It is my great pleasure to welcome all NAHCON’s Board Members to this important occasion. A unique event designed to bring members together to brainstorm and collectively find ways of improving Hajj operations in Nigeria.
You could remember last year by this time, we were at Yankari Game Resort, Bauchi State, for similar event, where different papers were presented by professionals and Hajj veterans. Top policy matters were also conferred with solutions proffered which eventually impacted positively after implementation.
This event is aimed at straightening leadership ethics and promoting good governance, hoping that, at the end of this event, we will be enriched with new skills that will guide us in managing pilgrims and Hajj managers more effectively.
Permit me to state that from the 4th Board’s inauguration to date, despite two years without Hajj, we have recorded tremendous achievements.
As you are aware, NAHCON Board under my leadership has set several milestones intended to accomplish in the nearest future. Some have been crossed while others are being diligently pursued.
To mention a few, we have already launched the Hajj Savings Scheme, under an agreement that will permit State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards in conjunction with the Jaiz Bank Plc to manage pilgrims’ registration. This innovation will go a long way in enabling Nigerian Muslims to plan for their spiritual journey years in advance.
The Jaiz Bank Plc on behalf of depositors will invest funds gathered under the scheme in Shari’ah compliant ventures and business transactions. The long-term expectation from the Hajj Savings Scheme is that economy of the Muslim Umma will receive a boost through job creation and profitable savings culture as witnessed in both Malaysia and Indonesia. It will also accelerate timely Hajj planning with the potential of subsidizing the cost of Hajj and reducing Hajj fare in future.
Similarly, the primary objective of the Scheme targets those desiring to perform Hajj but lack financial capacity to self-sponsor their trips at once. Therefore, to facilitate participation of less privileged Nigerian Muslims in Hajj, the scheme was launched on 10th September, 2020. It was thereafter followed by collaboration with major Hajj Stakeholders for full take-off and implementation knowing fully that the unstable nature of Hajj fare in Nigeria is a complexity that has bedevilled the 3rd Board which this board is determined to tackle.
Since Hajj and Umrah is a multi-billion dollar industry, the establishment of the Hajj Institute of Nigeria is another passionate target of this management. We have already reached last stage of obtaining operational license from the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) while CAC certificate has already been secured. The temporary site of the institute located at annex ‘A’ of Hajj House is 98% ready. As the name implies, the institute will train and issue certificates on Hajj management, it would professionalise the operations thereby only experts on pilgrimage will manage the Hajj industry for best results. Our vision is that, the institute will serve as training hub for all English speaking countries globally, while acclaimed world standard treatment is what we desire for pilgrims, hence the need for producing professional and skilful Hajj Managers.
It is obvious that the Hajj industry is witnessing digitalization on a global scale. NAHCON believes Nigeria must not lag behind in this evolving dispensation. Indeed, the Federal Government’s agenda of e-Government and e-Nigeria as well as the directive issued to all MDAs to embark on digitization of filing and other record systems gave credence to NAHCON’s digital transformation agenda as the right step in the right direction. This is also in line with Saudi’s vision 2030. Hence, the Commission is set on its digital transformation agenda.
Hence, the Commission, in collaboration with National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) has established Digital Economy Centre (DEC), which would serve as e-Learning Centre under the Hajj Institute of Nigeria. NAHCON’s digital transformation agenda is targeted to enhance operational efficiency, key into the Saudi digitalization of Hajj process and improve Customer Engagement among others. Towards this end, the Commission had successfully launched a Digital Transformation Master Plan. The project is a complete automation process and procedures as well as human capacity development in line with e-Government Strategy to attain high efficiency in delivery of services to Nigerian Pilgrims.
Recently, our accounting and financial transaction system has already been automated, while arrangement to standardize and digitalize Umrah monitoring and tracking system in liaison with famous IT professional firm, S.W. Global company (Ltd), is in the pipeline. It is also set to ensure compliance with Saudi’s vision 2030 that is aimed at providing hitch- free, e-Hajj management and operations.
Similarly, to ensure effective service delivery to our pilgrims, few months back, the Commission set up Umrah Standing Committee. The committee will always be in place for constant evaluation, to ensure that pilgrims are maximally protected. It will assess on-going Umrah operations, address issues as they arise and make proposal to management on policy adjustment that will capture current and emerging technological trends. The Committee is also expected to propose policy changes that will be in tune with current realities and superintend on all Umrah related matters and other incidental issues.
Moreover, the Umrah sector will soon have its online registration portal with similar functions to that of Hajj e-track platform, which captures data of all pilgrims from Nigeria. It means that NAHCON will soon have index analysis of all pilgrims that travel to KSA holding Umrah visas. The data of which would be used to provide insights for potential operational enhancement using an advanced technology system. Thus, in liaison with the Nigerian Immigration Service and other major stakeholders, the data will show time a pilgrim leaves for Saudi Arabia and the person’s due return date. Visa violators will easily be detected, and the relevant penalties shall be imposed on the travel agent that facilitated the pilgrim’s journey.
