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Friday, September 27, 2013

SEAT ALLOCATION FOR HAJJ 2013




                                                              Ka'bah


I do not envy the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in its task of distributing a limited number of Hajj seats to tour operators, not least this year where the total number of seats has been slashed by more than 20% worldwide. This has further made NAHCON’s distribution process only more difficult. Apart from hundreds of older tour operators qualified for allocation, there was a flood of new companies that have fulfilled all the conditions for Hajj seat allocation stipulated by NAHCON; the seats available were at a premium.


We understood from our intercourse with the commission that it had to devise means of eliminating negligent tour operators in order to have a manageable number of companies eligible for Hajj seat allocation. Example of such eliminated Hajj operators were those with uncompleted documents, those whose International Air Transport Association (IATA) certificates were not renewed or were in default of ticket remittance, and so on. I said ‘negligent tour operators’, because, in a great many cases, it is only negligence that will lead to any of such problems as discovered and timely used by NAHCON in denying the affected companies this year’s Hajj allocation. IATA communicates with travel agents through emails and the Billing and Settlement Plan (BSP) on its online portal. Any vigilant travel agent who checks their mail and visit IATA BSP portal regularly will not be caught napping.


The process of seat allocation for Hajj 2013 was transparent; the basis for most of what NAHCON did was clear. If a company was denied allocation, reasons for such denials were communicated to the affected tour operators. As far as that was concerned NAHCON was above board. Yes, many of us grumbled and complained bitterly on the meagreness of what we got, but at the end of the day, we had to concede because nothing was hidden in how we ended up with the number of seats allocated to us.


Personally, what I find disturbing about the criteria for allocating the seats is that a company’s years of experience and its performance each year means very little to the Commission. A company might have been in operation for 15 years and may have got allocation of seats from the Commission for years but if it had no IATA Certificate in the last 4 years or so, it will get less seats than a company that got its IATA license last year and is operating for the first time this year. In fact, the older company would get no allocation. If the older company struggles to get the said certificate this year, the company would be deemed by the Commission to have started operations this year; forget the fact that there is ample documentation to prove otherwise in their archives. I find this unwise and unfair; especially as the IATA license hardly has any relevance to Hajj operations.


Another sore point is the fact that the Commission registers as many companies as fulfil their conditions for allocation of seats. In itself, there is nothing wrong with this except that the total number of available seats is not increasing but the total number of companies jostling for the seats almost doubles each year! Soon, the number will increase to the point that the number of seats allocated to each company would render the business unprofitable.


If you peruse the Commission’s website, you will find a new and commendable development; the publication of the names of successfully and unsuccessfully accredited companies for this year’s Hajj operations. The site could still use much improvement but I can only pray that Allah reward the leadership with much good in this world and the hereafter. It has a listening leadership - hitherto one could not access the latest developments on Hajj from the site. In spite of this laudable development, there are questions begging for answers.


The publication of Hajj seat allocation on the website (http://nigeriahajjcom.gov.ng/content/tour-operator-20131434ah) and in the national dailies (see Daily Trust Newspaper August 30, 2013, pg. 40) which has been NAHCON’s custom annually is baffling. This year there was no mention of the number of seats allocated to each company, which led many to believe that something was amiss. The Yorubas are a witty tribe; they have a proverb which illustrates my point. They say, “When you roast groundnuts for the blind, you are honour bound to whistle frequently lest you are accused of chewing the nuts”. Was it because of some disparity in the number of seats allocated to all companies that the figures were not made public? NAHCON had told us whatever any company got during last year’s allocation was the number of Hajj seats it would get this year. Some people said that was not exactly what happened as some companies got not only more than what was allocated to them last year but they also got far in excess of the average given to others.


Rather than peddle rumours, I want to inform the Commission what rumours we have heard; some people in the industry have been talking in hushed tones about how some seats meant for International Hajj Tour Operators have been allocated surreptitiously to the National Assembly. Every year, it is rumoured that NAHCON uses Hajj seats meant for tour operators to cater for some needs from the State House, some ministries and even the National Assembly.


The people who made this allegation said that some companies from the ranks of private Hajj operators are chosen for such an arrangement, since NASS, or any other government body targeted for such allocation is not a registered Hajj company; the number of seats given will be added to whatever NAHCON allocates to the Hajj tour operator. For example, if the company has 100 seats, and NAHCON decides to give the House of Representatives or the Senate as the case may be, say 500 seats, the company’s allocation letter will read 600 Hajj seats with the understanding that 500 is for the upper or lower legislative chambers. They allege that each arm of the National Assembly has its own separate allocation taken from that of tour operators.


I just hope the above allegation is not true, but if it is, well, the honourable members and distinguished senators who may use the Hajj seats are Nigerians and Muslims, it is understood that non-Muslims do not participate in Hajj. It is only more disturbing to hear it rumoured that even non-Muslim NASS members and senators use the Hajj seats by giving them to their Muslim friends and aides, or even selling them to Muslims (?) I have heard of both cases. I still hope it is not true, but if it is, how many of the members and senators know that there is an annual Hajj seat allocation for them from NAHCON. Who approved the company through which the alleged allocation was given, and what happens to the seats at the end of the day?  


The point is the Muslims at the National Assembly have every right to Hajj seats but NAHCON has a better way of satisfying that need rather than taking from the little allotment of tour operators. The states have the largest share of Hajj seats, the effect of taking 600 to 2000 or more from states’ allocation will be minimal than when the same number is taken from that of private Hajj companies which is inadequate.


NAHCON was created by the Act of the National Assembly in order to, among others, ease Hajj operations in Nigeria. The people who initiated this process that gave birth to NAHCON will receive their reward twice – by getting their full recompense with Allah and by seeing the wonders that the current leadership of NAHCON is doing in revolutionising this spiritual trip with successes unparalleled in the annals of Hajj operations in Nigeria. As you are reading this piece, more than 50% of Nigerian pilgrims for Hajj 2013 have been successfully airlifted to the Holy Land. NAHCON has done its part, learning and avoiding all the hitches encountered during last year’s Mahram debacle, and many more areas too numerous to mention within this article. In spite of all this, NAHCON is run by human beings, who can err and do things right, thus in need of honest propositions to make things better. Like the Arabs, I say to them ilal amaaam, insha Allah!





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