Ustaz Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad
Last week, I hinted that the piece would be a lengthy one running into series. I also mentioned the issue of petitions written against the leadership of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
There have been two prominent petitions I am aware of. Both petitions got a lot of attention from media outlets. Both had one thing in common; request for the removal of the current Executive Chairman, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammed. Their reasons for demanding his removal are also similar. Let us examine the petitions and what they say.
This week I will begin with the petition of a group called The Nigerian Arewa Foundation, which is based in Saudi Arabia. The petition says they are “a Saudi based Nigeria Business Community lawfully registered under the corporate Acts of Saudi Arabia whose main occupations are the provisions of accommodations, catering and other Pilgrims welfare services to most especially Nigerian Pilgrims during the Muslims Lesser Hajj (Umrah) and Hajj Periods”.
They submitted their petition, titled, “PETITION AGAINST THE ILLICIT MANNERS AND CONDUCTS OF THE CHAIRMAN, NATIONAL HAJJ COMMISSION” to Hon. Ali J. C Isa representing Balanga/Billiri Federal Constituency of Gombe State. It was addressed to “the Rt. Honourable Speaker, Nigeria House of Representatives” (sic). It was signed by a certain Ibrahim Sulaiman Yusuf as Chairman.
Curiously, another copy was advertised in Newspapers. That version of the petition had 158 signatories. The names and telephone numbers of the signatories were included. Upon closer investigation, the owners of the names and telephone numbers denied knowledge of the petition and denied ever signing any petition against the Executive Chairman of NAHCON. As you will see later, the plot thickens.
The gist of the petition is that the Chairman has allegedly been abusing his position by levying illegal fees and charges and by introducing draconian laws which exclude genuine service providers in Saudi Arabia while favouring his selected companies, which front for him. It urged the House to remove the Chairman and reprimand him. The House invited the Chairman and the petitioners to an investigative hearing. The Chairman requested an open session to allow the same media with which the petitioners were spreading their own side get the other side for balanced reportage.
After the hearings at which the Chairman was able to defend himself and the petitioners failed at achieving their aim, Ibrahim Sulaiman Yusuf, the Chairman of the Foundation, made a press briefing where he announced that they would sue NAHCON and get an injunction restraining the Commission under Barrister Abdullahi to execute the 2017 Hajj operations. The Chairman wrote the Secretary to the Federal Government to inform him of this development and the security risk it poses. Ibrahim Sulaiman Yusuf and his secretary, Hassan Muhammad, have since issued another statement denying what he said earlier.
Whenever there is an allegation, the first thing to do is verify the claims. This is in line with what Allah, The Exalted has instructed. In the Quran, He instructed us thus:
“O ye who believe! If an iniquitous person brings you news, verify it, lest you harm people out of ignorance, and afterwards become full of regret for what you did” (Al-Hujuraat Q49:6)
The verse I quoted above was revealed to the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) in Madeenah. The circumstance leading to its revelation includes this incidence: A companion of the Prophet (peace and blessings of Allah be upon him) was instructed to go and collect the zakat from a community. He owed money to some folks in the community and was thus perturbed even before setting out. Towards the borders of the village, he noticed some riders coming his way. They were welcome riders but he did not know this. As they rode towards him, he turned his camel around and fled. He returned to Madeenah empty-handed and declared that the people refused to pay tax (zakat).
As a precaution, the Messenger of Allah (blessings and peace of Allah be upon him) sent out another team of about 20 men to go and investigate this claim. On their way they met the representatives of the community on their way to Madeenah to complain about the tax collector and how he embarrassed the welcome team. The truth came out and Allah reprimanded him in those words.
Why I mention this verse is that it is one of the foundations of interpersonal relations and conflict resolution in Islam. You must never form an opinion or give judgement until you have listened to both sides of the story and you have studied the evidence provided by both. By the mercy of Allah, I have looked at both sides and seen their evidences, which are in the public domain. I will leave you to either read my assessment of the situation and make up your mind or do the same research I have done and make your conclusions.
The first of the six major allegations contained in the petition was that in the 2015 and 2016 Hajj seasons, the Chairman (note this as a consistent usage throughout their petition) personally levied all companies providing accommodation to Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia the sum of SR50 per pilgrim, describing the fee as ‘unexplained and unreceipted’. They also claimed that the amount was collected on all the 76,000 pilgrims from Nigeria.
The National Hajj Commission prepares annual revenue estimates for its onshore and offshore operations. When the estimated revenue falls short of the estimated spending, the Commission writes the Presidency through the SGF to request for an offset of the balance. In 2015, for example, the amount requested to augment the revenue was 7, 494, 176. In 2016, that figure not only shrunk to zero, the Commission actually recorded a surplus of a little over 1.3 million. Is the Commission empowered to collect fees and charges? Let us examine the Act which set up the institution:
Since sections 11 and 12 of the NAHCON Act (October 2006) are both relevant to what we are discussing, it is good to reproduce both of them verbatim:
11. Funds of the Commission
(1) The funds of the Commission shall consist of –
(a) All such sums as may be charged by the Commission as fees, commissions or dues for its services;
(b) All revenue accruing to or vested in the Commission by way of grants-in-aid or otherwise howsoever;
(c) any other money saved by the Commission; provided that, the Commission shall not appropriate any monies belonging to the Hajj Saving Scheme, or borrowed pursuant to the provisions of this Act or any other enactment; and
(d) Bequests, gifts and donations.
12. Estimates of expenditure
In respect of the revenue of each financial year, the Commission shall, except in the case of the first pilgrimage after commencement of this Act, prepare and submit to the President not later than three months before every pilgrimage, an estimate of its expenditure and income during the next succeeding financial year, provided that the Commission shall submit an advance estimate whenever it is requested to do so by the President. (End of quotation).
During the House hearing, the petitioners failed woefully to prove their accusation of unexplained and unreceipted deductions. Each year, before the current Chairman, NAHCON had been deducting the charges from what is paid to each accommodation provider. Indeed, they know the charges well, as any Hajj and Umrah tour operator can tell you.
The money is not collected in cash; it is merely deducted at source, which explains why no receipt is issued. They could not prove that the Chairman collected any money from anyone and they also could not deny that the deductions had been so even before the current Chairman. All the charges the Commission collected from service providers were already included in its revenue estimates for the year which was submitted to the President, in accordance with the 12th section of the NAHCON Act which I have reproduced above.
On this allegation, it is clear mischief was at play. The charge is false and malicious.
Next week, inshaa Allah, we will examine the next set of allegations. We will examine the truth or the lack thereof in the allegations and I pray Allah will let us get to the bottom of the whole saga.