Home HOME OUR STAND: UNNECESSARY CONTROVERSY OVER HAJJ SAVINGS SCHEME – HAJJ REPORTERS
HOME - April 18, 2022

OUR STAND: UNNECESSARY CONTROVERSY OVER HAJJ SAVINGS SCHEME – HAJJ REPORTERS

 

The controversy generated over the implementation of the Hajj Savings Scheme (HSS), have once again raised some pertinent questions that need to be looked into by major stakeholders in the Hajj and Umrah Industry. The HSS was formally launched in Kano on the 5th of October 2020 after the signing of an MOU between the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and JAIZ Bank earlier in September 2020. The Hajj Saving Scheme possesses the needed formula to change the face of the Hajj industry in Nigeria and create a value chain of benefits for pilgrims, operators and the entire Muslim Ummah.

 

 

However, since the signing of the MOU and the formal launch of the scheme in Kano, there have been silent murmuring by States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards citing non-compliance with the provisions of NAHCON establishment ACT, 2006; the ACT that empowers NAHCON to establish the Hajj Saving Scheme. NAHCON has continued to harp on collaboration towards making the scheme a success to turn around the current challenges facing the Hajj industry. The commission had issued various policy statements yet, the area of contention lingers on.

 

 

The recent directive by NAHCON to state pilgrims’ boards to migrate pilgrim deposits to Hajj saving scheme might have triggered the current controversies drawing the attention of the National Assembly on the matter. The directive, according to NAHCON is a sequel to the approval of Mr President. While FCT pledged to heed the directive, others were strongly against it. They argued that opening an account to participate in the Hajj Saving Scheme is not for all pilgrims but for only those who are “interested” according to NAHCON Establishment Act 2006.

 

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HAJJ REPORTERS agreed that the Scheme if build in its original concept within the NAHCON legal framework and properly implemented has the prospect of stabilizing Hajj operations in Nigeria. HSS has the potential to be the solution to the financial and operational challenges that have bedeviled the Hajj and Umrah Industry by specifically assisting the Nigerian Muslim Ummah to pay for Hajj in a modest, convenient way and also assist in sustaining the Hajj and Umrah Industry. However, HAJJ REPORTERS is concerned that the two major stakeholders (NAHCON and SMPWB) are not on the same page.

 

 

Hence, we have to take a critical look at the legal pillar on which the scheme is erected. The operational structure of the scheme needs to be scrutinized. The role of State Muslim Pilgrims Boards needs to be properly defined in conformity with NAHCON ACT. Section 7 (1) of the NAHCON Establishment ACT 2006 stated that “The Commission shall establish, supervise and regulate a system of Hajj savings scheme to be operated by the Pilgrims Welfare Boards of each state and FCT for interested intending pilgrims. This section empowers NAHCON to establish, supervise and regulates the scheme. To establish, supervise and regulate simply means that the commission can create the scheme, supervise its operation or how it is being run and create relevant rules and regulations for the HSS.

 

 

More Importantly, NAHCON is yet to issue comprehensive guidelines on how the scheme should be run and the supervision process. If there are such guidelines then they should be made public because there is a difference between policy statement and operational Guidelines that defines the roles of each part of the scheme.

 

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Furthermore, Section 7 (1) of the NAHCON Establishment ACT stated “To be operated by the Pilgrims Welfare Board of each state and FCT for interested intending pilgrims”. The law empowers the States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board of each state and the FCT to ‘operate the Hajj Saving Scheme” The keyword here is “to operate. Now, let’s look at the webmaster dictionary meaning of ‘operate’. It is defined as “to perform a function: exert power or influence” to cause to function, to put or keep in operation. Or control the functioning of (a machine, process, or system).

 

 

Therefore, if States have been empowered by the law ‘to operate’ the HSS, then SMPWBs’ should be the ‘operating centre’ of the Scheme. NAHCON can only issue guidelines that govern the entire operation and such guidelines must be in line with NAHCON ACT.

 

 

NAHCON under Section 7 has the power to set up the scheme, formulate the guidelines and supervise its operation but CANNOT participate in HSS operation. NAHCON or their representatives cannot enrol pilgrims in the portal because doing that amounts to participating in the operation of the scheme thereby making its issuance of operating licenses to States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board and Private Tour Operators irrelevant.

