Posted by Sade Williams
The Ministry of Aviation has kicked against the attempt to prevent the Skypower Express Airways as a charter operator for the ongoing hajj exercise to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia (KSA) by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
The ministry is insisting that Skypower Express as a Nigerian carrier had met all the necessary provisions, rules and regulations of the country and deserved to be allowed to benefit from charters, ad hoc flights, just like Flynas, a charter operator from Saudi Arabia and any other interested charter operator around the world.
Correspondences obtained by our correspondent over the weekend, queried the statutory power of NAHCON, which granted it right to stop a charter operator like Skypower from the annual exercise to the holy land.
One of the letters, dated August 9, 2019 and signed by Legal Adviser/ Aviation, S.S. Liman for Permanent Secretary and assigned to the Chairman, NAHCON, insisted that the commission lacked the power to unilaterally exclude a carrier for the hajj exercise without liaising with appropriate government authorities before coordinating hajj and umrah activities.
The correspondence declared that NAHCON did not liaise with the ministry on its circulars banning airlines on charter operations during hajj operation.
It insisted that all issues of civil authority in Nigeria was superintendent by the ministry of aviation as the aeronautical authority of Nigeria, noting that the Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) agreed by the ministry between the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was misrepresented in the commission’s letter.
Liman in the letter insisted that cheater services were not discriminated by the BASA operational between the two countries, rather, it subjected the same to the approval of the contracting parties’ aeronautical authorities.
The letter added: “The decision whether or not Skypower Express or nay airline operators/companies of Nigeria should or can operate charter flight to Saudi is not for the commission to take as it is clearly beyond its mandate.
“Section 4 (i) (b) of the commission Act is referred to. That decision can only be made by the aeronautical authority of Nigeria (the Federal Ministry of Transportation).”
Earlier, NAHCON in a letter dated August 2, 2019 with the reference number NAHCON/A1/18/III/341 had arrogated to the commission alone the powers to determine who participated in the activities of hajj operation in all its ramifications, citing 4 (a) of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (Establishment) Act 2006 as its authority.
In another letter dated July 30, 2019 from the Federal Ministry of Transportation with the reference number: FMA/ATMD/0186/S.5/XIII/257 and signed by Engr. H. Musa, Director, Air Transport Management on behalf of Permanent Secretary, complained about the exemption of Skypower Express from operating as a charter operator during the exercise.
The letter had complained about the directive of NAHCON to licensing companies to patronsie only scheduled carrier or the three carriers approved by NAHCON.
The three carriers according to the letter were Max Air, Med-View and Flynas.
The letter however, referred to the subsisting BASA between Nigeria and Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which confirmed that airlines from both countries were allowed to enjoy charter operations whenever the need arises in accordance with the Para E of the BASA arrangement.
The letter insisted that Skypower Express as one of the airlines from Nigeria to KSA had the right to benefit from the provisions of the BASA rights, including charter operations, saying that same right was being enjoyed by Max Air, MED-View and Flynas.
The letter added: “More so, foreign airlines operating into Nigeria have always been asking for charter/ad hoc flights during high seasons like hajj, umrah, Christmas and end of the year period, which the ministry has been granting in accordance with subsisting BASA between our countries.
“Skypower Express has met all the necessary provisions, rules and regulations of Nigeria and deserved to be allowed to benefit from charter/ ad hoc flights of Nigeria.”
When contacted, Capt. Muhammed Joji, the Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Skypower Express Airways confirmed the developments to our correspondent on phone.
He explained that the intervention of the Ministry of Aviation ensured its eventual participation in the exercise, adding that he operated three flights out of Nigeria with 1,893 pilgrims.
He also emphasised that he airlifted some pilgrims from Guinea Bissau and Sierra Leone, but decried “high corruption in NAHCON.”
He also accused NAHCON of engaging in economic sabotage by giving Med-View pilgrims to a foreign carrier, Flynas when other indigenous airlines had the capacity to do so.
He insisted that NAHCON had no right to interfere in charter operations, stressing that the Saudi authorities only recognises Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) in hajj operations.
He said: “NAHCON has been breaking the laws all along and people have been keeping quiet. NAHOCN has not business in how an approved carrier airlifts pilgrims. Saudi Arabia recognsies only two institutions in Nigeria when it comes to hajj operations; Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Civil Aviation Authority (CAA), but NAHCON has no business with charter operators.
“If there is any problem, Saudi Arabia authorities will only talk with Foreign Affairs Ministry or the CAA. In that case, NAHCON operation is localised here. It has no any business in Saudi Arabia. Also, NAHCON has no business in international pilgrims and that was cleared by the ministry. The ministry warned them about their interference. The foreign affairs and CAA can overrule you.”
He warned that hajj as a critical component of Nigeria politics could make or mar the government and wanted the government to look deeply into the activities of NAHCON in recent time.
“There is too much corruption in NAHCON exercise. That place must be properly cleansed,” he said.