Posted by Sade Williams
Controversies are already trailing the ongoing hajj operation to Saudi Arabia as one of the major players in the exercise, Med-View Airline has levelled allegations against the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
The airline has accused NAHCON of breaching its contractual agreement with the airline on the airlifting of pilgrims to Saudi Arabia, which prompted the carrier to petition the Presidency on the alleged breach.
Documents with various dates and made available to our correspondent by a source close to the airline, alleged that NAHCON through its Acting Chairman, Abdullahi Mukhtar, acted “wickedly, in contravention of the agreement and frustrated” Med-View Airline from continuing with the exercise.
This is as a source in NAHCON told our correspondent on phone that the ongoing hajj exercise was flawed with “personal interests.”
Med-View insisted that the act 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.
The solicitor to Med-View, Barr. Debo Adeleke, the Principal Lead Counsel, Maritime, Commercial and Immigration Law Chambers, in an interview with our correspondent in Lagos, explained that Med-View made 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, Med-View 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.
The letter with the head: ‘Demand note for Payment to GACA and TAIBA,’ reads in part: “As a result of exigency with regards to preparation for 2019 hajj airlift exercise, we wrote to request for payment of the sum of $900,000 to GACA and TAIBAH as analysed below: (i) GACA – $400,000 and (ii) TAIBAH – $500, 000.”
Besides, another letter with the reference number: MCILC/STFGN/NCBTAAB/01/19, dated August 5, 2019 and addressed to the Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, Chief of Staff to the President and Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria, accused NAHCON Chairman of malice against the carrier.
The document claimed that the entire 100 per cent was to be returned to the airline in four tranches; 50, 30, 10 and another 10 per cent, but as at August 5, the agreement was not redeemed by NAHCON.
The report added: “A sum of 35 per cent of the contract sum is payable on the positioning of aircraft by our client for the commencement of the hajj operation and completion of all agreements for the outbound flights, while 10 per cent of the contract sum is meant for the inbound.
“Sir, it is highly unfortunate and agonising that while our client had meticulously, sincerely and religiously kept to the terms and spirit of the agreement between parties, the acting chairman of NAHCON, failed, refused and neglected to honour the terms and spirit of the said agreement.
“To salvage the ugly situation, a resolute was reached amongst parties on the 24th July, 2019 whereby amongst other things, the commission was mandated to pay both 50 and 35 per cent contract sum to our client.”
The solicitor insisted that rather than allow Med-View to continue with the hajj exercise with its contractual agreement with Max Air, Mukhtar wanted to compel Med-View to put some of its pilgrims on Flynas, a Saudi Arabia’s airline, which it alleged the NAHCON boss had an interest in.
The airline demanded for the payment of the remaining 35 per cent, which it said was already due and 10 per cent of the contract sum in readiness of the return of the pilgrims.
In another petition to the Acting Chairman, National Hajj Commission (NAHCON), dated August 16, 2019 and copied the Vice President, Chief of Staff to the President, Secretary to the Federal Government of Nigeria and First Bank, the solicitor to Med-view said that the letter written by NAHCON, stating that it had paid the sum of $5,576,582.50, representing 63 per cent of the total contract of $8,897,663.63 was incorrect.
Rather, the airline said that it received the total sum of $5,576,550.5, but insisted that it airlifted 6,443 at the total value of $10,007,550.00, insisting that the amount received did not amount to 63 per cent as claimed by NAHCON.
It said that Flynas, a foreign carrier was “selfishly imposed on our client against the indigenous airline in the name of Max Airline,” stressing that the idea of forcing a foreign airline on the carrier was an act of economic sabotage and “a clear negation of the extant Federal Government policies.”
Our correspondent could not get an official response from NAHCON as at the time of filing this report, but a management staff of the commission told our correspondent on phone that the exercise was marred with “personal interests.”
The source whose name could not be revealed because he was not authorised to speak on the issue, told our correspondent on phone that NAHCON erred by removing the airline from continuing with the inbound flights, said 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.
The source said: “I don’t want to comment much on this because I am not the official spokesman of this commission, but something is clear, the exercise is marred with personal interests. It is not the job of NAHCON to compel an airline to partner with any other carrier. Once you have received the nod to participate, what concerns NAHCON is the airlifting of the pilgrims.
“I will send you the number of the spokesman of NAHCON for official statement.”
As at the time of filing this report, our correspondent was yet to receive any official statement from the commission.