Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR) has urged the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to stop the wild goose chase and expedite refund to intending pilgrims it failed to airlift to Saudi Arabia for Hajj in 2022.
The civil society, a non-profit organization that works to entrench transparency and accountability in the hajj ecosystem in Nigeria and protect the welfare of pilgrims, disclosed this in a statement by its national coordinator Ibrahim Muhammad, on Friday.
It said it is needless for NAHCON to invest so much energy in blame game, diverting attention and crude facts mixing, instead of deploying same to the refund of pilgrims who were made to miss the 2022 holy pilgrimage despite fulfilling all the requisite obligations.
On October 20, IHR issued a public statement urging State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards (SMPWBs) and the country’s apex hajj regulatory agency to live to their promise by refunding the intending pilgrims who paid the N2.5 million hajj fare but missed the hajj over NAHCON’s inability to airlift them to the holy land.
On October 21, barely 24 hours after the IHR’s harmless call, the commission in a statement by its spokesperson, Fatima Sanda Usara, literally went berserk and questioned the civil society’s competence to express “worry” on behalf of hundreds of pilgrims over the commission’s failure to refund the intending pilgrims 67 days after the official end of 2022 hajj operation.
In the statement, the NAHCON laboriously went on a wild goose chase, cherry picking and misconstruing some events and incidents with zero relevance to the issue at stake- refund of pilgrims who missed 2022 hajj.
For instance, Mrs Usara said, “the IHR did not find it worrisome that in 2019, Hajj return journey ended on 12th September 2019, refunds were made 82 days later, in December, to wit, three months later. Curiously, IHR then carried the advert for the refund on the 25th of December, 104 days after Hajj without battling an eyelid.”
It should be noted that while IHR has no intention whatsoever to join issues with NAHCON, it is however, appalling why the commission was enraged by a mere call to fulfill the promise it made 67 days after.
IHR humbly informs the commission that there are three categories of refunds during Hajj operations since the establishment of the Inspectorate, Evaluation and Compliance Unit of NAHCON in 2013 under the leadership of the current Minister of FCT, Alhaji Muhammed Musa Bello.
There are refunds for services not rendered, refunds for services rendered unsatisfactorily, and refunds for pilgrims who didn’t perform Hajj.
Under the last category, there are also sub categories that include refund for pilgrims who miss Hajj due to medical screening especially pregnant women; there are also pilgrims who miss Hajj due to ill- health; and lastly pilgrims that die before airlift begins.
It is on record that these were the categories of pilgrims that were refunded in 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Contrary to NAHCON’s statement, what we had in 2022 are pilgrims who fulfilled all the requirements, some paid in 2019, while others paid in 2020, 2021 and 2022 yet, NAHCON failed to transport them to Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj.
We, therefore, find it amazingly disturbing, why NAHCON found offensive in the IHR’s call on the commission to go extra mile and ensure that those Nigerians who missed the hajj were refunded immediately after hajj as promised by NAHCON chairman.
It is gladdening to us and the concerned intending pilgrims that the commission said it has completely refunded Kano State Hajj Savings Scheme pilgrims on October 11, 2022. We are also happy that Jigawa, Katsina, Federal Capital Territory, Bauchi, Kogi, Lagos, and Plateau states are about to start receiving their refunds for services not rendered, or poorly rendered.
This is a vindication that the commission is in the process of facilitating the refunds but IT HAS NOT PAID 2022 HAJJ INTENDING PILGRIMS that missed the 2022 Hajj due to challenges of airlift.
Mrs Usara may not be aware that IHR had on several occasions communicated with the commission privately on its observations and issues that we think can move the Hajj industry forward.
Let us remind Mrs Usara that it was the commission’s Chairman Barr. Zikirullah Kunle Hasan, who promised to commence the process of refunding the intending pilgrims immediately after 2022 Hajj.
Speaking with reporters in Saudi Arabia as published by Tribune Newspaper of July 10, 2022, Mr Hassan had assured Nigerians who missed the 2022 Hajj of the commission’s readiness to refund their fares immediately.
Speaking further, Barr Hassan said those who do not wish to collect their money back will be given priority in 2023.
Mr Hassan said, “For all those who couldn’t come, for us it was painful and we have made up our mind that we will look for these people and ensure that they get their money immediately we arrive home.
“In fact, we are ready to refund the money before we get home. In the event that they don’t want to collect their money; this is something we have seen occurring in Hajj, we will give them priority.”
For the avoidance of doubt, IHR sees nothing untoward in asking NAHCON Chairman to fulfill the promise he made more than two months after.
Conclusively, we insist that NAHCON should immediately refund the hundreds of Nigerians who were forced to miss the holy pilgrimage in 2022 without further delay.
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