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Hajj savings scheme: Fulfilling religious obligation with ease

By Murtala Adewale, Kano
08 November 2020   |   3:11 am
Embarking on pilgrimage to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina is a spiritual obligation for Muslims the world over. Little wonder, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a melting pot for millions of Muslim faithful across the globe every year. During the pilgrimage, skin colour, race, and multilingual heritage converge to observe the sacred…

Embarking on pilgrimage to the holy cities of Makkah and Medina is a spiritual obligation for Muslims the world over. Little wonder, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is a melting pot for millions of Muslim faithful across the globe every year.

During the pilgrimage, skin colour, race, and multilingual heritage converge to observe the sacred act in Islamic ordinance.

Every Muslim, who is financially and physically capable is enjoined to embark on the spiritual journey, at least, once in his or her lifetime.
Though a whole lot of Muslims desire to perform the hajj, many are unable to do so in Nigeria. Except for a few, who are sponsored by government and wealthy individuals, the overall cost is beyond the reach of an average citizen, no thanks to the present economic realities.

This narrative is partly responsible for why Nigeria had consistently struggled and, or still find it difficult to fill the 95,000 hajj slots being allocated by the Saudi authorities at least in the last four years.

For instance, 166,083 pilgrims performed the 2018 hajj from Africa (9.5 per cent) of the total population of 2.3 million, Saudi Arabia General Authority for Statistics (GASTAT) reported. Nigeria accounted for 34,978 pilgrims (21.06 per cent) of the 166,083 from Africa.

Regrettably, this declining percentage is even worse when compared with the percentage of Muslims who are yet to undertake the journey.

Available data indicate that there are about 109 million (52 per cent) Muslims in Nigeria. Considering the percentage of Muslims in the country, the number of 2018 pilgrims (34,978) indicate that only 0.032 per cent observed hajj. In 2019, 44,450 pilgrims performed hajj, which indicates 0.032 per cent. By implication, those who performed hajj in 2018 and 2019 are less than one per cent of the total population of Muslims in Nigeria.

Finding a practicable solution to the challenge, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) recently launched Hajj Savings Scheme (HSS), a new contributory platform designed to enable intending Muslims to open a savings account in preparation for hajj.

Essentially, the novel platform is conceived to make hajj fare in Nigeria not only affordable but developing reliable culture depositors can build thrust that the dream of visiting the holy sites, sooner than later expected will become a reality.

Unveiling Of Hajj Savings Scheme
Although the concept was conceived long ago, the leadership of the fourth board of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), chaired by Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, broke the yoke that impeded the actualisation of the scheme in the past.

Upon his assumption of office in February 2020, the NAHCON chairman, Zikrullah, declared that his dream was to change the narrative of hajj operation in the country, especially, making it affordable to a significant number of people. Besides, the chairman also promised to transform the hajj practice through the establishment of an institute to build requisite professionalism.

Undoubtedly, the unveiling of HSS, which held in the ancient city of Kano, marked the beginning of Hassan’s aspiration to turn around hajj and umrah operations in line with global best practice.

Speaking at the inauguration, NAHCON head noted that the Hajj Savings Scheme was in pursuant of section 7 (1) of the legal instrument establishing the commission, which empowers NAHCON to, among other things, “establish, supervise and regulate a system of Hajj Savings Scheme to be operated by the Pilgrims Welfare Board of each state and FCT for interested pilgrims.”

According to him, “the event of today is the fulfillment of our mandate using the Jaiz Bank Plc for the take-off of the HSS. The new system will operate concurrently with what we have known as ‘Pay As You Go’ at the transitional period. However, payments made by the 2020 intending pilgrims will remain with the respective State Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards and will be given priority in our preparations for the 2021 hajj exercise.

“This model was designed and developed as a stop-gap for the full-blown Hajj Savings Scheme pending the conclusion of administrative and organisational structure towards obtaining an operating license from the Central Bank of Nigeria. Since we all believe that the future of Hajj lies in a digital-driven financial system, a functional financial system like the HSS is apt as it will set off a chain of opportunities and nationwide economic activities.

“It must be emphasised here that the scheme, when fully implemented, will safeguard the intending pilgrims against fraudsters as you know, the traditional savings methods mostly in use especially in rural areas are fraught with lots of risks and hardship caused by marauders, thieves or even natural disasters like fire outbreak. Also, intending pilgrims will no longer need to sell-off or dispose of their lives savings or assets, nor would they rely on their well-to-do relations to be able to pay for hajj anymore.

“It provides reliable and accurate data for effective and efficient service delivery, enhanced advance planning for accommodation, feeding and airlift operations, offers subsidy and a great opportunity to reduce the cost of hajj, strengthens the economic capacity of contributors, and provides economic power to Muslims to lift them out of poverty. Job creation through pockets of portfolio investments will be provided and aligned Nigeria’s Hajj system to global standard just as it will boost the country’s GDP.”

