Brethren, going by the timetable for Hajj 2024 released by the Saudi Arabia authorities, the registration for the spiritual exercise begins officially tomorrow (September 16) with activities such as opening of electronic track for data entry, publishing of the list of licensed companies that will serve the pilgrims as well as preparatory meetings with the participating countries.
In the next couple of days, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) will activate the financial portfolio of the electronic track for airlines. By November 4, 2023, the preparatory meetings between the Saudi authorities (Ministry of Hajj and Umrah) and participating countries are expected to have been completed as service packages will be made available on Rabi Al-Thaani 20, 1445AH (November 4, 2023). Thereafter, the Hajj and Umrah service will be launched.
The allotment process of pilgrims’ accommodation in Makkah and Madinah and the Holy Sites will be finalized on February 25, 2024 (Sha’baan 15, 1445AH). On this date, participating countries, especially, their Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards as well as their national agency such as the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) should have finalized all accommodation contracts for the pilgrims.
The processing of visas will run from March 1 to April 29, 2024. The first batch of 2024 hajj pilgrims is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on May 9, 2024 (Dhul Qada 1, 1445AH).
Spurred by the achievements recorded during the 2023 hajj and in line with the aforementioned timetable, it has been a beehive of activities by NAHCON in the last few weeks, perfecting strategies and creating awareness about the spiritual journey.
One major highlight is the announcement of N4.5m as deposit. Speaking after a meeting with chairmen and executive secretaries for the states’ pilgrims’ boards last week in Abuja, the Chairman of NAHCON, Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, said the fare for the next hajj would be expensive due to the unification of foreign exchange by the federal government.
Hassan noted that with the dollar currently at N740, the commission is not certain what the price for pilgrims would be owing to the fluctuation of forex. He said the deposit might change depending on the performance of the naira.
The states’ pilgrims who performed hajj in 2023 paid between N2.8m and N3m when the exchange rate was N450 to a dollar.
“I must tell you that next year’s hajj is going to be expensive. This is something we must prepare for, starting from today (September 5). I am not saying we will be able to know the cost today, but what we are sure of is that hajj is going to be expensive and I will tell you why.
“First, it appears that the age of the concessionary rate is gone. As we speak, the forex is at N740 to a dollar, so, if you multiply that with the dollar fare for hajj last year, you can imagine how many more millions you will need to add to the cost of hajj. The government has been clear on it. There is going to be only one rate as far as forex is concerned. Will the N740 come down? I don’t know, but I pray it does.
“If it goes down, we’ll fix the price with it. If it doesn’t go down, we have no choice. That’s to tell us to prepare ahead for the cost.” Hassan, who noted that the preparation for Hajj 2024 had begun, said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would end the issuance of visa 45 days to Arafat. He said this would stop state governors from changing the names of approved pilgrims to accommodate new ones.
“By the 29th of April, visa issuance will close. And 10 days after, pilgrims will begin to arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Unlike what we do when it is two days to the closure of the flight, somebody will say my governor wants some people to go to hajj and look for the slot, the Kingdom said it is gone forever. It means you have between 40 to 50 days to Arafat when you can’t get a visa anymore,” he stated.
He said NAHCON had constituted a committee to look into how a refund would be secured for services not rendered to Nigerian pilgrims during the 2023 hajj.
Moreover, Nigeria has retained 95,000 slots for Hajj 2024. And the figure has been shared among the 36 states’ pilgrims welfare boards, agencies,commissions, the FCT and the armed forces.
The document released by the Commission last week after its meeting with the representatives of states’ pilgrims’ welfare boards, agencies and commissions in Abuja showed that Nigeria retained the 95, 000 slot allocation for pilgrims again in the 2024 Hajj slated for next year. The list also shows that Kaduna leads with 6004 pilgrims, followed by Kano and Sokoto with 5,934 and 4,996 allocation respectively.
Others are Kebbi, 4,752; Katsina, 4,513; FCT, 4,368; Kwara, 3,419; Bauchi, 3,364; Borno, 2,691; Gombe, 2,506; Niger, 3,592; Jigawa, 1,518; Nasarawa, 2,010.
In the Southwest, Lagos got the lion share with 3,517 slots; Osun, 1,764; Oyo, 1,386; Ogun, 1,191; Ondo, 491; and Ekiti, 246 slots. Similarly, Edo has 412; Cross-River, 67; Imo, 199; Delta, 64; Bayelsa, 58; Anambra, 15 while Enugu got 14 slots. Abia and Akwa-Ibom have zero allocations.
“With the allocation of slots to states, preparation has commenced. Of course, we are still addressing some challenges faced during the last hajj in the area of limited space and shortage of food at Mina. We have written formal complaints demanding refund and apology. While awaiting that, we are forging ahead with 2024 exercise,” NAHCON boss explained.
Earlier in a related development, the Vice President Kashim Shettima hosted the management board of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), appealing to Saudi authorities to rescind its decision to provide feeding for Nigerian pilgrims during the five-day hajj rites in Saudi Arabia.
The occasion held at the presidential villa; Abuja was the formal briefing of the vice president on the outcome of the 2023 hajj. As a direct response to the food crisis encountered by the Nigerian pilgrims during the 2023 exercise, the vice president said the weather, coupled with the climate change experienced globally make it imperative for the Kingdom to allow the State Pilgrims Welfare Boards to feed its pilgrims to avert physical or health discomfort during the hajj.
The VP was reported to have said, “It is essential for the Kingdom to review its feeling mechanism in the masha’ir with weather and climate change. Many of the pilgrims if not fed with their local delicacies might not have the physical strength to perform the spiritual exercise which is the main purpose of hajj. I will therefore urge you to appeal and persuade them to temper the economic consideration in favor of the well-being of the pilgrims.”
Shettima whose office now supervises the Commission praised the management board for the successful completion of Hajj 2023, while urging them to embark on broad and aggressive education and enlightenment for the 2024 Hajj in order to ensure smooth and hitch-free operation.
Earlier in his address, the Chairman/CEO of NAHCON, Alhaji Zikiruah Kunle Hassan briefed the vice president on the 2023 Hajj and the steps towards preparation for the 2024 Hajj.
According to him, the 2023 Hajj was not without its challenges, but with the support and intervention of the vice president, especially in transferring funds to the Kingdom, these challenges were overcome.
The Chairman, who highlighted some of the board’s achievements since its inception in 2020, said the Hajj Savings Scheme (HSS), the Hajj Institute of Nigeria (HIN) and the development of the economy were part of the transformational arrangements to ensure a sustainable hajj economy.
The chairman’s entourage included the Commissioner in Charge of Policy, Personnel, Management and Finance (PPMF), Alhaji Nura Hassan Yakassai; Commissioner in Charge of Operations and Licensing, Alhaji Abdullahi Magaji Hardawa; Commissioner in charge of Planning, Research, Statistics, Information and Library Services (PRSILS), Sheikh Suleman Momoh; Secretary of the Commission, Dr Rabiu Kontagora and a host of other management staff of the commission.
So far, the momentum is building up while hajj officials in the states are mobilizing and creating awareness all geared towards another successful and rewarding hajj 2024 experience. “Our Lord! Grant us mercy from Your own providence. And furnish us, in our present circumstances, with right guidance.” Jumu’at Mubarak!