As part of the familiarisation visit and the physical assessments of the Hajj Development Levy projects across some pilgrims’ departure centres in the country. Precisely on Wednesday, the 16th of September, 2020, a NAHCON’s delegation led by its Chairman, Chief Executive Officer, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, was on a two-day official visit to Sokoto.
Immediately on arrival to Sokoto, the NAHCON’s delegation was warmly received by the Chief Executives of Sokoto, Zamfara and Kebbi States Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards and the newly posted Sokoto Zonal Coordinator.
The Sokoto Hajj Camp which is situated some metres away from the airport, and along the same road. Therefore, the delegation used the opportunity and swung into action and visited the Hajj Camp, and assessed the already completed a multi-purpose Conference Hall which could conveniently accommodate more than five hundred people. The delegation was also shown a massive, ongoing foundation which was also meant for the multi-purpose Hotel like accommodation. These projects are from the Funds generated by the Pilgrims from the Hajj Development Levy. Similarly, the same projects are ongoing in most of the Pilgrims Departure Centres in the Country. The Chairman was obviously satisfied with what he saw on ground.
For the benefit of our readers, Hajj Development Levy projects was conceived a decade ago, out of the necessity to revamp the already dilapidated facilities of Hajj Camps across the nation. The pilgrims who used to experience prolong (delayed) flights at camps, were subjected to dilapidated facilities, with pit latrines that were used on annual basis only and which became hideouts for rodents and other dangerous reptiles, thereby exposing the pilgrims into all these hazards.
The annual government budget for the rehabilitation of these camps was not enough and infact the burden of the government to many other sectors was no doubt enormous. The first board of the Commission sat to have a tink tank on how best to salvage the situation based on the following premises.
One, to inbuild a levy in the Hajj fare package of the Pilgrims to complement the efforts of the government in maintaining these camp facilities, second, to put the facilities to the optimal use which on one hand to generate revenues for the Commission and on the other hand to keep the idle Zonal Offices busy for all year round instead of just annually and the third reason for the development projects is to serve as a training and orientation grounds for our pilgrims, make them more accustomed to modern day facilities with all the comforts and leisure. The pilgrims will likely be exposed to, for instance, modern toilet facilities and will be able to use them effectively before departing the shores of Nigeria where they will be confronted with them in Saudi on all places they go. We are aware that some of our intending pilgrims who spend most of their life in the rural areas and have never been exposed to the use of modern facilities, find it extremely difficult to use on the first day of coming across them.
Therefore, having similar facilities in the camp could help the intending pilgrims to at least practically see and use them even to the barest minimum before getting to Saudi. Let me not carry the readers away from the main report of the official visit to Sokoto.
On the second day of the visit, the Sokoto State Pilgrims Welfare Board’s Executives in conjunction with the Zonal Coordinator were very proactive to have arranged and conducted the NAHCON’s delegation to all the places scheduled for the visit.
The delegation was first of all led to the Sultan’s palace in the morning hours of Thursday and paid a courtesy call to His Eminence, the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Abubakar Sa’ad, where the delegation was well received by some Emirate Council members. At the meeting with the Sultan, the NAHCON’s Chairman in his usual Characteristics, who does not always mince words, was straightforward, brief and concise in his submission. The Chairman told the Sultan that he was in his palace to pay respect to the esteemed palace and also seek the blessing, prayers and support of the Sultan in the activities of the Commission. The Chairman outlined the cardinal policy thrusts of the fourth Board of the Commission which according to him is to consolidate the achievements of his past predecessors and make the performance of Hajj more enhanced to the best standards of international practice.
The NAHCON’s Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, stated that the fourth Board planned to realise this laudable objective through the actualisation of three key areas: One, to ensure the effective control of the ever-escalating Hajj fare cost and at least make it affordable to the generality of the Nigerian Muslim Ummah.
Another vital area, the Chairman said had been the yearnings and aspirations of Hajj Stakeholders is the actualisation of the Hajj Savings Scheme. The Chairman was full of praises to Allah (SWA) for having fulfilled the first stage of the implementation of Hajj Savings Scheme going by the recent signing of agreement with the Jaiz Bank for the eventual commencement of the Scheme.
The Chairman emphasised that the third area the Commission wished to realise in order to enhance its operations is the professionalisation of the Administration of Hajj in the country. Alhaji Zikrullah observed that, we are in the era of professionalisation, he said now in every area of human endeavour, there are codes and ethics in any profession . He cited the example of even in the entertainment areas of dancing, photography, knitting and sewing. He said there is no reason for not professionalising the conduct of a large industry like Hajj.
Towards this direction, the Chairman said the Commission has already started making effort to establish a standard Hajj Training Institute in the country to serve as a training centre for the Hajj operators to be certified before they can parade themselves as operators.
