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Upbeat swing as Hajj commission counts blessings

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Zikrullah

Chairman, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria NAHCON, Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, has said activities at the hajj house have significantly transformed in the last 12 months despite the devastating impact of COVID-19 pandemic on the entire globe.

Zikrullah, who spoke with journalists recently on occasion marking his first anniversary as NAHCON chief, explained that the new board had built solid a foundation in hajj house in the last one year.

The fourth board of NAHCON under the leadership of Zikrullah was inaugurated in March 2020 and had since then swung into action with clear vision to transform hajj exercise in line with global best standard.

Although, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not allow the participation of international pilgrims for 2020 Hajj, Zikrullah said substantial targets were accomplished in the year under review.

Among achievements recorded with a year in office were successful launch of Hajj Saving Scheme (HSS), digitalisation of hajj activities, renovation and reinvigoration of zonal office.

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According to Zikrullah, “Since the time we assumed duties as the fourth board of NAHCON, despite all the challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, we made frantic efforts to at least move the activities of the commission to the next level to enhance hajj operations in the country generally.

“Last year, precisely in February, when we formally assumed office, we immediately swung into action by continuing the preparations of Hajj 2020, from where our predecessors stopped. At that material time, the intending pilgrims were overwhelmingly paying their hajj fares when abruptly the breakout of the COVID-19 began to rear its face and was spreading globally like a wildfire, which also prompted for the partial participation in the performance of hajj last year.

“The situation of the coronavirus did not discourage the commission from its preparations. As of the time the Saudi authorities made its official pronouncement on the fate of 2020 hajj operations worldwide, the commission was ready for the operation.

Zikrullah revealed that while the commission was preparing for 2020 hajj operations, the board deemed it fit pursuing some of its vital goals within the first four years of tenure.

He said: “Let me emphasise that the fourth board carefully studied the situation of hajj operations in Nigeria. It came to the conclusion that the actualisation of the establishment of the Hajj Savings Scheme in the country is the only lasting panacea for hajj affordability and successful operations.

“Alhamdulillah, Hajj Savings Scheme is a baby which has been nurtured by the past leadership of the commission. When we came on board, the immediate predecessor had moved the effort to the advanced stage.

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“Just at the tail end of last year, the long awaited Hajj Savings Scheme was signed and subsequently successfully launched in Kano and Lagos at different times. Ever since, the commission has been embarking on a robust campaigns and sensitisation of the general Muslim public for acceptability of the scheme in our society.

He said further: “That the massive registration of the intending pilgrims we are witnessing with the scheme is as a result of that interaction. Nigerian Muslims are keying into the scheme, in less than three months of launching, good number of Muslims are already into the scheme. Ladies and gentlemen, I want to assure you that Hajj Savings Scheme has come to stay in Nigeria and with the scheme on ground, 60 per cent of hajj operations’ perennial challenges will be solved.

“Nigeria’s hajj authorities will have enough time to plan well ahead of time for hajj operations, this single achievement will allow for more sanity in the performance of hajj. By the time the scheme matures fully, it will boost and invigorate our national economy and provide employment for our youths.”

The chairman explained that the commission had concluded all the necessary interfaces with necessary stakeholders and discussions were being finalised with NBTE approval for academic curriculum for tutoring in the proposed National Hajj Training Institute.

“To complement the effort and in spite of the lean resources of the commission, we provide optimal priority on the staff training skills development. As I am speaking to you, so many staff of the commission have either undergone training or are on training, both locally and internationally, and this will continue to enable most of our staff to benefit from the training in order to enhance their productivity.

“Another scorecard for the commission is in the area of digital transformation. About a month ago, the commission was able to successfully launch a Digital Transformation Master Plan. The project is a complete automation of process and procedures, as well as human capacity development in line with NITDA’s e-government strategy to attain high efficiency in delivery services to Nigerian pilgrims.

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“At present, the commission has accomplished the following areas of the project. Deployment of Financial Software System (80% Completion), deployment and complete setup of Data Economic Centre (DEC) in collaboration with NITDA, deployment of smart system for Licensing & Registration of Hajj Travel Agencies (70% completion), and deployment and adoption of the Digital Transformation Master Plan.

On hajj 2021, Zikrullah disclosed that although the Saudi authorities had not declared the reopening for Hajj 2021 to international contingents, he was optimistic that the hajj would hold.

He was quick to declare that Nigeria was exempted on the list of countries recently blacklist from participating in spiritual exercise due to the density level of COVID-19 in the countries.

“Regarding whether Hajj 2021 will happen, let me say that like many other nations in the globe, Nigeria is also waiting for official pronouncement from Saudi authorities. The current situation is that, Saudi, up till date, has not released any official statement with regards to whether Hajj 2021 will take place or not, but from our expectations and hopes, with the recent procurement of Covid-19 vaccination, there is hope for Hajj 2021 to take place in full performance.

“There is a high hope for Nigeria to be among the nations to participate in Hajj. If we follow the recent release from Saudi of the countries listed as having higher risk and banned from Umrah participation, Nigeria is not included,” Zikrullah noted.

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