By Mousa Ubandawaki
“There are two kinds of light, the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures – James Thumber.
The above quote illustrates the two set of persons that embark on Holy pilgrimage to Makkah. Indeed, Nigerian pilgrims just like people from other parts of the world to the annual Hajj is full of complicated characters –those who are capable of doing great things and those with penchant to do the opposite.
In recent years, the activity of the latter group has left a sour taste in the palate of the country particularly the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) . Their actions have set off chains of negative reaction from the host country – kingdom of Saudi Arabia –bordering on drug trafficking, over staying or abscondment. Apart from placing their own lives at risk, it has heightened security concern of the Saudi government that had sometimes led to confiscation and impoundment of materials or gadget they deemed suspicious.
As the airlift of pilgrims for the 2019 approaches, specifically on July 10th – the day the inaugural flight is expected to be flagged off–it is imperative for the stakeholders to set in motion actions that would help to arrest or eliminate the twin activities of drug trafficking and abscondment.
How can we achieve a drug -free Hajj operations?
Though drug trafficking and abscondment are not peculiar offences to Nigerian Hajjis, in fact the cases of Nigerians are isolated compared to other nations as many other nationals have been caught in the web of even more dangerous crimes. But listening or hearing the narratves of drug busters, one can reasonably assume that the incident is not as pandemic as it may seem,though extremely nagging and negative for the country’s image. Therefore an outline and in-depth analysis of the way out will suffice
Provision of scanner machine
A thorough and comprehensive analysis of the circumstances and environment fuelling or feeding the increase number of drug peddlers to the Holy land revealed that the lack of standard and modern equipment to detect drugs and prohibited items at most of the Hajj departure centres constituted the number one factor .
The fact that the syndicate knows that apart from the Murtala Mohammed International Lagos and Mallam Aminu Kano International airports Kano many of the other departure centres have no screening or scanning machine to detect or screen prohibited items , thus unscrupulous persons use them as safe havens or drug routes to Saudi Arabia. It is therefore imperative for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), to provide the necessary tools and equipment to the airports before the commencement of airlift on the 10th July
Closely related to this is the deployment of officers and personnel especially of intelligence agencies to all the airports of operations to complement other airport staff. This would go a long way to sanitise service and curb compromise by regular staff at those centres. It was quite warming that FAAN was able to smash drug rings operating at Kano airport but this action must be extended to other airports.
Enlightenment / Education
it is now the greatest time to raise the profile of enlightenment and education of intending pilgrims beyond the performance of Hajj rites to include some information and issues about drug peddling, overstaying and abscondment. It must form the major subjects that State pilgrims welfare boards /agencies /commission must focus on before the commencement of airlift. Indeed emphasis and large swathe of time should be devoted to educating them on protocol, prohibited items, etc. It is when this is adequately done that the states and the nation can proudly beat their chest that they have worked towards producing better Nigerian Hajji.
On the part of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, it has taken a significant lead with the launch of a drive to boost detection of overstayers, abscondee and drug -trafficking through the institution of a National Task Force.
The Task Force committee membership were drawn from the intelligence community, Nigeria Immigration Service, (NIS), National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP), Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria, (AHUON). The committee’s terms of reference included detection and prevention of abscondment, overstaying and drug peddling by intending pilgrims before embarking on the spiritual journey.
At its inaugural sitting, the Commission highlighted the consequential damages those issues of overstaying the duration of visa eligibility, abconders and related crimes had caused in terms of consular and bilateral skirmishes with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia and urged members of the Committee to strive to eliminate or at best eliminate the ugly incidence.
Also as part of its evolving device put in place is presentation of Guarantor as pre- condition for registration for Hajj 2019. The Surety will sign a bond that the intending pilgrim would be of good behavior and will return home on completion of Hajj exercise and would be responsible for any negative action by the pilgrim. This is intended to checkmate collaborators or assessory after facts
What is required now is support from everyone including the Hajjis and relevant stakeholders, so that NAHCON can proudly dance on iroko tree like the Agama lizard and praise itself for a hitch and crime -free 2019 Hajj.
– Ubandawaki is of the Information unit of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria
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