Dhikrullah Olakunle Hassan: Hajj commission’s new sheriff with glad tidings for pilgrims

He didn’t mince words as he and his team appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs last Wednesday in Abuja.The newly appointed Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria ....

He didn’t mince words as he and his team appeared before the Senate Committee on Foreign Affairs last Wednesday in Abuja.The newly appointed Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Dhikrullah Olakunle Hassan hit the nail on the head when he told the distinguished senators that the cost of undertaking the spiritual journey to Makkah and Medinah in Saudi Arabia must be made affordable for many Nigerians to fulfil that religious obligation, at least, once in their life time.

Indeed, Alhaji Hassan is a veteran in Hajj management having served as Chairman/Amir Hajj of Osun State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board (2010-2018) as well as Senior Special Assistant to the Osun State Governor on Religious Affairs (2010-2018).Besides, he had also garnered sufficient experience in the private sub-sector of hajj services as Chief Executive, Tafsan Tours &Travels, (Official Hajj &Umrah Operator of Nasirul-lahi Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT)).

But what appeared to have prepared him well for his new assignment as NAHCON head was when he provided leadership for the Forum of State Chairmen and Secretaries of Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board Agency between 2014 and 2017. As a result, his new appointment, which was confirmed by the Senate on Thurday along side other members of the NAHCON Board, has been hailed as “putting the round peg in a round hole.”
Rolling out his agenda at the senate screening on Wednesday, Alhaji Hassan said his team would accord priority to the Hajj saving scheme, Hajj Training Institute as well taking a critical look at the number of days pilgrims spend in the holy land.He identified the issue of affordability as a major problem of Hajj for Nigerians. He said his administration would ensure the speedy take-off of the Hajj Saving Scheme to address this problem. He said if Malaysia and Indonesia could solve the problem of affordability with the scheme, there was no reason Nigeria could not do the same and even better.

The new NAHCON boss said Hajj operation has become a profession and should be treated as such in Nigeria. Towards that end, he promised to pursue the setting up of a Hajj Training Institute of international repute to train Nigerians and nationals of other countries on the rudiments of Hajj.He also said his board would take a critical look at the NAHCON Act with a view to enforcing to the letter, the aspects that are still in abeyance.

And since Thursday when the news of the confirmation became public, the aggregate of messages from the Muslim community across Nigeria centred on the need to turnaround the process for efficient and effective Hajj management.A Muslim leader, renowned banker and philanthropist, Chief Jamiu Ekungba, said: “Alhaji Hassan as one of our foremost learned brothers to whom most us hold in high esteem because of his usual truthful, factual, sincere and frank admonition knows enough of the demand of this very demanding task Allah has chosen to place on his shoulder at this time. I, therefore, will only beg him to be very careful of Nigerians who will suddenly now try to overwhelm him so much that they can becloud his fair appraisal and understanding of issues and thereafter contaminate and adulterate his judgement.”

According to Professor Lai Olurode, Department of Sociology, University of Lagos, “if there is any national agency that continues to face the same set of challenges year in year out without commensurate turnaround it is the Hajj Commission.”Olurode therefore, counsels the new Chairman “to receive briefings from all stakeholders, study important reports and never take decisions based on emotions. He must seek to understand the nature of his job and product he has been asked to market.”
As a renowned sociologist, Olurode went down memory lane noting that “so harrowing are the experiences of many that they never prayed for a repeat performance of Hajj rites.”He made reference to the documentation the former Governor of Lagos State, Alhaji Lateef Kayode Jakande did in 1977 when he performed  the pilgrimage.

Olurode said, “In that year, Nigeria recorded the largest number of pilgrims the world over. A total of 104,557 performed that year’s Hajj which made us the largest contingent. Some of the challenges then enumerated by LKJ remain persistent. So, I will urge the new Chairman of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria to give utmost attention to issues of  planning, welfare and logistics.

“To be more specific, solid arrangements must be put in place for frequent interactions between state Hajj Pilgrims Boards and the National Hajj Commission for there to be synergy and cooperation. The image of Nigeris is at stake. As a matter of fact, the National Hajj Commission is to coordinate activities of the state boards.

“In all these, the welfare of pilgrims and their perceptions remain the yardstick to judge effectiveness of Hajj operations. Concrete contracts must be sealed with aircraft owners on flight schedule – both for departure and return journey. Movements within Saudi Arabia must be well coordinated and reception must be warm. No Nigerian pilgrim must be left at the mercy of others, no matter how philanthropic those others might be. Nigerians must not be turned into beggars in Saudi on account of flight delays or poor communication.

