Friday, March 16, 2018

LEGACIES OF HAJJ OPERATIONS AND THE NIGERIAN QUESTION (1)




                Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar and Sheikh Bala Lau


The Manara Satellite Television organised a One-Day National Symposium with the above theme at the Lady Kwali Conference Hall, Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, on Saturday, March 10th, 2018, and in which event the Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad delivered the following Keynote Address: 

I feel honoured and delighted to be invited once again by Manara to participate in this National Symposium. True to its name, this station has been a beacon of light for the Muslim Ummah in this age of heightened digital competition to be seen and heard. The Jama’atul Izalatul Bidi’ah wa Iqamatus Sunnah has covered much ground in the quest to disseminate Islamic knowledge since its inception in the late 70’s to the early 80’s and has now progressed with the times. I must, therefore, commend its leadership for their steadfastness and foresight.




The theme of this symposium aptly coined “Legacies of Hajj Operations and the Nigerian Question” couldn’t have come at a better time. Nigeria is an interesting country with numerous issues and sub-issues as diverse as the country itself. The Muslim population is not left out because we have our own discourse ranging from how to pray to which Muslim is a Muslim and who is not. However, two major events seem to unite the Muslim Ummah… more or less: The month of Ramadhan and Hajj. My focus will be on Hajj and its impact on Nigeria, especially in recent years.




Ever since Allah SWT instructed Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to invite mankind to Hajj as mentioned in the Quran (22:27), it has remained a yearning of every believer from every part of the globe to undertake the exercise. Embarking on Hajj was initially a personal enterprise. In this part of the world, Hajj seemed to be the exclusive preserve of Monarchs, wealthy merchants or scholars.





The first recorded Hajj trip in sub-Saharan Africa was undertaken in the 11th century by rulers of the Sayfawa Dynasty. Mai Dunoma bin Ummee was said to have embarked on Hajj twice in 1098 and 1115 before the famous entourages of Mansa Musa (1394-5) and Askia Mahmud of Songhai (1496-7) in the 14th century. In the 19th century, some of the notables that embarked on the exercise included the Emir of Katsina, Muhammadu Dikko (1920 and 1936), the Emir of Kano, Alh Abdullahi Bayero, along with about 40 family members (1937) and merchants like Alh Muhammadu Nagoda, Alh Mahmud Kassim, Alh Mahmud Dantata and Alh Ibrahim Musa Gashash in 1948. The Hajj journeys undertaken by individuals before the 19th century were life-threatening. In many cases, those who travelled never came back due to death or permanent re-settlement elsewhere (Hanga, 1999). The Sokoto-Kano-Borno-Darfur-Oumdurman-Suakin trans-Saharan route was famous for use by pilgrims. Many were said to have undertaken the Hajj journey, settled briefly to trade or farm to secure enough for the journey to Makkah and same applies when returning home.




Hajj in Nigeria started as group-travels led or organized by Emirs and Merchants. The establishment of the West African Pilgrims Association (WAPA) and the Pilgrims Aid Society during the last decade of colonial rule, popularized and increased the number of pilgrims embarking the Hajj from Nigeria because of quicker means of transportation. The number of pilgrims increased from less than a hundred in 1936 to 2,483 in 1956 and 106,000 by 1977 (Hanga, 1999). With this increase came the need for Government to get involved because managing such numbers went beyond basic welfare to include diplomatic and security concerns.





The first body established at the Federal level and charged with Managing Hajj in Nigeria was the Nigeria Pilgrims Board in 1975. Since then, different bodies were established under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to manage Hajj (Bugaje, 1996). However, the story of Hajj for many years after was that of poor coordination, gross inefficiency and wastage of resources irrespective of the quality and integrity of persons leading the Hajj Management bodies.


For example, Nigeria had to continuously seek for an extension of airport closure deadlines for three consecutive years namely; 2004, 2005 and 2006 but was still unable to airlift its pilgrims. In 2005, President Obasanjo had to request the King of Morocco to intercede and extend the closure of Jeddah Airport by 48 hours, yet about fifteen thousand (15,000) pilgrims were left behind. Also, Government was forced to pay over two billion naira in fines incurred by Hajj carriers or due to its violation of contract agreements and many other financial losses caused by poor arrangements. This was in addition to the full dependence on Federal Government for funding of Hajj and not to mention the haphazard manner in which Hajj activities were coordinated in Saudi Arabia with Federal and State contingents operating independently of each other, duplicating duties and at times working at cross-purposes.


This situation caused President Olusegun Obasanjo to initiate a reform that will solve Hajj problems once and for all by establishing

  1. a body independent of the bureaucratic bottle-necks and other interferences of any Government Ministry. After the 2005 Hajj exercise, Stakeholders on Hajj were invited from all over the country and from various fields. The outcome of the effort was the birth of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria via NAHCON (Establishment Act), 2006.





