Nigeria is getting it right on hajj, say NAHCON officials
That the 2016 hajj exercise came out successful few days ago is reiterating the obvious. But the goodness is that, a lot of hard work, team work and personal sacrifices that went into the exercises at all levels are what stakeholders would be discussing for some time, as they analyse the exercise, against the backdrop of not-too pleasant experiences of the past.
The Abuja Deputy Bureau Chief, Mohammed Abubakar, who was part of the media team for this year’s hajj sat down separately with a National Commissioner representing South West in the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, (NAHCON) and Chief Imam of Al-Habibiyah Islamic Society based in Abuja, Fuad Adeyemi and Kamaldeen Akintunde, the National President of the National Council of Muslims Youths Organisation, (NACOMYO) in Makkah. Their verdict was unanimous; that is, with the right leadership at NAHCON, Nigeria is beginning to get its bearing right. But they believe a lot still need to be done to meet the international best practices.
Imam Adeyemi in his comment said: “I have been involved in hajj matters for the past 10-15 years. But in the last six years, there has been a special committee that was set up by the federal government, which was recommended by the Sultan himself, His Eminence, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, they call it National Ulamas Team, which comprises about 30 leading Islamic Scholars in Nigeria. With all humility as at the time I was there I was almost the smallest of all the scholars, but it was a very good platform.
“I am not just the youngest, but I was smallest among them, because it is a committee that has people like Sheik Dahiru Bauchi, Sheik Sani Yahya Jnigir, Chief Imam of South-West, the President-General of the League of Imams and Alfas of South West, that has people like Sheik Abdullahi Bala Lau and the Imam of Owerri, all these personalities that have big names in Islam, that somebody like me has been part of it. So Allah has actually exposed me to so many activities of hajj because in most of the times I would go from Rivers, sometimes, I would go from Sokoto, sometimes I would go from Abuja, sometimes from Lagos, so it has really exposed me to the problems and challenges of the pilgrims and when I came in as the commissioner representing South West, it now gives me some kind of experience to be able to have a take off,”
On the new things in this year’s Hajj exercise, Adeyemi said: “If you look at this year’s hajj, it is unique in so many ways and so many things are novel in it. We look at innovations that are within NAHCON, that are new from Saudi Arabian government itself, things that are new even from the pilgrims.
“Let’s take it one after the other. NAHCON for the first time, the entire Nigerian pilgrims have been accommodated in a place that is called Markaziya, a place that is within five minutes trek from wherever they were to the Holy Prophet’s Mosque in Madina. Secondly, the food that was served also improved and thirdly we had about 100 per cent movement to Madina from Nigeria in straight flights. The implication of this is that the crisis or the controversy that pilgrims used to face from Jeddah to Madina and from Jeddah to Makkah was not there, as a result, we were able to concentrate. Fouth, the Saudi government also introduced their own wrist band, which was given to every pilgrim to track every pilgrim that has come for hajj and the organised manner in which things were put together prevented tragedies which were faced last year. There were lots of discomfort which pilgrims are used to experience upon coming back from Mina.
According to him, Saudi government achieved the organised segmented manner they wanted the stoning at Jamarat to be carried out. it was very successful, because it actually reduced the crowd that usually move to Jamarat at the same time.
Adeyemi said: “The future now is maintaining or if you like sustaining and improving the current hajj exercise and I believe by the special grace of Allah, since we are now in a very good step I believe that insha’allah by next year, we will improve on what we have achieved this year and new things that we were unable to do this year, will be done. You know the management of NAHCON is actually determined to make that difference.”
President, National Council of Muslim Youth Organisations (NACOMYO), Kamaldeen Akintunde, said: “This year’s Hajj operations improved tremendously taken some indices to consideration, both on the parts of the government of the country as well as on the part of the host government, that is the Saudi Arabia. If you want to talk of airlift, I think, the airlift arrangement has become a near perfect initiative now, taking cognisance of the fact that in years by Nigerian pilgrims have had cause to miss hajj because of the haphazard arrangements concerning airlift, but in the recent past, airlift arrangements have become very smooth.
“Again, you must commend the arrangements in terms of visa and consular arrangements, you give commendation to the Saudi embassy too for ensuring smooth issuance of visa. In the past, it will take you a long time before you can secure a visa, but this time around we must give thanks to the fact that Nigeria, just like the whole world has come of age, concerning the technological revolution which has been aiding not just in the issuance of visa but in other related things that are connected with human endeavours.
“You may also want to talk of the improved accommodation arrangements both in Makkah and Madina, unlike before we used to have normal home setting, houses that are just provided with beds, but this time around, in the last three or four years, it has been an hotel accommodation, for both the state boards and NAHCON and here must commend NAHCON too for insistence that states must ensure a befitting accommodation for their pilgrims. Talking of the difference between citizens of other countries and Nigeria by now you find them in hotels, but what one should be talking about is the nearness of the hotels to Haram, the sacred Mosque, and this has to do with the event you can provide funds. But generally there has been a vast improvement when you are talking of hajj operations in the country as compared to the past.”
For Akintunde, it is not yet a celebration time as there is always room for improvement: “We will expect that the Muna arrangement is still given a special consideration because you can be talking of inadequacy of bed allocation and that is why you find so many pilgrims packed under the tents together as if it’s a dormitory, well I don’t see it as a problem of NAHCON, it will require the involvement and cooperation of both NAHCON and the Saudi authorities, to the extent that one would expect our Muasasas, our co-organisers of hajj to ensure that an improvement is given to our Muna arrangements.
“Of course, you will also want to see that the feeding arrangement too is not yet perfect. Even though the idea of feeding was introduced some few years back, you will expect us to be feeding on Nigerian dishes, of course that has been improvement too just that we have been feeding on their local foods we still want to improve on the type of food no of course the food do arrive very late. You will not expect a dinner to be taken as a breakfast and a break fast to be taken as a lunch, you still need to ask the caterers to ensure that food is provided as at when due so that when you take dinner you know you are taking dinner so that the food does not get spoilt midway because of the difficulty in the delivery.”