At the auditorium of the National Mosque complex, Abuja, enters the man on the mantle of Hajj administration in Nigeria, Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, who with his normal timeliness and humility went round to shake hands with stakeholders and exchange pleasantries as they awaited the arrival of the chairman of the occasion, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General, Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Jama’atu Nasril-Islam (JNI), Alhaji Muhammadu Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the Honourable Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) and pioneer chairman and chief executive officer of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello.
Then enters one of the key architects of the NAHCON Establishment Act 2006 whose actions together brought about the standardization of Hajj management in Nigeria, Dr. Usman Bugaje, then the chairman of House Committee on Nigeria/Saudi Inter-parliamentary Friendship, Hon. Dr. Abdullahi Salame, then representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs and Acting Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), then past chairmen, executive secretaries and board members of National Hajj Boards/Committees/Commission, then a host of first class Islamic scholars and chief Imams across the country and later the Comptroller-General of the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS), Alhaji Muhammad Babandede. Before then, already seated were majority of the stakeholders including chairmen and secretaries of State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards/Agencies/Commissions, the chief executive officers of the private Tour Operators, the managing directors of Air carriers, members of the Security Agencies and all relevant Ministries, NCAA, FAAN, NAMA, NIMET, AIB, the press as well as all the paper presenters and discussants.
Then the Sarkin Musulumi, the Sultan of Sokoto enters and immediately Ustaz Abubakar Lamin opens the great event with a recitation from the Holy Qur’an and a prayer. That was how the two-day event began and throughout witnessed very well-researched presentations that will be taken in another write-up. But to note were extensive discussions on the papers which instilled in the participants the fear of God, love for humanity as well as rededication and reinvigoration to the service of Nigerian pilgrims with passion and patriotism.
The conference with the lead paper entitled: “Honouring the past, treasuring the present and shaping the future”, lavished praises on NAHCON and its leadership, lauded the roles and contributions of the past and present Boards of the Commission towards the perfection of Hajj work and specifically recognized the giant steps and policy reforms of the Commission in the areas of accommodation, feeding, medical services, airlift of pilgrims, luggage management, Hajj fare negotiation, licensing of Hajj agencies and commissions, accreditation of tour operators, prequalification of service providers and restriction on certain percentage of Hajj officials not to perform Hajj to ensure efficient service delivery to the pilgrims.
Moreover, the episode tagged “National Hajj and Umrah Stakeholders Conference and NAHCON 10th Anniversary Celebration” also captivated the participants with the first and last presentations and presentation of awards to former chairman of the commission, outstanding performers in the 2016 Hajj from amongst state boards and tour operators and other stakeholders who have contributed meaningfully to Hajj management in Nigeria in the last ten years. Lagos state cleared most of the awards. Other Hajj managers who won in different categories were Kano, the Armed Forces, the FCT, Kwara, Ogun, Bauchi, Kaduna, and Gombe states. In the tour operators’ category, Comerel Travel and Tours came first, Al-Hujjaj Travel and Tours second, while Target Travel and Tours came third.
The Sultan of Sokoto was most particular about the restoration of the national Amirul-Hajj and the need for government to partake in Hajj affairs. He believes that the role of Amirul Hajj was important for the thousands of Nigerian Muslims performing the pilgrimage, against the stand of government which cancelled to save an estimated $1million and N30 million in local expenses for the federal government delegation every year. It will be recalled that the past federal administration under President Goodluck Ebele Jonathan made the Sultan permanent Amirul-Hajj, a position the Sultan enjoyed by himself or by appointing a representative till 2015 when President Muhammadu Buhari took over the leadership.
“We cannot allow close to 100,000 Muslims to embark on pilgrimage to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia annually without leadership because it is against the teachings of Islam. We are demanding for a special concession from the government and asking for our rights as Muslims and as citizens of our great country”, he opined.
The FCT Minister and former NAHCON chairman who expressed optimism on the future of Hajj administration in Nigeria, called on Hajj managers and handlers to be steadfast and have the fear of Allah in serving the pilgrims. He appealed for excellence and urged them not be deterred by distractions from pessimists.The chairman and CEO of NAHCON revealed some strategic plans the commission would embark on including establishment of a standard Hajj Training Institute for the training of Hajj Managers and handlers in Nigeria, establishment of a Hajj Savings Scheme and to boost the revenue profile of the commission for financial autonomy.
Dr. Bugaje, in his presentation, specifically expressed worries over the sincerity of purpose of the participants, on government’s preference of loyalty over competence, on the honesty in organizing the event and on the sad reduction of Hajj to a pastime for self-aggrandizement. He saw the last ten years of NAHCON as the period of office and personnel establishment and urged that the real duties for the Commission must start immediately. Capt. Shehu Iyal in the last paper recalled the tremendous contributions from the aviation agencies, including NCAA, FAAN, NAMA, NIMET and AIB. He called for support to indigenous carriers by way of granting waivers on aeronautical charges so as to increase their operational funds for more efficient and safer operations.
