The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) observed with dismay how some media outlets, for whatever reasons, have carried on with campaigns of calumny against the commission despite several press briefings and press releases clearly explaining reasons and solutions to hitches encountered in the 2023 Hajj operations.
In its bid to carry the press along, who in turn it is believed would clarify issues for their readers, NAHCON had kept the press updated about all knotty issues even before they become obvious, and sometimes only after the hurdles were resolved with the intent of sparing intending pilgrims the pressure that may arise from panic.
We understand that there are vested interests in matters relating to Hajj. This does not however warrant the twisted tales being spread around in the print, social and electronic media against the commission. This will be done for the sake of further clarity.
A recent publication by one of Nigeria’s conventional newspapers for example went overboard ascribing various deficiencies to NAHCON, ignoring the facts, going for fiction despite the fact that they are there at the press of the writer’s keyboard.
For the purpose of clarity, this commentary will again address some of these difficulties encountered during the operations even though the commission had done so several times in recent times.
For instance, the role of NAHCON in the airlift of Private Tour Operators’ pilgrims resulted from popular demand by the Operator’s association when it’s members ran into difficulties.
As a responsible supervisor, NAHCON did not abandon the pilgrims when the transaction went sour; the commission immediately made arrangements for rescue services in order to leave no pilgrim behind. This ultimate objective was achieved whether it came in a bittersweet form or either of the two scenarios. To insinuate that there were unlucky pilgrims with valid visas left behind is an immature fabrication.
Besides, NAHCON was well aware of the difficulties experienced by pilgrims as a result of insufficiency of space in Muna and for that reason resettled pilgrims whose managers agreed to move them to the extra space secured by the commission from the Mu’assasa.
Yes, what led to the impasse with the chartered airlines is the usual late remittance of Hajj fare to NAHCON by those who should. For instance, most of Nigeria’s contracted airlines were not paid in good time because some states did not remit their pilgrims’ Hajj fare in good time despite strong warnings and threats by the commission. By the time most had made the remittance that would pave way for payment to airlines, the Central Bank of Nigeria had suspended payments from or on behalf of all MDAs (ministries, departments and agencies) of government. In fact, it took the direct intervention of the presidency to avert a more distressing story.
And until remittances are made in good time, every NAHCON Board would always face the same problem of begging those holding pilgrims’ money to release it for proper and timely planning.
Thankfully, the newspaper report under focus which centred largely on the challenges faced by international pilgrims appreciated the efforts of NAHCON to address all these issues as a responsible regulator by coming to the rescue and taking prompt measures.
However , one wonders if the title of one of the articles inferring to the performance of Hajj as “capital flight” was not a deliberate tactic at misleading the paper’s innocent readers.
What is capital flight in private individuals spending their money where they want to? The clause may even be sending a wrong signal to Nigeria’s Muslim ummah. In simple terms capital flight is the large outflow of assets or capital from a country due to uncertainties, crisis situations or negative sentiments, which leads to fear of the unknown by individuals and business concerns thereby making them transfer their capital to presumed safe havens. Is this what Muslims just did in the Hajj?
Can we in good conscience postulate that the desire by individual private citizens (Muslims) like their counterparts all over the world to undertake a religious obligation (ritual) using their hard-earned money amounts to capital flight?
Can we then say the Muslim ummah around the world are engaging in capital flight? I humbly believe it is a wrong use of the term, if at all it is not deliberately deceptive.
For the repeated time; shortage of space in Muna camp was neither a NAHCON failure nor a Nigerian matter. Any serious journalist would be conversant with similar complaints by other Hajj contingents- some of whom have also constituted panels of enquiry to unravel reasons for the shortage and proffer recommendations. This step NAHCON has also taken with a call for refund by the Company of Mutawwifs for African non Arab pilgrims.
The rising costs of Hajj over the years highlighted in the article is a function of exchange rate as well as charges from Saudi authorities.
It is no mean feat to not experience hitches in moving 95,000 people over a stipulated period especially under challenges of the Sudanese war along the flight corridor between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia.
Just as stated by the NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, some of the challenges were as a result of organisational hitches from Saudi Authorities which were beyond the capacity and purview of the commission, as a responsible entity the commission remained resolute in addressing these hitches by constantly engaging Saudi authorities to resolve the impasses immediately.
NAHCON will continue to perform its duties in ensuring hitch free experience by Nigerian pilgrims. It is towards this determination that the chairman quickly set up a committee in the middle of the Hajj exercise to identify and bring up solutions for immediate and future implementation
It is worthy of note that the article highlighted the steps taken by NAHCON to address in concrete terms all challenges in real time.
Fatima Sandra Usara is assistant director, Public Affairs, NAHCON