By Mustapha Hodi Adamu
The ongoing announcement of the 2019 Hajj fares by respective states of the federation has kept me agape as to how the amount is still within the N1.5 million range, is it a magic wand?
Of course, we have to admit the fact that hajj fare do increase year in year out, under several governments since 1980s, but hearing this year’s amount, which is virtually the same as last year’s, had made me astonished, because of the apprehension and fears that always gripped our minds that the figure could snowball from the previous one.
The fear over this year’s ‘unannounced’ hajj fare emanated from rumour that was recently peddled by some unscrupulous elements that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON would this time around hike the figure to the whopping N1.8 million.
However, as the states started announcing their respective figures, which loitered around N1.5-something million, intending pilgrims must heap a huge sigh and the rumours peddlers should burry their heads in shame as NAHCON proved them wrong over their sinister motive.
How the national hajj commission arrived at ‘still’ N1.5 million rate of hajj fare is what Nigerians need to know. There is a need to leave no stone unturned in enlightening the citizens on why they are even charged certain amount to perform the Holy exercise.
Until last year, i came to know the assiduous and painstaking efforts of NAHCON and State Pilgrims Welfare Boards, SPWBs in hajj operation when i was part of the media team that covered the exercise. I then realised that it is a gigantesque task, shouldered by the hajj stakeholders, primarily aimed at serving intending pilgrims their full satisfaction.
My closeness with NAHCON and the information i gathered from the commission, also made me realise that setting hajj fare is multi faceted and all inclusive painstaking negotiations and discussions among all hajj regulatory bodies, service providers in Saudi Arabia and in Nigeria. It requires series of meetings between Saudi ministry and Nigerian hajj commission, as well as NAHCON and SPWBs, all in order to ensure quality service delivery during the Holy exercise.
What Nigerian Muslim pilgrims need understand is that, all the services rendered on each alhaji or hajiya must be paid for to the Saudi authorities. The transportation services, which now reportedly increased from 360 to 650 SR , feeding, health services, equipment used in Minna and other services throughout the about 40 days stay in the Holy cities are all paid out of the N1.5 million paid by a pilgrim.
During 2018 hajj, i gathered that there were more than 32,500 employees providing health services from Saudi Ministry of health of which 9,216 are women, and additional 25 operational hospitals in Mecca and the Holy Sites. 4,814 medical beds and additional 153 medical centers serving pilgrims .These services were provided by Saudi Arabia government free of charge.
Furthermore, to complement the government provision, Saudi Red Crescent deployed 127 emergency centers, 361 ambulance cars, 20 motorbikes, and more than 2,867 people to work in the in Mecca and Medina and another 100 field teams with 100 small ambulance cars and 80 big ones fully equipped for the service of intending pilgrims.
Now, how then did the NAHCON achieve the same hajj fare of 2019 with the last year’s? This is a question that i believe will remain on the lips of many Muslims in Nigeria.
Sources in the NAHCON revealed that one of the device used by the commission which has since proven to be a master stroke is upholding the tactics of negotiating directly with landlord instead of through proxies.
While the second is signing a pre -contract agreement with service providers before the Hajj season kicks off which can be liken to putting a hot knife in a butter.
What happened was that the commission’s Technical or NegotiatingTeam, in collaboration with the State Chief executive secretaries met with Makkah Landlords. The 9-member committee, according to the commission’s source, headed by Alhaji Yusuf Adebayo Ibrahim, the commissioner in charge of Policy Personnel Management and Finance, PPMF negotiated the accommodation rate for 32 states in Makkah where it succeeded in getting a lower rates for 28 states and retained the old rates for Three states.
“The team recorded the same feat in Madina where it was also able to persuade the accommodation Providers -Al-Andalus Company, Elyas company and Al-Zuhdy -to suspend the implementation of the service charge, thereby giving the commission a leverage to pay the same as last year.
“Thus while the Cameroonian Government have agreed to subsidize it’s pilgrims to calm down the effects of the imposition of service tax and hike in transportation,the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria employed it’s ingenuity to mitigate the spiral effect on the Hajj fare.
“Similarl , the commission approach to engaging the airlines on a long term contract to lock down the airline has also paid off. It ensured that the airlines and the commission maintained the status quo against the backdrop of no shock increase in cost of service in the aviation industry,” the source revealed.
Finally, NAHCON has a huge task ahead in the area of enlightenment to Nigerians on how it struggle to provide enabling environment for pilgrims before, during and after the hajj.
Mustapha Hodi Adamu writes from Kano and could be reached on [email protected]