The Sultan of Sokoto in his response to the Chairman’s remarks, admitted that he was aware of the current good activities of the Commission, particularly the recent development of signing and launching of the Hajj Savings Scheme with Jaiz Bank. His Eminence was categorical that helping in the cause of Islam is a duty owed by Muslim Ummah. His eminence said Hajj Savings Scheme is a long-awaited project and thanked the Almighty Allah for having witnessed the recent development. He added that he was optimistic that with the zeal and forthrightness of the fourth Board of the Commission, the Commission would surely succeed in all its objectives as enshrined by the Chairman. The Sultan affirmed that his door is always opened to any member of the Commission and pledged his unflinching support to the Commission at all times the Commission requires him to render.
Thereafter, the delegation was led to the Sokoto State Government house, where the delegation met His Excellency, the Executive Governor of Sokoto State, Rgt. Honourable Aminu Waziri Tambuwal.
The NAHCON’s Chairman while delivering the purpose of his visit to the governor, reiterated the commitment of the fourth Board of the Commission which he leads, and informed the governor that he was in the State to inspect some Hajj Development Levy projects and to solicit for His Excellency’s support on the development of the state’s Hajj camp for the betterment of the pilgrims in the State and other neighbouring States.
The governor in his remarks, disclosed that he was privy in the enactment and passage of the act establishing the Commission and is well aware of the objectives with which the Commission Act was established and commended the efforts of the current fourth Board for its vigour in trying to improve Hajj operation in the country and advised that the leadership should try to engage our local indigenous Airlines in the Airlift of the pilgrims so that it would invigorate our economy and create for employment for our youths.
Let me use this medium to briefly provide some insights about the concept of the Hajj Savings Scheme. The idea of the HSS spanned from long years ago even before the establishment of the Hajj Commission. In 2007, prior to the establishment of the HSS, when the Hajj affairs was just a department under the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the Presidency, many Nigerian Officials had undertaken official trips to Malaysia and Indonesia to borrow a leaf from those countries who have long time established similar Scheme and is tremendously succeeding in perfecting the smooth arrangement of Hajj operations but for generations of Hajj Affairs leaderships, the Scheme could not see the light of the day in Nigeria.
After the establishment of the Commission all the past leaderships have made frantic efforts to the actualisation of the Scheme until recently, the current fourth Board was able to achieve the Scheme’s first stage of implementation. The recent development of signing agreement with the Jaiz Bank for the commencement of the scheme is not the only ultimate desire of the Commission.
What the commission is now looking forward is to witness the time when the scheme is in full swing under the full control of the Commission, just like we have the successful Tabung bank in Malaysia, under the full control of Malaysia Hajj authorities.
Since the recent development of the signing agreement with Jaiz Bank, the recurrent questions Nigerian Muslim Ummah always ask are: For how long could the intending pilgrim save or how much?
Infact, to answer these questions one could attribute answers from the concept of the Scheme which is to make ease in the performance of Hajj by saving gradually until it gets to the maturity stage of meeting the cost of Hajj fare. Therefore, for a contributor to know how long it will take him to contribute, it all depends on one’s plan, how much are you going to contribute to accumulate certain amount within a particular period. The much or less one contributes will certainly determine the duration it will take him to accomplish the target amount. The parents who decide to contribute for their infants could not feel the much of payment impact than instant payment. Can someone imagine the meagre amount the parents could contribute before the child could reach maturity age of 18 or 20 years, even if the contribution is on quarterly basis, it is going to be gradual.
The questions of how long or how much, do not even arise in the concept of the HSS. The infant will grow to meet his Hajj seat waiting for him. On the other hand, if an adult plan to embark on Hajj within two years period, he should know how much he will contribute to the scheme for two years before reaching the target of prevailing Hajj fare cost at the time.
My readers don’t forget, we are still reporting on the NAHCON delegations visit to Sokoto. The members of the delegation for this historic visit included the Executive Commissioner in charge of Operations, Alhaji Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa, the Executive Commissioner for Policy Personnel, Management and Finance (PPMF), Alhaji Nura Hassan Yakasai and the Executive Commissioner in charge of Planning, Research, Statistics, Information and Library Services, otherwise popularly known as PRSILS, Sheikh Suleiman Momoh, others in the delegation included some NAHCON’s board member representing North West, Alhaji Umar Garba, the board member representing JNI, Dr. Bala Mohammad, Management staff, representing different Divisions in the Commission, in person of the Acting Director in the Operation department of the Commission, Alhaji Usman Aliyu Shamaki, the Hajj Development Levy Coordinator, Mustapha Abbas, the Chief Executive Accountant in the Accounts division, Shehu Bello, the Head of Protocol Unit in the office of the Chairman/CEO, Bulama Abba, who effectively anchored the trip, Aid to the Chairman, Bolaji Muhammed, the two representatives of the Newage Media (NAHCON’s Media Service Provider) and my humble self, who compiled and drafted this report, Abubakar Bello Kaoje, Assistant Director Information in the Information and Publications Division of the Commission.