‘Why Nigeria’s hajj services face avoidable challenges’
Incessant delay in payment and poor preparations for the yearly hajj have been identified as major setbacks to successful religious rites performed by Nigerians.
The Managing Director of Habdat Xpress, Alhaji Qasim Alabi, who revealed this in a exclusive chart with The Guardian noted that the nation has improved tremendously in hajj operations, but there are still some avoidable challenges that trailed the holy exercise.
Alabi said although, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) made spirited effort to arrest the challenges of poor treatment of pilgrims at the just concluded hajj rites, more critical factors should also be considered.
On the shortcomings of the 2017 hajj, he said: “We are all at fault, everybody have a share of the blame one way or the other. NAHCON, the tour operators, and service providers, all have the blame to share in a way.
“We are bound to face this kind of challenges every year. Once Nigeria continues to remit money late to Saudi authority, you can imagine the kind of impromptu service that will be given to us. NAHCON use to give all tour operators deadline to make payment, such payment will eventually be remited to Saudi Arabia’s service providers but Nigerian tour operators will not pay on time. This year, some were not able to meet deadline, they were giving some kind of extension and that probably affected remitting money to Saudi Arabia to pay service provider on time.
“Am sure NAHCON too was thrown into a kind of confusion because initially when they rolled out allocations. We taught people would not turn up, eventually state operators, private tour operators were requesting for more allocations from NAHCON. I think it will go a long way if we sit down at a round table meeting and decide as regard when we will fix for the deadline and ensure that we go by the deadline,” he said.
Alabi explained further: “The earlier we start hajj planning, the better for us in Nigeria. Over the years Nigerian pilgrims will start hajj payment after Ramadan, whereas other countries would have concluded hajj preparation before Ramadan. Here in Nigeria some of us will keep on making arrangement until when the potter is about to be closed”. He said there was need for NAHCON, state hajj operators; tour operators to start creating awareness early, to ensure that people pay for their hajj trip on time.
“If they pay on time am very sure we will be more organize because with that we will know the number of people going for hajj.Alabi said, “as regards complain of pilgrims on service provided at Muna and Arafat. It depends on the angle we are looking at it from. Some will be true while some will be unfounded.
When pilgrims said he or she did not get the kind of service they paid for, then we have to look at it from two angles. What kind of services are we talking about? Is it the one that is within the purview of the tour operators or the one that have to do with service provider in Saudi Arabia.“If the complain is about accommodation and feeding arrangement, they were giving in Makah and Medina. That has to do with tour operators what type of promises did the tour operators promised them in the first instance because we have different facility for accommodations. It depends on the package they opt for.
“For example my own company, our accommodation in Makah and Medina are very close to Aram, the one in Medina is just five minutes stretch to Aram while the one in Makah is as if you are praying in Aram. Once you step out of the hotel you will join Aram solat.
“We actually told our pilgrims that they were giving accommodation that will be like 15 minutes stretch to Aram but eventually we got something closer and we paid for it while others operators were not as fortunate as we. They have their accommodation far from Aram. If their complain is distance from Aram, they are to complain to tour operators who organized the trip for them. Our pilgrims were fed both in Makah and Medina; they were giving breakfast and dinner through out the hajj period,” he explained.
He said another challenges face by pilgrims at mina, there was no tent for some pilgrims to stay at Mina. “ It actually happen to many tour operators and am equally aware of the fact that even some state were affected so much that some were relocated from were they were initially to another tent entirely after Eid Arafat.
“We meet the service provider and lay complain. They apologise and explain what actually went wrong. They claimed, they were not actually expecting that kind of large number from Nigeria. But I wondered how come they are not aware of the large number of pilgrims coming from Nigeria after issuing them visas.He noted that The Chairman of NAHCON, Barr. Muktar Abdullah, intervened on the matter and promise to rectify the problem and promise to provide better place to stay.
“When we came back from Arafat we were taking to a new location closer to Muzdalifa,” he said. He said, on the issue of preferential treatment between Arab pilgrims and non-Arab pilgrims. “I can’t say there was preferential treatment in dealing with Arabs and non Arabs; there are several packages you can pay for when you go on hajj trip.
There is a different between Tent A and Tent B both at Mina and Arafat, we are talking about N500, 000 variance. If you are going on hajj and you pay for tent A, it is going to be closer to Jamurat and better in terms of the kind of service you will get there. I don’t think anybody in tenth A will complain, if they complained at all it will be minimal because they actually got what they pay for.
You cannot compare those countries that finished their hajj preparation on time with those that finished late. We don’t know how much pilgrims from Arab country paid. You can compare people who pay N1.2 million with people who pay N1.5 million of course the accommodation will be difference in terms of closeness to Aram. The service will be different in a way.
He commended NAHCON effort on the area of health; they are very responsive because they actually have hospital and health centers everywhere to attend to needs of pilgrims.He urged the government to assist businesses; one of the reasons over the years when we have issues of hike in hajj price is because of rate of exchange. We are aware of the fact that there are different windows of forex being giving to people and I will say that we too enjoy from the window but the government can do more than that.
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