 

 

Section 7 (2) BOARD OF TRUSTEES

Section 7 (2) said that the commission shall set up a Board of Trustees for the saving scheme comprising of men of high integrity who are not members of the commission and may as well take other measures that are desirable for the success of the scheme.

 

 

Consequently, HAJJ REPORTERS is of the view that we cannot be operating HSS without a board of trustees because the board is to represent and protects the interests of Pilgrims and that interest is pilgrim’s deposits. That is why the ACT harps on ‘men and women of high integrity that are not members of the Commission”. No one could have accused NAHCON ((though, not yet substantiated) of tampering with Hajj Saving Scheme if there is a board of trustees in place.

 

 

The spirit behind section 7 subs 2 is that NAHCON, the BANK, and State pilgrims boards are interested parties because they benefit from the Scheme and therefore cannot protect the interests of depositors – the pilgrims. So, there can’t be a Hajj saving scheme without a board of trustees. We should avoid legal pitfalls and immediately commence the process of appointing the board of trustees for the HSS.

 

 

The 40-30-15-15 formula

Currently, the profit from the Hajj savings Scheme is being shared at the ratio of 40 per cent for the pilgrim, 30 percent to the BANK, 15percent for NAHCON and 15 percent to States Muslims Pilgrims Welfare Boards. The Major stakeholders like NAHCON, SMPWB’S, financial institutions, and board of trustees should review this formula to comply with the Islamic principle of Mudarabah.

 

National Assembly allegation against NAHCON

The National Assembly has the power to investigate or perform oversight functions over NAHCON, but such powers should be exercised with utmost caution. First, we agreed that NAHCON as an institution has a fundamental right to respond to allegations or stories that have been published in the media especially when it has to do with allegations of corruption.

 

 

Nevertheless, the hasty nature of the release may have created a negative impression in the minds of members of the National Assembly who may consider it a confrontation. It would have been better if NAHCON presents those convincing records to the committee set up by the National Assembly to investigate the HSS. The Press will be there to relay the proceedings to the general public without raising unnecessary acrimony.

 

 

HAJJ REPORTERS recall a similar incident during the past board of NAHCON where a Hon member raised a motion calling for an investigation of NAHCON over the 2015 stampede even though the stampede happened in Saudi Arabia and NAHCON has nothing to do with the causative factors of the stampede.  When that motion failed, he then raised another one calling for an investigation of the contract for GPS enabled Wrist bands provided to Nigerian pilgrims that year. The past board of NAHCON resisted the temptation to join issues with him publicly, and instead compiled its record and defended itself in the presence of the investigative committee.

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In addition, HAJJ REPORTERS do not align with the idea of inviting EFCC to investigate the Hajj Saving Scheme considering the time factor. EFCC may PND the Commissions’ and the state accounts as part of investigation procedures which could affect the preparations for Hajj 2022.

Anti-corruption agencies work like sniffing agents and they may delve into the expenditures profiles of the commissions and the state Pilgrims Boards.

 

 

 

OUR POSITION

HAJJ REPORTERS is calling on States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards and NAHCON to comply with relevant laws that guide their operations for the interest of pilgrims. Hajj service providers’ primary interest should be about pilgrims whose money is now the subject of controversy.

 

All efforts and energy should be directed on how to transport whatever the number of pilgrims that will be allocated to Nigeria to perform Hajj 2022 and return them successfully. Time is not on our side.

 

Conclusively, Hajj Savings Scheme should be based on NAHCON ACT which is very clear and unambiguous and if any ideas are to be injected into the scheme, such idea must be in tune with the spirit and letters of the ACT.

 

The commission is to establish, regulates, supervise, and also set up board of trustees for the scheme where (THE TRUSTEES) will issue policy direction on the utilization of the funds, the states are to operate the scheme while INTRESTED pilgrims are the participants. We advice that the commission and the stakeholders review the current HSS and have a saving scheme that will stand the test of time.

 

More importantly, past boards NAHCON has spent valuable time of their tenure working on the feasibility, technical, structural, legal and forecast in their efforts to have a solid Hajj Saving Scheme

 

It is therefore our suggestion that we should not be in a rush to implement the scheme without a solid legal structure so as not to crash land the entire process. Respecting the distinct roles of all stakeholders within the Hajj and Umrah Industry will ensure a harmonious working relationship.

 

 

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