By Abdul Rahman Aliagan
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Tuesday, disclosed that the Commission does not believe in the opinion of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) over the accusation of hike in 2017 Hajj fare, saying that the Apex Islamic organisation participated actively in the negotiations, re-negotiations and considerations of the 2017 Hajj fares.
The NAHCON Chairman, Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad made this known through the Secretary of the Commission, Dr. B. M. Tambuwal at an interactive session organised by the FCT chapter of Nigerian Union of Journalists, NUJ.
The Commission confirmed to Journalists, the involvement of the Council in the activity of Hajj Commission. He said, “NSCIA has a member representing it on the Board of the Commission, who is Professor A. A. Oladosu, the Head Department of Arabic, University of Ibadan.” He added that Prof Oladosu equally chaired the re-negotiation Committee that renegotiated the Hajj fare for Nigerian Pilgrims, “For anybody to tell me that NSCIA is contesting the cost of Hajj fare, I don’t believe it. He maintained.
Recalled, following the release of this year’s 2017 Hajj fare by NAHCON pegging the fare at about N1.5 million, NSCIA joined other stakeholders in the country to protest the cost of 2017 Hajj fare describing it as being “ridiculously high.”
NSCIA under the leadership of its President-General and Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar warned that Hajj should not be commercialised, he therefore called for the speedy review of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Act.
The NSCIA is saddled with the responsibility of superintending the affairs of Islam and Muslims in Nigeria, equally wants the Federal Government to hands off its sponsorship of pilgrims, added that if given the opportunity to manage hajj affairs, intending pilgrims would pay lower than the over N1 million being demanded for this year’s hajj.
Stating how the 2017 Hajj fare was arrived at, Muhammed explained further that, it was not NAHCON that sat down to arrive at the cost of Hajj fare, he said, “so many agencies were involved, like NCAA as regulatory body, FAAN with all other aviation agencies, ICPC, EFCC, Nigerian Police, the representatives of the States Pilgrim Welfare Board from their respective Executive Secretaries, six geopolitical commissioners, fulltime Commissioners from the Board and so many relevant agencies participated in the activity of Hajj fare.
He added that, “this wide range of participation did sit down for days to ascertain the type of machines, the performance, the document, capability, the price charges and all other technicalities involved in the Hajj operation. While NCAA also goes back to break it down component by component to arrive at a cost per pilgrim, then they (NCAA) put out the fare and advise.” Muhammed maintained that the Commission does not blindly set fares for pilgrims, Hajj fare is being set by this wide-range committee.
According to him, “After all these, the Commission then writes to the Federal Government to seek approval and government also looked into it component by component before it finally gives approval on what to charge for airlift per pilgrim.”
NAHCON boss however charged Journalists to always verify their stories before rushing to press, so that Journalists do not cause any injury upon any personality, certain organisation and even individuals. “Particularly you Journalists, please try to verify anything that comes your ways, so as to avoid injury on personality or organisations.”
He hinted the Journalists on the report of the 2015 Hajj stampede victims, where about 300 Nigerian Pilgrims died, he said up till now about five people that are reported missing, having sent the DNA of their first relations to the Kingdom, said that the Commission is yet to receive any report from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Stated further that in order to forestall such occurrence, NAHCON took blood samples of all intending Pilgrims and kept in the blood bank in the event of such occurrence. God forbid, he prayed.
On the issue of compensation for the pilgrims who died during the ugly incident, he said no compensation has been released to the Commission, he however assured the relatives of the deceased persons that any moment it released, and the Commission would not hesitate to hand it over to the relations of the crane-crash victims.
On the Commission’s progress reports, the Chairman of the Commission also said that NAHCON has developed a Software Management System, According to him, “The Commission immediately after the 2016 Hajj visited some Hajj Commissions to compare the commission’s operation, progress, challenges and issues. We realised that most of them do conduct most of their activities online, we decided to contact our sister country, Pakistan which agreed to assist NAHCON with software at no cost.
“A team from Pakistan came here in Nigeria spent barely 10 days, we want the software system to take effect this year but we are still discussing so that we don’t leave any component of Hajj operation behind. Very soon everything about Hajj operation will be done online, even up to accommodation processing, where Pilgrims open up accommodation process to select the hotel, check the facilities, contact the owner and see the list, negotiate the price and make payment while Pilgrims are here in Nigeria before leaving for the Kingdom.” He said.
For Tour Operators, Muhammed said, the Commission has set standards for the Tour Operators, he pointed out, apart from the traveling agencies prequalified by the Commission there are some illegal ones. “The Commission is making frantic efforts this time around through the Committee of Inspectorate Services of the Commission, where some of their offices in Lagos, Kano and Abuja were closed down.” Added that the Commission enjoys the optimum support of the security agents so as to ensure standards in Hajj Operation and improve on the image on the country in the Holy land.
Muhammed maintained that it is the activities of the illegal Tour Operators that dislocate the arrangement of the Commission at the Holy land.
On the Commission’s permanent office accommodation, he said the Commission is making spirited efforts through AMCON to acquire a befitting property for the Commission. The Commission hinted Journalists on its readiness to set up Hajj Savings Scheme where Pilgrims softly making payments over a period of time to enable them perform Hajj at the scheduled time.
The Chairman of the Commission also made known of the intention of his Commission to establish Training Institute for Hajj Managers, in view of non-existence of professional training for Hajj Managers in Nigeria. He added that the development will be in collaboration with local and foreign institutions.
“The proposed institute will serve as a professional training centre for all Hajj Managers in Nigeria and neighbouring African countries. He concluded.