Laying foundation for Hajj 2018, By Mousa Ubandawaki

The 2017 Hajj has gone with the controversy, drama and, of course, its successful end- what more can one ask for?
In fact, that is the one thing about Hajj every successive year. There will always be bit of blot, a feature that will make it distinct or unique. As it’s often said, yesterday is gone, confined to the dust bin of history, while today is the time and turn to prepare for the question (tomorrow) – the 2018 Hajj. After the stock taking and celebration of the 2017 Hajj, attention and focus immediately shifted to the 2018 Hajj.
Since the reforms last year and which is still continuing, they aren’t always pretty and good music to the ear of many who are beneficiaries of the status quo. Sometimes, they are messy and frequently interrupted and filled with knocks and frantic improvisation to discredit them,
Even long before the return of the last Nigerian pilgrims from Saudi Arabia, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has begun to lay a foundation and building on the momentum to record another impressive return, so that the 2018 Hajj may be the best.
Awaken to the fact that if organizations must keep on achieving successful results, it should not lift up its feet from the pedal else your competitor may seize the initiative. To this end, NAHCON instituted a committee that included executives of states pilgrims’ welfare boards/agencies to seal accommodation contract with house owners/hoteliers in Medina and Makkah. This was with a view to retain the houses and ward off the interest of countries like Malaysia, Indonesia and Pakistan, many of whom have shown interest in occupying the Markaziya area of Medina because of its proximity to the Grand Mosque.
Similarly, the Mashair committee, who like a phoenix that rises from its ashes, has had its mandate renewed but with a proviso to ensure that the blight in the services provided by the Muassassah (the establishment responsible for the provision of the space, facility/equipment in Mina and Arafat) were cleared once and for all, especially the issue of space in Mina for Nigerian contingent is addressed next year. For those who have been on pilgrimage before, this has been a recurring headache not only for Nigeria, but almost all the participating countries. Though the answer is obvious – the available space in Mina is elastic, while pilgrims’ population continues to grow. Thus, the Muassassah had to find a mid-course to address the concerns of most of the countries.
Perhaps, the most important step taken in the march towards the 2018 Hajj by the commission is the directive to SPWB/A to start collecting Hajj deposits from intending pilgrims with as low as N300,000. This step, though far-off from the idea of the Hajj Saving scheme which the establishment Act of 2006 envisaged, was adopted as a stop-gap measure to reduce the desperation on the part of intending pilgrims to meet up the payment balance. In fact, this measure was intended as a re-design of the era of payment in one fell swoop.
Followers of NAHCON activities were very much aware the issue of the Hajj savings scheme has been on the front-burner for more than a decade. Efforts have been made in the past to give vent to its implementation which has seen NAHCON’s delegation taking study tour of Malaysia with appreciable results and the only clog is how the outfit will operate without falling foul of CBN regulation. At a national workshop in July, strident calls were made to the commission to find a way out of the quagmire. It is therefore a form of breakthrough to allow State pilgrims boards collect deposits from intending pilgrims and keep in a special account so that pilgrims will no longer be frantically looking for money towards the deadline.
One of the things that many Nigerian public organizations have often come under severe criticism was starting some of their programmes a little “too late” culminating in unmitigated failure. This has become something of the past.
As we may be aware, airlift is the heart-beat of any Hajj operations world-wide. In the light of the above, the commission apart from holding exclusive meetings with airlines immediately after the 2017 Hajj exercise. As part of given vent to the resolution/recommendations at the meeting, the commission has rolled out adverts for application for 2018 Hajj airlift exercise for both cargo and pilgrims carriers.
The adverts coming six months ahead of the normal time is expectedly going to give the prospective airliners the ample time to negotiate for a good aircraft as well as giving them a competitive price that would have a net-effect in lowering the price of Hajj fare which Nigerian pilgrims can benefit from.
The upswing in the preparation for the 2018 Hajj is however not limited to the state led boards alone, the travel and tour operators witnessed a re-balancing of its acts/operation too.
The commission recently approved a calendar of events for both the state boards/ tour operators, so that there won’t be rowdy session in the programming of Hajj activities in accordance with the Saudi rules which stipulates that every action concerning the 2018 must be concluded by may, – a clear three months before the commencement of Hajj – when the Hajj portals will be closed.
However, as much impressive as these visionary and strategic plans are, they could only be achieved only through one thing which is well- known. All hands must be on the deck to make it succeed.

Ubandawaki is a staff of NAHCON), Abuja

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