“Most pilgrims will be first time visitors to the land, therefore they deserve to be sufficiently sensitised on rules and regulations that guide Hajj, so that they do not run foul of the law. Screening of intending pilgrims must be thorough and procedural. The social component of Hajj must be watered down. Though, the last pillar of Islam, it must be only for the committed ones. Funding is key to successful Hajj operations, so, I urge governments at all levels to give priority to prompt release of fund. If funds are inadequate and they are released late, this may frustrate planning. Secondly, those performing Hajj should fear Allah. Hajj is not a trading expedition. Pilgrims should travel light and return light. They should give priority to the performance of rites of Hajj and not to trading. Those saddled with Hajj operations at all levels must see it as a call in the service of Allah and not for pecuniary motive. I urge the Chairman to consolidate on the gains of the recent past and never attempt to reinvent the wheel for personal gain or ego. He should be committed to strengthening the institution of Hajj.”
Executive Management Committee of the Muslim Public Affairs Centre (MPAC) has also offered words of advice for the new head of NAHCON. In a satement signed by its Executive Chairman, Disu Kamor, the centre said, “your appointment, we are conscious of, is informed by your track record as an excellent performer in all the responsibilities Allah has entrusted on you from your adolescent and youthful days up to now, making you pre-eminently qualified for such an important national assignment.

“We urge you to remain focused on your vision of making Hajj self sustaining, affordable, and scoring very high on global best practice and standards. It has been the long held opinion of MPAC, and one which we have severally made submissions on, that Government should stop sponsoring pilgrims on hajj or to Jerusalem as tourists. Rather, the main job of the government in respect to pilgrimmage is to facilitate hajj operations, especially in respect to the consular and diplomatic relations and needs, and to empower the citizens to be in the economic/financial position to self-sponsor or to sponsor others. We are therefore glad that the administration of PMB made such a policy decision as soon as he came to power and hopefully he, and the state governments, will faithfully pursue it.

“In this vein, it is our hope that Hajj will be strictly for what it is, a spiritual affair, not for pecuniary purposes or political patronage. It is our hope that under you, NAHCON will sustain the reforms of your immediate predecessor, further improve its services, ensure close and healthy working relationship with all stakeholders and ultimately deliver better results for the nation.”

Born on June 26, 1961, Alhaji Hassan hails from Osun State. He is a polyglot as he speaks Yoruba, Arabic and English. He holds a BSc degree in Business Administration from the University of Lagos, LLB from the Lagos State University and BL from the Nigerian Law School, Lagos.
In addition to many posts he has held within Hajj management circle, Alhaji Hassan served as Chairman, Board of Trustees of FAJR Centre (a standardized Centre for Memorization and Teaching of Islam and Arabic); Director of Dawah (Islamic Propagation) of The Companion (an Association of Muslim Men in Business and the Professions); Amir, Muslim Student Society of Nigeria (MSSN), Lagos Area Unit 1984- 1986; National President, MSSN 1986-1988; Secretary, Africa Secretariat of the World Assembly of Muslim Youth (WAMY) 1986-1990; Member of the Committee of Ulama of Lagos State Pilgrim Welfare Board Hajj Exercise, 2000-2002; Amir, The Companion, Lagos District 2004-2006 and Executive Secretary, NASFAT 2004-2006.

A member of the Nigerian Bar Association, he has attended several conferences and seminars on Hajj in London and Malaysia and has won several awards from NAHCON for the Osun State Pilgrims Welfare Board.Other members of the new Board are Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa from Bauchi State (Commissioner in charge of Operation, Inspection and Licensing); Nura Hassan Yakasai from Kano State (Commissioner – Policy, Personnel Management and Finance) and Sheikh Momoh Suleman Imonikhe from Edo State (Commissioner – Planning , Research, Statistics, Information and Library).

Other part-time members are Halimat Jibril from Niger State,, Abba Jatto, Borno State, Garba Umar from Sokoto State and Ibrahim Ogbonnia Amah from Ebonyi State, Sadiq Musa from Delta State and Akintunde Basirat Olayinka from Ogun State. Institutional representatives are Shehu Dogo (Ministry of Aviation), Nura Abba Rimi (Ministry of Foreign Affairs), Rabi Bello Isa (Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning), Zainab Sherrif (Ministry of Health), Aminu Bako Yarima (Nigeria Immigration Service) and Ibrahim Ishaq Nuhu (Central Bank of Nigeria), Dr. Bala Muhammad (Jama’atul Nasril Islam) and Yusuf Chinedozi Nwoha (Nigeria Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs).

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