NAHCON: Agenda for New Board on Hajj Operation
By Sani Ibrahim Paki
One of the globally recognised qualities of good leaders is their ability to transform their people or institutions to the better through setting lasting legacies that impact positively. If you lead without leaving a foot-printed legacy or a policy that you can be remembered within your absence, you can only be said to have passed through the process without actually making an impact in it. These, among several others are some of the leadership virtues I extol in Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, the outgoing chairman of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
Though the federal government has announced Barrister Dhikrullah Hassan an equally a man of impeccable integrity with versed experience in Hajj Matters as the new Chairman of NAHCON there is a lot to be learnt from the outgoing team.
Appointed as Chairman/CEO in May 25th, 2015, Barrister Muhammad upon assumption of his responsibility met a quite challenging task of transforming the nation’s commission, hitherto characterised by haphazard scheduling and visa racketeering to intending pilgrims among other problems, but, his strong determination mixed with commitment to work led him to transform of what NAHCON is today.
Although, pilgrimage otherwise known as Hajj is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam, and its performance is obligatory on all those who can afford it among other prerequisites, the way it can be conducted with limited challenges has always been the nightmare of Nigeria’s intending Muslim pilgrims.
It is on record that the conduct of Hajj operations in Nigeria for many years has brought tears to the faces of these intending pilgrims. This was due to haphazard flight scheduling, criminal racketeering of Hajj application forms, swindling pilgrims of their basic travel allowances, provision of pathetic accommodation in the holy land, pervasiveness of fraudulent private tour operators who scam pilgrims on Hajj visas, general operational inefficiency, and even in some instances false agents who often disappear after collecting huge sum of money from pilgrims among others.
It is still fresh in our memories about a decade ago, the sad national opprobrium and international disgrace when Nigeria failed to meet the Saudi global deadline for closure of Jeddah airport. In fact, some pilgrims had to return after their take-off as their flights won’t be allowed to land when they get there. The pilgrims too are not left out as they had their own portion of the problem. From disappearance after the pilgrimage to other attitudes capable of subjecting Nigeria to global disgrace from other countries’ pilgrims, it has never been an easy ride for sudden change to occur miraculously.
However, when Barrister Abdullahi emerged as NAHCON chairman, the story gradually began to change to the better. He set up policies that succeeded in enforcing discipline and standards by imposing strict sanctions for breach of pilgrims’ rights by Hajj operators at all levels, either committed at home or abroad.
As a technocrat who began his early carrier in Hajj industry as far back as 1994 at Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Abdullahi Mukhtar held various positions that qualify him to achieve what he did. From Director Operations, consultant to Chanchangi Airlines, Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, NAHCON Commissioner Operations, and later NAHCON Chairman in 2015. These are enough for him to know all the issues affecting Hajj operations in Nigeria.
Little wonder, the Federal Government appointed a nominee with over a decade experience in Hajj operations to replace the outgoing NAHCON chairman. Just like Muhammad, Barrister Dhikrullah Olakunle Hassan from Osun State, South-Western Nigeria is also a perfect fit for this post. As an Islamic scholar and former chairman of Osun State Pilgrims Welfare Board for eight years, we can say to a large extent that he too is fully prepared for the newly offered national role as he is expected to sustain the giant strides of his predecessor and even do better.
It is therefore necessary to call on Barrister Olalekan and his incoming team to sustain the legacy of his predecessor and even improve it. The team should begin preparations for the next hajj operation in earnest by ensuring that only properly registered Hajj Tour Operators are licensed to move pilgrims to the holy land. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, the NAHCON team should also improve inspection of hotels and accommodations to ensure the pilgrims are offered the right and better welfare to avoid any problem.
Still in the area of pilgrims’ welfare, the Dhikrullah -led NAHCON should examine the Hajj Development Levy Projects across the country’s Hajj transit camps and improve upon it. It is necessary to point out that the project offers services that include the construction of hotel-like accommodation for pilgrims, construction of clinics to be used by the pilgrims free-of-charge during Hajj airlift and by the community at a subsidized rate.
The management should ensure pilgrims are not crammed, like inmates, into an overcrowded accommodation meant for few groups of people, despite paying for it. The incoming chairman should therefore make sure that pilgrims are not just offered convenient accommodation, but also in places closer to the holy mosques in both Makkah and Madinah.
The new team should embrace a practical approach to management so that time being spent by the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during Hajj can be reduced only to stipulated times. Barrister Dhikrullah should ensure that promises made by states’ Pilgrims Welfare Boards and private operators are kept in such areas of feeding, accommodation and transportation. In fact, pilgrims should not spend more than six weeks in the holy land for their Hajj.
Though the outgoing administration secured a gigantic structure in the heart of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja, the new management should ensure adequate maintenance and servicing of the edifices to accommodates its directorates instead of renting.
Recall that some years back, Nigeria hardly airlifts all its intending pilgrims within the Saudi stipulated deadline. There has never been recurrence of this problem, at least from after Muhammad’s emergence in 2015. The incoming chairman should therefore make sure that history never repeat itself under his watch.
The incoming administration should sustain and improve healthy rapport with the strong Hajj media team constituted by the commission. This team, a group of journalists drawn from different media organisations across the country has always given Nigeria’s Hajj operations in Saudi Arabia enough positive coverage like never before.
There have been some initiatives in the pipelines
Barrister Dhikrullah should work to ensure the actualisation of good initiatives that will be robustly transformed Nigeria’s Hajj operations. It includes the International Hajj Training Institute that will serve as a facility for training Nigerian pilgrims; Hajj Savings Scheme that will help intending pilgrims not only save for the Hajj, but also invest the money based on Shariah Principles and have profit; and the Hajj House among others.
All eyes will now be on Barrister Dhikrullah to build on the achievements he met on the ground and do even better. I am sure the federal government didn’t pick him to head this agency accidentally. It must have tracked his antecedents of good records in Nigeria’s Hajj operations, both in his home state of Osun and at the federal level. My prayer is that by the time he will be handing over to his successor, his name too shall be written in golden colour as an icon that transforms Hajj in Nigeria.
Sani Ibrahim Paki is Head, PRNigeria Centre, Kano and could be reached via: [email protected]