By Suleiman Bala
As a Muslim and public observer, I developed a keen interest in the Hajj industry in Nigeria. I have observed that the Hajj managers in Nigeria, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria constantly come under harsh attacks by some of the industry’s stakeholders. Some of us have observed that often, the accusations get so ruffling reaching a climax that pushes some of us to hold our breaths for the blockbuster moment. Alas, time after time, the indictments just flutter away before our very eyes like a harvest of cotton in the whirlwind.
One of such unsettling events I can recall was the one made by a senate committee some years back that resulted in a public hearing. I recall those disturbing allegations of fund misappropriation and exploitation of Nigerian pilgrims were levelled against the Hajj managers. Yet, by the time Mr Abdullahi Mukhtar, the Hajj commission’s chairman finished his presentation to the senate public hearing committee that July 2017 day, there was a dishonourable silence. It was obvious that none of the National Assembly members could dispute his claims.
It was like the senate ad hoc committee retreated to gather more facts to back up their fight against the Hajj department. However, as soon as the committee members submitted a 34-page report to plenary on its findings, NAHCON’s response nailed the case. It made observers like me begin to wonder if the committee members understand the job at all. It is my candid opinion that instead of burying NAHCON, the allegations and explanations offered by NAHCON made it emerge stronger.
Another ugly incident was one created by I.G Wala. The way the NAHCON chairman was stabbed with disparaging allegations by the activist would make one believe Abdullahi Mukhtar will not come out of that challenge alive. The claims felt so real that some of us were already celebrating I.G Wala as the man that has finally succeeded in exposing the rot in the commission. And perhaps Mr Mukhtar’s silence on the issue made some of us believe he is in trouble. But by the time the case was over, I realised I am one of those deluded by the smokescreen created to rubbish the Hajj commission’s headman. At the end, the tables turned, I.G Wala could not defend his allegations with tangible evidence despite the reassurances he had been giving us his Facebook followers that he has all the evidence to put paid to the fraud called Mr Mukhtar. Now, a respectable court has exonerated Mr Mukhtar of all allegations made against him by Wala while Mr I.G. Wala is serving a jail term for defamation of character.
Now fear is gripping me on behalf of Medview. I have not seen where allegations were filed against Hajj commission and the accuser did not sink. It is like the Lord of that sacred House they are transporting pilgrims to is working overtime on the Hajj ministry’s behalf. Only last week, I read on the pages of several Nigerian newspapers that Skypower Express Airways wrote to Ministry of Aviation that the national body in charge of Hajj affairs in Nigeria has planned to exclude it from participating in returning pilgrims to the country from Saudi Arabia. The Chief Executive Officer of Skypower even accused the Hajj commission of corruption called on the government to investigate the hajj agency. Even before people like me finish digesting the content of that report in the papers, came the news that pilgrims have been abandoned in Jeddah airport by Skypower Express with their boarding pass changed thrice to reflect three different carriers. Besides, the pilgrims complained that instead of 18 days they were supposed to spend, they spent 27 days after paying up to 1.7 million Naira to be transported to the holy city. It was also revealed that some passengers travelled under names other than theirs. This deal threatens to ooze obnoxious smell if the investigation is to be carried out. And it is this that made me begin to think the kind of extra work the NAHCON God is doing on their behalf.
And as I said, I cannot imagine the kind of quicksand Medview may find itself by the time that hajj body opens its mouth. So far, I have read one newspaper after another and listen to news hoping to hear NAHCON’s side of the story in the Medview press conference. But it has been silence from the Hajj agency’s side. If I were Medview, I would have considered it a disturbing silence considering past experiences. Besides, this is the same airline that caused Kaduna state pilgrims to last year’s Hajj to spend almost one week in Jeddah airport waiting to be transported back home. Even during their trip to Saudi Arabia last year, Kaduna state pilgrims had to endure delays by the airline. This year, newspaper readers like me came to understand that the airline could not even position a single aircraft to transport its pilgrims for Hajj, yet, its managers went all out accusing NAHCON of preventing it from participating in the return journey. I do not understand their point.
I pity Medview even as a layman that I am. NAHCON’s silence I believe could be a calculated one. If Skypower’s glasshouse has been hit this soon after copying Medview’s style, I pray that of Medview will not be smashed if NAHCON decides to react.
Bala writes from Faculty of Law, ABU Zaria
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