Generally, NAHCON was commended for eliminating chains of agents in Saudi Arabia for 2017 Hajj, saving Nigeria US$12.3 million in Madinah, US$6.3 million in Makkah and between US$50 to US$100 from air fare negotiation. NAHCON was, on the other hand, urged to intensify efforts to overcome the major recurring challenges in Hajj affairs such as shortchanging or overcharging the pilgrims and demanding for augmentation to settle accommodation costs, drug trafficking and other security related offences, abscondment, birth and miscarriages in Hajj and indiscipline, among others.
Some of the key resolutions reached at the end of the conference were that NAHCON should explore the means to formulate economic, agricultural, industrial and other policies for the benefit of the Muslim Ummah since the country has no national policy on Hajj, intensify effort for financial autonomy, remain under the Presidency, invest in profitable Shariah-compliant ventures that will accrue profits, stimulate reading culture and promote literacy among the Muslims as contained in the NAHCON Act which demands adequate information and library service system as well as enlightenment and orientation for the pilgrims, develop software management system for Hajj by absorbing all technological indices in Hajj management and restructure zonal offices for effectiveness and efficiency.
Government was advised not to hands-off from the operations and management of Hajj and Umrah, lauded for granting the approval to NAHCON to acquire the Metro Plaza as its National Headquarters. The conference recommended that the Hajj Saving Scheme should commence without further delay with Jaiz Bank providing the existing platform to manage the scheme in a collaborative manner.
Altogether, nine papers on topical Hajj-related issues were presented and thoroughly discussed at the anniversary conference. The papers, the presenters and discussants were: Lead paper: “Hajj Management in Nigeria, Honouring the past, treasuring the present and shaping the future”, by Dr. Usman Bugaje with discussants: former NAHCON commissioner in charge of planning, research, statistics, information and library service (PRSILS) Dr. Sheikh Saleh Okenwa and chief translator of Friday sermon at the National Mosque and chief executive officer of Comerel Travel and Tours, Ustaz Abubakar Sadique. Others were “The Imperatives of Government’s Participation in Hajj, Past, Present and Future” by Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil Kano discussed by Prof. aminu Salihu Mikailu, Sheikh Adam Idoko, Prof. Ishaq Akintola (MURIC) and Prof. K. K. Oloso, “Historical Analysis of Hajj Management in Nigeria: Pre-NAHCON Era and NAHCON Era by Professor Badmas .O. Yusuf, discussed by Mallam Ibrahim Suleiman, ABU Zaria, Dr. Bashir Aliyu (Al-Furqan Founation) and former NAHCON commissioner of policy, personnel management and finance (PPMF) Alhaji Liad Tella.
Others were: “Supporting the Pilgrims to Achieve Hajj Mabrur (Acceptable Pilgrimage) by Imam AbdulRahman Ahmad (Chief Missioner, Ansarudeen Society of Nigeria) discussed by Alhaji Adamu Abdullahi, Mal. Mannir Dan Ali, Mal. Ibrahim Buba, Mal. Abdul Gombe and Hajiya Maryam Uthman, “Emerging Issues and Challenges in Hajj and Umrah Operations in Nigeria: Technology-based Solutions” by Dr. Ashiru Sani Daura, discussed by DG, NITDA, Dr. Isa Aliyu Pantami, MD, Jaiz Bank, Hassan Usman, C.G Immigration, Muhammad Babandede and DG, NIMC, Engr. Azeezi Aliyu.
On the second day, Sunday July 2, four papers were presented as follows: “Professionalizing Hajj Operations in Nigeria: The Institutional Framework” by Dr. Abdulwasiu Gabadeen discussed by Ambassador Abdullahi Bage, Mallam Ahmad Ojuolape, Barr. Zikrullahii Hassan (Chairman Osun state pilgrims’ board), AbdulFatah AbdulMajeed (AHOUN President); “Hajj Savings Scheme and Financial Autonomy of Hajj Management in Nigeria” by Mal. Bishir M. Bugaje, discussed by Prof. Binta Jibril of BUK, Barr. Muzammil Sani Hanga and Alaja Hajara Adeola; “A Comparative Analysis of Global Best Practices on Hajj Management: Lessons for Stakeholders” by Mallam Shehu U. Makarfi, discussed Dr. B. M. Tambuwal, Alhaji Ahmad Tunde Popoola and Mal. Ja’afar Ja’afar; “The Contributions of Aviation Agencies to Hajj Operations in Nigeria: Past, Present and the Future” by Capt. Shehu Iyal and discussed by Mr. Abubakar Saruku, Barr. M. U. Babangida and Alh. Muneer Bankole.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]