With the establishment of a permanent and independent body in 2007, the course of Hajj operations in Nigeria changed direction for the better. To quote the Chairman of the Saudi United Agents Office, Dr Farouq Bukhari, the Head of the United Agents Office; He said

“.. In the last five years, Nigeria has come from being one of the worst to one of the best Hajj Missions in the world”. This is in addition to the award of excellence to the Nigerian Medical Team by the Saudi Ministry of Health in 2017.




I have mentioned some of these highlights, at the risk of sounding academic, to place the theme of this symposium in context. I am sure we have in our midst, scholars more eminently qualified to speak on Hajj than myself. Now to highlight the legacies of Hajj Operations in Nigeria

Friday, March 9, 2018

DEAR HAJIYA (DR) AMINA NAMADI SAMBO (2)








How your predominantly black, modest attire riled her! Remember how she would often insult you publicly by telling people you remind her of death because you were always in mourning. Your Excellency, in your shoes, I would have asked her why her husband also mourned, since he also wore black attires most of the time. You showed fine breeding, and it cannot be acquired merely by being catapulted to lofty positions. In the end, the foundation will reveal itself in the manners and comportment of the occupier of an underserved position. Indeed, “what got you here won’t get you there” as Marshal Goldsmith put it in his book of the same title.


The point I desire to make is, for a vice president as loyal as your husband - loyal to a fault, I must add - to concede your refusal to dance with him at the behest of his boss, President Jonathan, he deserves accolades for respecting and appreciating the fact that his authority over his wife cannot encroach Allah’s sanctuary; and eternal honour goes to you for stubbornly sticking to what is right, and, at the same time, reverently walking shyly behind her husband, the archetype of the Muslim wife,   supporting him within the limits imposed by Allah. You did not grant a BBC interview, for instance, as is the vogue in the era of change, to expose your husband’s political weaknesses, if there were any, in order to make his adversaries triumph over him, Allah forbid!  

Doubtless, working with Dame Patience must have been a very hard enterprise especially for you, who have chosen to adhere to the Divine Proclamation of not appearing in public like a coquette, but in a decent manner to be recognised as a Muslim lady in hijab (al-Ahzaab, 33:59). What psychological torture and denigration you have endured, because of your raiment, from Mama Peace, who is, to be fair to her, of different culture and creed, in which black is associated with death and mourning periods. One could argue, as I have earlier pointed out, that her husband was often seen wearing black clothes. The fact that you have worn myriad hijabs of diverse hues was lost on the hater of ‘people from that side’.


I imagine how it must feel to be in that very contracted situation where you could not get any succour even from fellow Muslim sisters within the State House or female members of the cabinet at that time. I can only imagine what passed through your mind when shockingly, one of your fellow Muslim sisters advised you to take off your hijaab to fit in and avoid Mama Peace and her barbed tongue. The throng of women hovering decorously around Dame Patience looked similar in attire, as if they deliberately dressed in a way that would not offend Mama Peace - in gyale, ashobi, and tayani gantali - except for the then Minister of Education, Prof. Rukayyah Ahmad Rufa’i, and a few others, who remained firm and proud of their black abaayahs




Your ordeal at the hands of your tormentor reminds me of the recent event of December 12, 2017, when a citizen of this country, Firdaus Abdulsalam Amasa, was denied the Call to Bar by the Body of Benchers for exercising her constitutional right to don her religious garment; something she has worn all her years as a Law student and at the Law school without incident. The irony of lawyers violating the law which protects one of their own is sad. The purported hearings on the matter at the National Assembly did not happen. Injustice against one of us is an injustice against the rest of us. Precedence has been set; the seeds of deeply rooted hatred and ill-feelings have been sown.

This country may not reap the fruits until a generation after ours. In Firdaus’ case, as in yours, we saw not just the haters of our religion coalesce into a front against her, we also saw ignorant Muslims wondering why she could not remove the hijaab for just one day. The right question should be why should she be required to remove her religious garment at all? How does wearing hijaab affect anything in the training of a lawyer? How did it affect her ability to collect her certificate on that day? What slave mentality gave birth to such narrow-minded, bigoted and outright stupid adherence to a tradition? How would they feel if the roles were reversed and Firdaus’ faith dictated the dress code on that day?

