2015 stampede: Saudi is poised to host safe Hajj this year —Med-View boss, Bankole

The Chief Executive Officer of Med-View Airline, Alhaji Muneer Bankole, spoke with journalists last weekend during the annual Hajj seminar for pilgrims going through Med-View Travels Konsult, held at the airline’s corporate headquarters in Lagos. SAHEED SALAWU presents excerpts from the interview.


What has been the experience since Med-View began airlift of pilgrims on August 8?

We give thanks to Almighty Allah. We are grateful at Med-View Airline that for the past 10 years, we have been fully involved in Hajj operations as one of major carriers in Nigeria. Also, Allah has been assisting us to help our brothers and sisters in the West African region and some other parts of the world. We believe that this is a journey Allah has ordained for us, because it is not easy when you look at all the things that go into it. You need to go through the process of getting your approval from the Saudi authorities. You need to go through the process of aircraft inspection. And you need to go through the process of putting your team together, as well as the logistics in all the stations you are operating from. This year, we are operating from the Lagos Zone which, Alhamdulillah, we have closed, having airlifted a total of 9,500 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia. We have pilgrims from the South-South/South-East whom we will probably take on one flight. We are also operating out of Mali. We have been able to move some pilgrims out of there. We have equally been contacted by the government of the Federal Republic of Niger to support their national airline in terms of logistics. God has given us fulfilment anytime we got involved in this exercise. It has been very interesting and fulfilling.


With the commencement of the international operation by Med-View Hajj Consult, what should the pilgrims expect from the company?

One good thing that God has given us is that we are the only Nigerian air carrier that operates directly to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. We have right to four flights weekly. Our partnership with AON [Airline Operators of Nigeria] and NANTA [National Association of Nigeria Travel Agencies] has made it easy for intending pilgrims here to go directly, non-stop, to Jeddah. So, our pilgrims should expect the best of service this year.


What would you say is the remarkable achievement you have achieved so far in this year’s Hajj operation?

This year’s Hajj operation has been about giving of thanks. It has been about telling God that we are grateful and letting those who have patronised us over the years know that we appreciate them. This year is remarkable. Med-View Airline has involved in Hajj exercise for 10 years consecutively. We have airlifted close to 300,000 pilgrims. We operate more than 100 flights in every exercise. So, we give it to Allah Who has made this possible. Let’s also give it to members of Med-View Airline who have worked tirelessly and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria who believe in us. We equally give it to the Saudi authorities who recognise Med-View. This is an achievement to all of us here. It shows that somewhere, somehow, people appreciate you.


You recently re-echoed the concern of stakeholders in the aviation industry about the availability of aviation fuel in the country. What is the situation now?

Honestly, this is not something we should be negotiating. Definitely, there are lots of issues before the president to address, but the people he has given the assignment should see to it that two or three of our refineries are able to produce Jet A-1 to reduce the hardship. In the past three or four months, it was N105 [per litre]. Today, it is N200. Out of Lagos, up to Yola and Maiduguri, it is about N240 and it is unfortunate. This is an issue that the government should address quickly.


Given your vast experience in Hajj operations, what measures would you say the Saudi authorities have taken to prevent a recurrence of the tragedy of last year?

I want to say with emphasis that Saudi Arabia is my second home. I have lived in and out of that country for 30 years. I can tell you confidently that lots of measures have been put in place to protect pilgrims against possible undesirable events. The incident of 2015 was an unfortunate one. We must recognise the fact that it is not easy to accommodate over two million people every year. Over the years, they [Saudi authorities] have tried. For the Jamaarat issue, they have done it in such a way that you have four, five floors with elevators. They have so many conveniences there. But whatever Allah wills to happen, there is nothing anybody can do about it. We pray Almighty Allah to make this year’s Hajj memorable for all of us.


 What have been the reactions of states you have rendered service to this year?

I know they are all fulfilled. You can see it on their faces. The time at which we promised they would leave was when they left. And it was the same in Medina; our teams were on hand to welcome them and extend them all our courtesies. I use this medium to appreciate the regulators, the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority and the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria and other agencies of the government, including the Central Bank of Nigeria, for their contributions to the smooth Hajj operation we have witnessed so far this year. We commend the Ministry of Health and all other stakeholders who have done well, in spite of the economic hardship in the country, which we hope, by the grace of Almighty Allah, will end soon. I pray Allah to help the president and all our leaders. It is not easy. There is a lot of work for them. We pray God to guide them.


It was learnt that some Nigerian pilgrims were yet found with kola nuts and some other banned substances. How would you react to this?

You have no business violating the laws of any country. When they say something is a crime, it is a crime; there is no negotiation. Saudi Arabia is not the only country with laws; every country has got its laws. Pilgrims have been warned time after time not to carry banned drugs and kola nuts to Saudi Arabia. Nigerian pilgrims have been cautioned against involvement in activities that could harm the image of Nigeria and cause the country to lose respect. I urge those who are still intending to go to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj to heed this warning, because once you are found culpable, you pay the price. It is not a game; you have to pay the penalty.