeframe for the airlift operations.
The CSO said another attendant effect of the change of routes aside the time, is the price of tickets which is another additional burden on the intending pilgrims.
The statement said, “We are worried that our dear pilgrims may be compelled to fly through Cameroon, Central African Republic, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Kenya, Uganda, or DRC to reach Saudi Arabia.”
The CSO is concerned that the closure of Sudanese airspace has already forced some major airlines such as Qatar Airways, Turkish Airlines, Etihad Airways, Emirates and Saudi Airlines to begin rerouting their flights to other African and South American countries.
It said the Ethiopian Airlines which is a major player in Hajj pilgrimages in Nigeria has already rerouted up to 38 routes in its network.
“We are appealing to the Federal Government, to as a matter of urgency, review the situation and provide an appropriate alternative to the hajj carriers ahead of the commencement of the airlift of Nigerian pilgrims. A stitch in time saves nine,” the statement said.