Enrolment Of Intending Pilgrims On New HSS
Prior to its official launch, NAHCON signed a memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Jaiz Bank Plc, on September 10, 2020, on module Operandi as sole financial vendor of the scheme.

Under the new system, pilgrims are afforded the choice to enroll through state pilgrim’s welfare boards, agencies, or private tour operators. Enrolment, according to the financial institution, will be made convenient through various platforms besides the HSS Apps and branches of Jaiz Bank nationwide, where subscribers must indicate the state in which they intend to make the journey.

On the contrary, HSS has not outlawed the traditional bulk payment through the state and private tour operators.

NAHCON had allayed the fears and concerns being expressed by some stakeholders insinuating that the new scheme will strip the state and tour operators of the traditional function of collecting hajj fare.

“I want to assure them (state and agencies) that, as key players in the scheme, they, like the depositors, stand to benefit more from the accruable profits with the sharing ratio at 40, 30, 20 and 10 for pilgrims, Jaiz Bank, NAHCON and the states respectively. Therefore, your support and cooperation are very critical and important to the success of the scheme,” Hassan assured.

Also speaking at the inauguration of the scheme, the managing director, Jaiz Bank Plc, Mr. Hassan Usman, pledged the commitment of the non-interest commercial bank to transform hajj operations in the country with the new Hajj Savings Scheme.

Besides, he reminded that the new scheme will ease the financial burden of intending pilgrims and making hajj affordable in addition and added that the financial instrument would improve economic viability.

Advance Global Practice on Hajj Savings Scheme
Malaysia, Indonesia, and Maldives have created a notch of global standard and are reference points in hajj fund management in the world. With independent institutions established to manage hajj deposits, the countries are known for seamless hajj preparation besides making the services affordable to all classes of pilgrims over the years.

For instance, Malaysia is one of the first countries to create ‘Tabung Haji’, a well-funded hajj bureaucracy, established to educate and subsidise air travel of pilgrims. As far back 1963, Malaysia set up ‘Tabung Haji’ to manage to intend pilgrim’s deposits with modern and profitable pilgrimage administration, globally recognised.

The fundamental concept behind the institution is to enable Muslims to save for pilgrimage without fear of the money being tainted by riba (interest). Due to the prohibition of interest (riba), Tabung Haji does not lend to people as loans. Instead, they collect savings from the depositors and invest strategically.

With deposits resources, Tabung Haji has established 17 subsidiaries with direct investment, and these subsidiaries span across different sectors, including finance, plantation, construction, telecommunications, utilities, property development, oil and gas, and others. The diversified investments in various sectors have enabled Tabung Haji to cover the rising costs of hajj operations as well as continue to subsidise the cost of hajj for Malaysian pilgrims every year.

In Indonesia, Badan Pengelola Keuangan Haji (BPKH), an independent public legal entity, is established by law to manage hajj funds.

Proceeds on hajj deposits and investments are used to subsidise the fare Indonesians pay yearly for it.

The returns from deposits also cover the operational expenses and a certain percentage of the overall proceeds return to prospective pilgrims’ accounts.

In the Maldives, an Island on the Indian Ocean with less than 600,000 populations of about 100 per cent Muslims have 50 per cent of the hajj quota being managed by Maleesha Hajj Group (MHCL), and the rest 50 per cent is managed by private hajj providers. Moreso, the critical advantage of the scheme, is that it allows deposits invested in a Shariah-compliant investment and proceeds shared among intending pilgrims on percentage.

Stakeholders Expectation On HSS
President General, Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, has appealed to the Muslim faithful to embrace the newly introduced Hajj Savings Scheme (HSS). But Sultan did not throw weight on the new scheme without calling for transparency and accountability in the handling.

Alhaji Sa’ad, who spoke during the unveiling of the scheme in Kano, expressed confidence in the management of the scheme while assuring intending pilgrims security of their depositors under the custody of Jaiz bank. Notwithstanding the advocacy for the scheme, the Sultan calls for transparency and accountability in handling the new project. This, he said, remains the critical crux to guarantee public confidence and acceptance.

A Kano-based hajj tour operator, Alh Mukaila Bilyaminu canvassed the inclusiveness of other financial institutions in the savings scheme.

“I am very happy for the scheme and I actually commend NAHCON and other people involved. This scheme will assist poor people to save money gradually before performing hajj. I am not against Jaiz Bank, but why will NAHCON restrict the Hajj Saving Scheme to Jaiz Bank alone?

“What will happen to the scheme if Jaiz Bank platform collapses, especially close to hajj exercise? What happens if the Bank itself has a problem. We acknowledge the fact that Jaiz Bank is an Islamic bank in Nigeria, but there are other financial institutions, which have products of non-interest,” Bilyaminu said.