In the circumstances like the one you found yourself in, Your Excellency, where some Muslims were advancing reasons why the hijab should be jettisoned because "you are a leader for all, so it is not fitting for you to display a commitment to religion”, you must have felt lonely in the midst of minions of the froward boss who abhorred dichotomy between decency and impropriety in dressing. You did not hearken to their noxious talk as you remained, gracefully, the moving emblem of the Muslim dress code throughout your husband’s tenure both as the governor of Kaduna State and as the Vice President. Even now, I see you have not altered in the least. 

I often marvelled at the way you were able to refrain from stretching out your hand to shake that of ‘foreigners’. Often times the cameras would beam a male dignitary reaching you for a handshake, but you would politely stay your palms over your bosom and at the same time smiling as if to say, “Sorry sir, my hand is reserved for my consort only”. I have personally been moved by this obduracy in spite of the apparent pressure exerted on you from every direction to relent.

Even Baba, the letter writer as well as his estranged “political son” did not find a way of approach to that hidden hand of yours. Anyone who deems this a mean feat should think of the endless emissaries from foreign missions, ambassadors, members of the Federal Executive Council, and heads of state and leaders from around the globe coming into the State House, and having a handshake with everybody except the wife of the Vice President of Nigeria at the time; it is not a position for the faint-hearted. I ardently hope to hear what people like Barrister Abdul-Raheem Adebayo Shittu, the Minister of Communication, Malam Adamu Adamu, the Minister of Education, and Sheikh (Dr) Isa Ali Pantami, the Director General of the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), who are the three known as the “Mallams” appointed by the current administration, will have to say about the difficulty of refusing to have handshakes with women.

Whatever difficulty they are now encountering in that regard, what Your Excellency faced was twice as great because you resided in the Villa, the powerful centre and seat of government. You saw and came into contact with quite a number of people in a single day that Adamu, Shittu and Pantami put together cannot meet in a month. Not only that, they are males and heads of their offices; you held no political office as the wife of the Vice President, who was answerable to President Jonathan! Yet, you drew a distinct demarcation between what you could do as a Muslim woman, and what to avoid in spite of the animadversions of Mama Peace! 

After the first Umrah or Hajj (I cannot remember which it was exactly) that you and His Excellency, the former Vice President performed, a friend,  one of the officials in the Holy Ka’bah assigned to foreign dignitaries during their tawaaf, called me. His name is Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abd Isah, and he is also charged with the enviable task of perfuming the Ka’bah itself. ‘Abd Isah said that of all the VIPs he had served “from numerous non-Arabic speaking nations, I have not seen anyone like the wife of your Vice President, Hajiya Amina. She was virtually reciting, with the Sheikhs attached to them, all supplications during tawaaf. She knows by heart all the supplications to be said at every point and in every position. Moreover, she conversed with us in Arabic….” 



Sheikh Muhammad ‘Abd Isah is accustomed to those VIPs and heads of government who know nothing about Islam besides its name, and whose wives are as ignorant; who only don the hijab when they are going for Umrah or Hajj. However, my Dear Sister, you answered the call of Allah’s Summoner, the late Sheikh Abubakar Mahmoud Gumi, (may Allah forgive and have mercy on him) for women to seek knowledge about Islam, as well as Boko.





Friday, March 2, 2018

DEAR HAJIYA (DR) AMINA NAMADI SAMBO (1)

I am searching for the former occupant of the Presidential Villa who did not leave her morals and religious etiquette at the Pilot Gate before she went into the State House. I am looking for the ambassador of hijaab who refused to bedizen herself with the diaphanous cloth of jaahiliyyah even when she swam in affluence and power. I am enquiring about, you, my sister in whose time and resources the indigent and the physically challenged, Muslim and Christian alike, had a determined share through her pet project:  I Care Women and Youth Initiative. I am missing Your Excellency, Hajiya (Dr) Amina Muhammad Namadi Sambo, wife of the Vice President who tarried with President Goodluck Jonathan. 


We did not meet physically either when you were the First Lady of Kaduna State, where I spent my formative years, or during your sojourn at the Presidential Villa, Abuja, but the media had made your image stick in the mind. I met you just before the election, when you attended a  National Muslim Women Town Hall Meeting organised by the Office of the then Senior Special Assistant to the President on Islamic Affairs & State House Mosque, Barrister Tahir Umar Tahir at the main auditorium of the Women’s Development Centre, Abuja on Sunday,  March 22nd, 2015. Dame Patience Jonathan, Hajiya Aisha Bala Mohammed, wife of the FCT Minister of the time, and my ‘mother’ Hajiya Zainab Maina, the then Honourable Minister of Women Affairs, among others, were at that event.

