Nigeria Minister of state for foreign affairs, Hajiya Abba Khadija receiving commendation plaque from Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umra
By May 29, President Muhammadu Buhari will commence the final phase of his journey as President of the federal republic of Nigeria for another four years. There lies a golden opportunity for Mr. President to redirect the country towards a viable and sustainable path of growth. It is within this context that I consider it imperative to pen a few lines of suggestion as per policy direction in hajj administration in for the next four years.
Hajj is a complex and unique gathering that needs to be well managed for pilgrims to be able to fulfilled their spiritual obligations. Such an exercise calls for consistent and continuous planning and implementation of viable policies. Lack of continuity has been the bane of our developmental blue prints. Pakistan, Indonesia, and Malaysia maintain some level of consistency in the hajj polices over the years. These countries are rated as top three in hajj management.
President Muhammadu Buhari have been an advocate of consolidation and prudent management of human and material resources to achieve set objectives, This he has demonstrated in the completion of hundreds of abandoned projects nationwide. Therefore, I urge Mr. President to extend this system of management to hajj administration.
Recently Independent Hajj Reporters, civil society organizations had called on Mr. President to retain some core policies in hajj and umrah operations. While congratulating Mr. President on his reelection, the groups urged him to sustain some core operational policies in hajj operations as a way of consolidating on the gains and benefits of reforms in hajj.
Part of the statement said that “We acknowledge the commendable achievements recorded in hajj administration under President Muhammadu Buhari which led to Nigeria being rated as one of the best countries in terms of hajj organisation by the Saudi Ministry of Umra/Hajj.” And urged the president “to sustain the following policies like: non- sponsorship of people to hajj which cost previous administration N1.6 billion taxpayers money annually; discontinuation of dollar concession to pilgrims which allow pilgrims to access dollar at prevailing market exchange rate thereby saving N75 billion in the last four years; making refunds to pilgrims for service not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily; and giving a flat rate of 800 US Dollars to pilgrims.”
Other policies the Independent Hajj Reporters wants Buhari to sustain are “holding hajj service providers accountable whenever there is failure of service; cancellation of VIP treatment to certain categories of hajj officials; appointment of Jaiz Bank to collect Hadaya on behalf of Nigeria pilgrims; weeding out makeshift private tour operators; provision of five-star hotels for Nigeria pilgrims in Madina; among others.”
They said that “continuation of the above-named hajj policies will consolidate the gains and project the image of Nigeria as a country with financial discipline and organizational capacity to manage her citizens anywhere in the world.
However, while the policies highlighted above had contributed in reshaping hajj operations in the last six years, there is need for more collaborations and joint decision implementation between NAHCON and State Muslim pilgrim’s welfare board.
Under President Muhammadu Buhari, NAHCON has implements some far reaching reforms meant to reshape how services are rendered to Nigerian pilgrims. The focus of this rectification is hinged on pilgrims getting a commensurate value for their money. It is like an ‘operation enjoy what you paid for’ in hajj. The most significant of this policy is the creation of statistical mechanism to gauge pilgrims’ service delivery. This leads to the historical refunds of N1.5 Billion naira to Nigeria pilgrims for service not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily during the 2015 Hajj exercise. Hajj service providers have now been made to redouble their efforts to meet their contractual obligations to pilgrims as failure to satisfy pilgrims’ means refunds of money. The tempo of the reforms needs to be sustained with more vigour.
The proposed establishment of a hajj training institute to train potential hajj administrators should be given top priority within the first year of Mr. President second term. Also, commencement of Hajj saving scheme that will allow intending pilgrims to be paying for hajj seat instamentally within a spate of three to five years takes off immediately.
In addition to the above, Mr. President should utilize every available diplomatic window to request for the waiver of the SR2,000 tax imposed on visa for Umrah and Hajj pilgrims on Nigeria pilgrims. This visa rules was released in August 2016 and became operational on October 2 2016, stated that “a one-time entry visa fee will be SR2,000, but the state will bear this fee if a visitor is coming to the Kingdom for the first time to perform Hajj or Umrah. A six-month multiple-entry visa cost 3,000 Saudi Riyals (SR), a one year multiple-entry visa cost SR5000, while a two-year multiple-entry visa cost SR8000.”
In view of the above, we urge Mr. President to on behalf of millions of Nigeria Muslim Ummah pleads with Saudi Arabia to waive the SR2, 000 Hajj/Umrah fee repeaters so as allow millions of intending pilgrims to fulfill their religious obligations.
However, states governors should compliment these national policies by appointing only competent and dedicated people to manage states Muslim pilgrim’s welfare boards. The roles of state Muslim pilgrims’ welfare boards are very crucial in hajj management.
In summary, the function of state Muslim pilgrims welfare boards as obtained in hajj operations are as follows: to make all necessary arrangements for smooth pilgrimage and the well being of pilgrims who registered with the Board, To register intending pilgrims within the state, to arrange for the issuance of passports, visa and whatever is a pre-requisite for the journey, to arrange foreign exchange facilities for all pilgrims registered by the states, to enlighten intending pilgrims on hajj rites and all related procedures, policies and rules associated with the exercise, To liase with the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria with regards to matters affecting pilgrims of the State, to take any reasonable action necessary to facilitate welfare of pilgrims and to report to the State Government, all matters and activities of the Board and advise the Government appropriately.
From the foregoing, we can safely posit that state Muslim pilgrims boards are the engine room of hajj operations. They are the first point of contacts and last reference centre for intending pilgrims. Managerial capacity of the state appointed executive secretaries or chairmen of this very important hajj institution have a telling impact in hajj administration. State Governors should henceforth ensure that they appoint competent people as state pilgrims’ welfare board for effective and efficient service to our dear pilgrims.
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