No payments to 2020 hajj service providers, commission insists
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has declared that no financial commitment was made to service providers in and outside the country regarding this year’s pilgrimage.
Faulting a publication by this paper on Friday that N150 billion hajj fees were being ‘trapped’ over the cancelled religious journey by Saudi Arabia in a statement yesterday, NAHCON’s Head of Public Affairs, Fatima Sanda Usara, said arrangements by the fourth board had never gone beyond negotiations.
She clarified: “First, cancellation of hajj itself was only finalised on June 22, 2020. But prior to that date, Saudi Arabia had already suspended Umrah visit since February 27, 2020, and directed that hajj arrangements be put on hold till March 31, 2020.
“The latter directive, especially, warned against making any financial commitments or confirming bookings in the kingdom until instructed to do so. Therefore, the stage at which the alleged payments were made to service providers remains a question requiring an answer from the writer.
“Secondly, it is pertinent to note that since the directive by Saudi Arabia for suspension of hajj arrangements, NAHCON had not issued any hajj licence neither to state pilgrims’ welfare boards nor to private tour operators pending the outcome of Saudi Arabia’s decision.
“Nonetheless, the commission had received applications and carried out an in-house screening of eligible candidates for licensing, awaiting time when a go-ahead notification will be issued by the Saudi authorities. Yet, licence for hajj was never issued for 2020 pilgrimage.”
The spokesperson went on: “It would be recalled that NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, had informed the general public in several interviews that no financial commitment was made to service providers in Saudi Arabia or in Nigeria for 2020 hajj. It is also a fact that it was while the fourth board was carrying out accommodation and catering negotiations in Saudi Arabia that the doubts on hajj and Umrah first emerged in the kingdom. Therefore, hajj arrangements had never gone beyond negotiations.”
“True, NAHCON had approved collection of hajj fares by state pilgrims’ welfare boards and private tour operators in readiness for any eventualities, with the caveat that if hajj does not hold, depositors will be refunded their monies if they so wish. Hajj fare collection, however, does not translate to payments being made to service providers anywhere in the world. As a matter of fact, some state pilgrims’ boards and private tour agencies had already commenced refund of hajj fares to pilgrims who desire for such.
“As for licensed tour operators, their Umrah licence fees and caution deposits were actually returned to them by the commission. Besides, bearing in mind that hajj licence had not been issued to the tour operators, coupled with the fact that the hosts themselves had instructed the world hajj operators to halt any financial commitment on hajj preparations, it is an injustice to the private operators for the reporter to insinuate that all of them had gone ahead to make payments despite the ban. And if anyone among them had done so prior to the official statement by Saudi Arabia, any operator so involved knows that Saudi authorities have systems in place for them to recover their deposits without collision. NAHCON will always safeguard the rights of pilgrims whether under private or state quota.”
Usara further noted: “Again, in the report, it was stated that, ‘no fewer than 80, 000 Nigerians were on the trip list out of 95,000 slots given to Nigeria by Saudi authorities’.
“The commission is interested in knowing how the reporter arrived at this figure, because as the apex body in charge of hajj in Nigeria, NAHCON has not disclosed this figure anywhere nor do we claim to have recorded such a number. Due to apprehension associated with the COVID-19 pandemic and hajj, many intending pilgrims were reluctant in making deposits. Total of registered pilgrims for 2020 hajj on the commission’s e-hajj portal is 13, 457.”
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