Only a couple of days ago, the 2023 Hajj exercise came to an end when the last batch of pilgrims from Makkah arrived in Nigeria.…
Only a couple of days ago, the 2023 Hajj exercise came to an end when the last batch of pilgrims from Makkah arrived in Nigeria. The total number of pilgrims from Nigeria who performed this year’s hajj was close to ninety-five (95) thousand. This comprised more than seventy thousand (70,000) pilgrims from states across the federation and over twenty thousand (20,000) others who registered with the various tour operators. Our country thus ranked fifth largest participant in this year’s hajj exercise behind Indonesia (221,000), Pakistan (179,000), India (175,000) and Bangladesh (127,000). Hajj 2023 was therefore one of the greatest in recent years in Nigeria’s pilgrimage annals. It was one that was circumscribed by the insatiable desire on the part of Nigerian pilgrims to sacrifice their all in service to their Creator. It was marked by the display of uncommon stellar qualities by the leadership of our National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) ably led by Barrister Olakunle Hassan.
In other words, if you ponder the semiotics of the Ayah in which Hajj is Quranised, you would discover that the instruction given to Prophet Ibrahim (a. s) is to proclaim pilgrimage among mankind, without prejudice to their social status, colour, gender or religious standing. Thus, the pathway to hajj is expected to be laid bare, all of the time, to all and sundry who desire to experience the celestial in the terrestrial.
But for two years (2020 and 2021), pilgrimage to Makkah and Madinah became largely an impossibility, no thanks to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic. In the year 2022, only about forty-five thousand (45,000) Nigerians succeeded in fulfilling this noble obligation of Hajj exercise. Thus, this year, all facilities were mobilised to plug the deficit in the number of potential pilgrims to the Holy Land. This accounted for the largely unprecedented high number of pilgrims recorded this year. The number of potential pilgrims who desired to go to Makkah this year were actually in excess of hundred thousand out of which only close to ninety-five thousand (95,000) succeeded in making it to Makkah and Madinah. Some of these compatriots of mine and yours heard the ‘call’ for hajj and even strove to answer it. Some of them registered with the various State Pilgrims Board; others opted to travel with private travel tour operators. While the majority of those who registered with the State Pilgrims Board had a largely seamless Hajj exercise, not all those who registered with the private tour operators were able to make it to Makkah despite the best efforts made by the leadership of NAHCON to rescue the situation.
Put differently, for the Nigerian arm of the 2023 hajj exercise, NAHCON worked with one principle only, ‘leave no Nigerian pilgrim behind’. This policy was ambitious in conception and extremely challenging in operationalisation. It led to a situation where some NAHCON officials had to be at their duty posts twenty-four hours in a day. The second policy that was introduced this year that took all Nigerian pilgrims first to Madinah before they returned to Makkah preparatory to the beginning of the rites of hajj was equally unprecedented. It was a policy that tested the tenacity, creativity and power of innovation of NAHCON officials like never before. We were told the story of a NAHCON official who complained that there were no hotels anymore in Madinah to accommodate the large Nigerian pilgrims. But he was told by his chairman to find spaces for them no matter what that would take.
Now that the hajj exercise had ended, I guess it is expedient something is done to prevent our innocent compatriots from falling into the hands of the iniquitous stranglehold of some private tour operators who usually collect huge sums of monies that are far in excess of the official rate charged by NAHCON. These were operators who would promise quick departures to and return from Makkah even in the knowledge that they have neither the power nor the contacts in the aviation industry to fulfill their promises. They would take intending pilgrims to the precincts of Muritala Muhammad International Airport in Lagos, ask them to camp at the Airport mosque and tell them to await their flights.
They would promise innocent Nigerians who are desirous of fulfilling their obligations to their Creator that they shall provide adequate guidance to them on arrival to Makkah. They promised your sister and mine from whom close to four million Naira was collected to provide her and others good accommodation and very close to the Haram both in Makkah and Madinah. They promised everything they knew they would not fulfill.
Thus, if there are urgent questions arising for NAHCON from Hajj 2023, such would and should most likely include how to rein in the egregious activities and iniquitous conducts of some private hajj operators. How many of the tour operators showed fidelity to and discharged its responsibilities to its customers? Could there be a rating or ranking of the private tour operators using certain metrics that would measure their performance before, during and at the end of the hajj exercise? Are we thinking of reviewing the criteria and conditions for licensing the tour operators using recent experiences as reference points? Have we sanctioned those who collected huge sums of money from our fellow Muslim brothers and sisters without providing any services to them? In what ways did the private travel tour operators contribute to the challenges that NAHCON had to grapple with during this year’s hajj exercise and how might we avoid their reoccurrence?
Source: Daily Trust
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