I left that venue unable to even say proper “Salaam” to your Excellency (and other women on the high-table) because your bellicose boss, Dame Patience, discomfited me by her rantings. As one of the discussants of the paper on “Violence-Free Elections” I had humbly advised Mrs Jonathan to apologise and make peace with the people of the North whom she openly vilified in a campaign rally in Calabar (on March 2nd, 2015). At that rally, she said: “Our people no dey born shildren wey dem no fit count. Our men no dey born shildren throway for street. We no dey like the people for that side”. That side being the North, part of whose votes would determine the results of the elections. 

I had wanted to listen to your speech on that day.  I had hoped to listen to your well-articulated English, an embodiment of real scholarship and deep learning, not the gibberish of pseudo PhDs who mutilate the language mercilessly and display utter lack of good breeding in their choice of words and carriage. Unfortunately, when it was your turn to speak, you declined; as “Her Excellency,” Patience Jonathan “had spoken, it sufficed.” It little sufficed, your Excellency. The loquacious consort to your husband’s boss was better off mute that day.



She was too big to utter the words of apology, to feel compunction for the rancour her words left in the hearts of the people, but was not, of course, too big to be drowned in the tsunami in which “people for that side” played a major part! The list of the problems that led to the fall of the Jonathan government will be incomplete without the role of Dame Patience. I shudder to remember, as you do too, all the atrocious utterances of that woman against many people including you.


I urge every politician to be wary of the actions and utterances of their spouse which can make or mar their political existence. Your Excellency, you stood out, as you did not exceed the limits of decency except where the bounds of Allah’s Laws were approached, in which case you flatly demurred! I remember, when at the Presidential Inauguration Dinner 2011, you showed that exception evidently. Your husband, His Excellency Architect Namadi Sambo and everybody else took part in the President Dance; all were on the stage entertaining the nation, which event was beamed live on television. That day, you saved the hijab from desecration.



The footage from the Nigerian Television Authority (NTA) that focused on the table around which sat your husband, Alhaji Yayale Ahmad, the then Secretary to the Government of the Federation, showed there was a certain level of pressure on your Excellency to join in the dance and not embarrass the V.P by leaving him to dance alone. However, viewers could clearly see that you, as a bastion of the hijab were defiantly deaf to all Presidential entreaties, since there was no obedience to any creature, including ‘oga’ and his boss, in disobedience to the Creator! 


I have a lot of respect for your husband, your Excellency. In one of my sessions of Friday khutbah (sermon) translation at the Abuja National Mosque, I made comments in his presence, which was displeasing to some of the leaders of his party, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP); the details are not necessary here. However, after the adjudication and resolution of that incident by His Eminence, Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, I made it a duty to visit His Excellency, your husband, every Ramadan whenever he stayed at the Madinah Hilton Hotel, where I also accommodated pilgrims on my company’s package.

In those Ramadan visits I saw a complete gentleman, committed to his duties, peaceful coexistence, and love for Nigeria; and more importantly, loyalty to President Goodluck Jonathan, even in faraway Madinah. When we were leaving in one of such visits, a scholar was offering du’aa (supplication) to Allah for the VP, where he said, among other things, “O Allah! We pray that when next we converge in Your Holy City of Madinah, we shall supplicate for a President Namadi Sambo…” There and then, he interjected; something very unusual in Muslim prayer sessions, and said, “No, Sheikh; remove that part of the prayer. I remain loyal to President Goodluck Jonathan.” 


That was the apotheosis of loyalty where all the people present were Muslims but His Excellency remained unchanged. The Arabs say if you revere the honoured, they reciprocate and appreciate you, but if you show loyalty to the undeserving, haughtiness drives them to thanklessness; they may even, wrongfully, suspect that you covet their position. Was this unfounded suspicion of nursing presidential ambition, then, the reason why, despite his loyalty, he was disenfranchised from access to the privileges of his exalted office? Was it why, albeit a blessing in disguise, he was not smothered with more from our commonwealth, thereby not making the sordid list of pilferers who devoured resources meant for the fighting of insurgency in the Northeast? I really wonder!



You suffered nothing less than your husband did in the hands of his boss’s wife too. Your Excellency, remember the insults about your hijaab and how the uncouth woman would call those around you Boko Haraam to your hearing. Not in jest as some would imagine but with a callous and calculated attempt to make you feel inferior. A poorly educated upstart, who could barely string together a sentence in good English would look you in the eye and tell those around you that you are always dressed like “a bush woman”. 


How you endured all the slurs, insults, words of bitter hate against your religion and your religious dressing, the utter contempt for your right to go and offer your daily salawaat and sundry atrocities which I would have revolted against in your shoes remains a mystery and testimony to your good breeding. You upheld the quintessence of womanhood in Islam in your manners, which is less than I could say for the one whose nickname was the very antithesis of her actions. We are proud of you; may Allah reward you.