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How NAHCON expands horizon of friendship through Hajj operations




The 2016 Hajj may have come and gone, but as most Hajjis (Pilgrims) would testify it is a ‘never-ending-story’. It is told and re-told at every opportunity by the participant to every visitors-their experience before, during and after the Hajj rites. So many others would regale their listeners with the amount of shopping spree they engaged in while some others would only recall the sight and vision of the Holy Cities of Makkah and Madina.

The overall verdict of most of the participants at this year’s Hajj from Nigeria has been in A-Plus for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) for the great improvements in the of provision of feeding, accommodation, transportation and tent services at Muna and Arafat.

This ‘feel good factor’ is however not limited to the improved welfare services alone, the commission’s ability to airlift all Nigerian pilgrims to and from the Holy land promptly and on schedule and well ahead of the stipulated time was also a marked achievement which deserved celebration, especially against the backdrop of the fact that the country was once an outcast due to its inability to creditably perform this singular function.

The greatest joy is the fact that the once upon a time toddler (Nigeria) which is always at the receiving end of the Saudi big stick due to its inability to perform the most basic of functions (transportation) and was tottering towards the danger of being blacklisted by the Saudi authority has now grown into full adulthood and even showing the light to the supposed first world of Hajj planning countries.

Like President Buhari, the Chairman/CEO of NAHCON, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammed was carrying the message of ‘Change’ to the rest of the Muslim nations. The ‘I can-do-spirit’’ saw it embark on study tours of some Muslim countries touted as the model and best Hajj affairs managers in the world, notably, South Africa, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Indonesia; and also to some other African countries well below the standard of Nigeria such as Niger and Senegal.

Though to the puritans, Hajj is a sacred act of worship – not an arena for politics of partisanship, but at the same time, the Glorious Quran enjoined the pilgrims and Muslim nations not to limit the benefit of Hajj to the realm of spiritualism, but to explore the commercial, economic and bilateral relationship between people and nations.

Perhaps it was in realisation of this Quranic injunction that the NAHCON management on the side of organising the return journey of pilgrims back home traversed the City of Makkah and Jeddah to give good tidings and advance the cause of friendship between it and major Hajj and Islamic countries in Africa and South East Asia.

NAHCON’s historic visit to Pakistan, Indonesia, Bangladesh, South Africa, Senegal and Nigeria Hajj Missions in Saudi Arabia remained one of the unforgettable highlights and experience of the 2016 Hajj.

The visitation not only changed some of the negative impressions of some of these countries had had about Nigeria and what we thought about ourselves. Furthermore, it shows that in spite of everything we also have so many things to be proud of. More than anything, it catapulted NAHCON’s profile into an emerging new league and underlined once more the determination of the new regime to upgrade Nigeria’s Hajj affairs to a laudable height.

The interaction debunked the mythical concept Nigerians had about some countries hitherto regarded as the best. But most importantly, it showed that ‘no one has everything and there isn’t anyone that has nothing’. For instance, the Indonesian and the Pakistani officials marvelled at how the Nigerian Hajj Mission was able to get all the Nigerian pilgrims to visit Madina and evacuation of Zam-Zam water to Nigeria in the first phase of the operation. In addition, they also wanted to learn the magic used by Nigeria in accommodating its pilgrims in the exclusive Marlaziyah area of Madina Munawara.

Again, the meeting of minds also enlightened Nigerians on the participation of Saudi Arabia registered airline – Flynas – in the airlift operations in Nigeria. To the chagrin of most of Nigerians on the entourage, it was learnt that Indonesia in spite of being a global hub of aviation business with over a hundred aircraft belonging to Garuda Airline was also forced to split its pilgrims 50/50 with Saudi Airline, the same with Pakistan which despite the array of possessing several Boeing 747 aircraft owned and managed by the Pakistan International Airline.

Nigeria was also hailed for the novel and unique introduction of the e-wrist band. Even though security concern by the Saudi authority denied Nigerian pilgrims the use of the digital device, however, the nations of Bangladesh, Pakistan, South Africa and Indonesia commended NAHCON for its foresight which they think is a device for the future. In fact, they confirmed their willingness to buy into the Nigeria idea in future Hajj. According to them, the device is the only panacea to monitoring and safeguarding the movements and lives of their pilgrims in the Holy land.

The friendly visit to these countries Hajj mission may not quite have that momentous in the short-term, but the longer view is that the cross-fertilisation of ideas during the last Hajj may reverberate far into the future.

Of wider consequence is that some of the countries have resolved to work and assist each other in the area of Information Communication Technology (ICT) software acquisition and training. Those countries Pakistan, Indonesia, South Africa and Bangladesh have promised to reciprocate the NAHCON’s visit in the future with the aim of bridging the communication gap and to further explore opportunities to build closer ties with their Nigerian counterpart.

• Ubandawaki is a staff of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in Abuja.

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