Ladies and gentlemen, as you are aware, covid-19 pandemic left many private and government agencies incapacitated, we therefore resolved to intensify drive for Internally Generated Revenue (IGR) through the facilitation of Infrastructure Concession and Regulatory Commission (ICRC) for Public Private Partnership (PPP). By developing some of our Hajj Camps and landed properties, they become economically functional all-year round instead of only during Hajj periods. The PPP is projected to significantly improve the Commission’s IGR. For instance, the multibillion-naira PPP project in Kano is about to be completed at no cost at all to NAHCON. By the time the outcome of the partnership is realised, the Commission hopes to become independent of Federal Government funding on its entire Hajj operations for both onshore and offshore activities.
It may interest you to know that, Mr. President has granted us approval to acquire a smart operational office in Jeddah. This will go a long way in reducing cost of spending in our offshore budget. Presently, we are spending SR600,000 as rent fee for our office in Makkah. And with the consequences of covid-19, the pay rose three times more than the afore mentioned amount. This higher amount is what we have been paying in the last three years for a property that could not be utilized for even three months. This we considered as a great loss and is economically unrealistic. We are therefore determined to migrate from being tenants to landlord in Saudi Arabia by end of this year.
As we realize the imperative of having a vibrant and efficient workforce, we pay adequate attention to staff welfare and capacity building. From beginning of this year to date, a total of 25 capacity building trainings have been organized for staff of the Commission covering all members of staff in respective of their grade levels. These trainings are designed to keep staff updated and prepared for everyday productive activities.
Also, in our determination to improve welfare and providing humanitarian services to our employees, we are set to establish a staff clinic in the Hajj House headquarters of the Commission in Abuja. This considerate development for staff welfare is long overdue such that despite our meagre resources, we took this bold step to complement the needs of our staff. Apart from sustaining staff welfare, we observed that the clinic could also be used as an additional source of revenue for the Commission in future. Work to ensure take-off of the clinic has already commenced with an expected delivery period of mid-December 2021.
In the aspect of information dissemination and enlightenment programs, this board has embarked on a strategic system of tapping inhouse resources by way of constituting an inhouse media production crew. The aim is to gradually wean the Commission from total reliance on external media for production of our programs. With this plan, the Commission will be in control of its programs’ contents while at the same time, grooming our staff skills for the Commission’s benefit and their own individual advantage. Additionally, NAHCON would succeed in cutting cost of production considerably by only negotiating for airtime in any selected medium while at the same time keeping our staff busy and perfecting their talent. Already, we have started a pilot program based on this plan which is aired on Sunnah and Manara Television channels called Hajji Kiran Allah. The program is developed, produced, and anchored wholly by our staff. With the success so far recorded, plans are already in progress to extend this arrangement in other languages. Similarly, plans are underway to construct an inhouse studio to cater for these radio and television productions.
My brothers and sisters, may I seize this opportunity to remind you that, prior to the covid-19 emergence, the Commission has subscribed to the “Makkah Route Initiative”. A new initiative by Saudi Arabia aimed to deploy men of its immigration department to countries that approve its implementation in their homeland. Under the initiative, Saudi personnel will conduct security screening and clearance of Nigerian pilgrims in Nigeria before their departure to Saudi Arabia. The initiative will no doubt eliminate delays experienced by Nigerian pilgrims at both Jeddah and Madinah airports before acquiring entry permit into the Kingdom.
The Commission subscribed to the initiative in an effort to curtail the inconveniences Nigerian pilgrims experience at points of entry into the Kingdom.
Finally, I will like to physically introduce to you the new Secretary of the Commission in person of Dr. Abdullahi Rabiu Kontogora, a Ph.D holder on International Relations and Diplomacy, whose selection was arrived at after thorough and rigorous screenings. Therefore, I want to believe that we have made the right selection hoping that he would put his best effort and use his expertise towards realization of the 4th Board’s dream.
I will not end my address without appreciating the tremendous contributions this board had enjoyed from the outgoing Ag. Secretary of the Commission, Malam Ahmed Maigari who recently exited the Commission due to retirement by age, no doubt your advice, support and cooperation assisted in redirecting this board to where it is today. We will really miss you physically, but the legacy you left behind would remain in memory. Kindly join me to congratulate him for this success hoping that you would remain reachable and accessible should the need arise for your advice and support. I wish you Allah’s guidance in your post retirement endeavour.
Lastly, I wish you all a pleasant stay in Ghana and safe trip back to your destination.
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, has been advised to discountenance…