We have begun preparations towards successful 2023 Hajj – NAHCON Chairman
The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, has listed steps towards an enhanced management of Hajj pilgrimage in Nigeria from 2023.
Speaking Wednesday at the maiden interactive session with the media, Hassan stated that the commencement of the Public Private Partnership (PPP) in turning waste into riches, official opening of Hajj Institute of Nigeria (HIN), professionalization of the management and administration of Hajj as well as increase in revenue of the Commission are all geared towards a better Hajj management for the country.
The chairman however regretted the drastic reduction in the number of pilgrims during the 2022 Hajj exercise, stressing that Saudi authorities slashed the number from the usual 95,000 pilgrims to 43,000; a figure above 50 per cent.
According to him, the Commission has nevertheless, started preparations towards 2023 Hajj and to tackle any unforeseen challenges, it has started discussions with relevant Saudi authorities on Hajj and Umrah for early information dissemination. And having met with Muassassah during 2022 Hajj 2022, especially with regards to service delivery to pilgrims, an agreement has been reached to work collectively to avoid the challenges encountered during the 2022 exercise.
The chairman noted that some lessons were also learnt during the past outing some of which include improvement on service delivery to pilgrims by setting standards for operation and fine-tuning of the operations of Hajj Savings Scheme.
The Chairman noted that the kind of saving schemes operated by countries such as Malaysia and Indonesia have enabled them to generate enough revenue with which they quickly tackle any emergency situation such as was experienced during Hajj 2022.
He said: “These countries having operated the scheme for years, have enough return on investment to significantly subsidize Hajj fare. All these translate to almost a foolproof plan as they put them in an advantageous position to negotiate services to be rendered to their pilgrims such as airlift, accommodation and feeding.
He however assured that preparations have already began on due diligence towards appointment of Air Carriers.
Hassan assumed leadership of NAHCON in 2020 and due to COVID-19 and its attendant constraints, the 2022 Hajj, also known as “Emergency Hajj” was his first outing. Although, he has been part of Hajj exercises for over 15 years in both public and private sectors without blemish.
“And when the 2022 hajj was finally announced by the Saudi Arabia authorities to be possible, the number to be allowed had been severely slashed by more than 50 per cent. Nigeria that used to be allowed to present 95,000 pilgrims had its own cut down to 43,000.
“With less than six months to tidy up, there had also appeared some other unusual intervening variables to contend with. Following a blanket cessation of all economic activities at the peak of covid-19, productivity had declined so substantially.
“Economies of different countries have been struggling. Currencies therefore across the world including those stronger than ours, some of them in the developed world, have been merely floating.
“With our expertise as a business enthusiast and manager, and conscious of our aspirations and advocacy on welfare for Nigerian Muslim pilgrims dating back to previous roles in this sector, we took on the challenge of negotiating away some overheads for Nigerian pilgrims to relieve them of some financial burdens even as we insisted on high quality welfare.
“We dispensed with as many middlemen as possible in all transactions ending up. Not again are Nigerian pilgrims quartered in some difficult terrains. This year we shared, so to say, same level with at least, D8 countries such as Turkey, the fastest growing economy in Europe; Bangladesh, currently the world’s largest producer of garments and of course, one country with the highest radicalized agricultural reforms.
“We are even poised to achieve more as NAHCON staff are now being prepared to take on additional challenge of Hajj period passport management which has been the exclusive preserve of Saudi agencies for some handsome fee”, the chairman stated.
He added that the Commission was ready to advance Nigerians’ interest in Saudi and it is deploying all its relevant endowments in that direction, particularly the experiential assets.
“We are happy to announce to you that on account of the enhanced performance in this year’s Hajj by NAHCON, all other African countries consensually requested us to lead them in interfacing with the Saudi authorities.
“It was not for nothing that the concession for compensation that NAHCON secured from Saudi service providers for Nigerian pilgrims before returning home after the Hajj on the poor quality of some services have just been secured by other countries like Indonesia weeks after the end of the Hajj exercise.
“It may equally interest you to know that we have remained resolute on ensuring on good health services for Nigerian pilgrims.
“Members of our medical team are as versatile as those of other top rated countries in addition to supportive facilities and drugs. The accessibility of our clinics for pilgrims from all states made them their first choices once they took ill. It was therefore not surprising that in spite of the rush with which the medical team was put together, the performance was amazing.
“In Muna alone for instance, NAHCON provided no fewer than 26 emergency medicine supplies kits complemented further with mobile drug store in form of an ambulance. These made it easy to cope with all the 12, 152 consultations.”
He noted that having agreed to serve in this capacity, he is committed to excellence and determined to hoist Nigeria’s flag higher give diplomatic values of Hajj beyond the religious.
In spite of the emergency outlook of the 2022 Hajj, Hassan informed that the Commission was able to peg Hajj fare to its barest minimum despite the obviously daunting economic challenges; organized Hajj operations in less than a month (an activity which normally takes at least five months); recorded low mortality rate during Hajj; 95 per cent of intending pilgrims traveled despite challenges; return journey ended earlier than scheduled and reduction in the cost of Makkah accommodation.
Get the latest news delivered straight to your inbox every day of the week. Stay informed with the Guardian’s leading coverage of Nigerian and world news, business, technology and sports.