Thursday, December 12, 2019

TO THE OUTGOING CHAIRMAN OF NAHCON (1)






"O YOU who have attained to faith! Be ever steadfast in your devotion to Allah, bearing witness to the truth in all equity; and never let the hatred of anyone lead you into the sin of deviating from justice. Be just: this is closest to being Allah-conscious. And remain conscious of Allah: verily, Allah is aware of all that you do." 
Qur'an 5:6





Dear Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar,

What medium will be more fitting than an epistolary style to rehearsing the chronicle of your eight-year stint at NAHCON? The first part of this correspondence which I christened ENVY had no apparent addressee but it was actually, as I mentioned in the first paragraph, a preface to this. As in ENVY, this letter speaks to everyone: to you, to me, to the scant band that celebrates your exit and to the multitudes that feel most melancholy because you are leaving. Also, it addresses the brand-new board that is warming up to assume the task of running the affairs of NAHCON. 

Mr Chairman, I envy your stoicism in the way you bore the news of the incoming board, during my visit to you before I travelled to Madeenah from where I wrote this correspondence. Your responses to the numerous telephone calls from well-wishers expressing their concern, the dignity and fortitude you exhibited impressed me immensely. The not-very-subliminal message was: we live in the world, and in any position that we may ascend, like strangers or wayfarers because it is ephemeral, caducous.  

This is the time of discovery, a time to distinguish between ersatz and genuine friends, a time to expect ill-treatment from those to whom you have shown favour. Recently, before the announcement of the new board, many WhatsApp groups were literally transformed into courtrooms where people, without legal training whatsoever, assumed the role of Lord Denning in interpreting the position of the law as to whether or not you merited another term as chairman of NAHCON. To your antagonists, convincing themselves that the law did not provide for renewal of another term for you as chairman was a form of catharsis. When what they ardently hoped and prayed for happened, some of these Abdullahi-must-go confederates are now lamenting that the composition of the incoming NAHCON board is too Southern, (whatever that means); that it is dominated by people whose states of origin make meagre contribution to the total number of pilgrims annually, and that the board has very few Northerners. Nonsense!

When has Islam degenerated, Mr Chairman, to placing emphasis on region, language and lineage? Let the confederates join the Arewa Forum to have an outlet for their regional bigotry. Hajj is Allah’s and a pillar of His religion. Zikrullah (Sikiru) Olukunle Hassan will finish his tenure as chairman of the Commission and have it renewed, Allah willing, and after his eight years, it will then be the turn of an Igbo chairman of NAHCON for another eight years. If Islam is what we all profess, then the chairmanship of Hajj affairs should not be confined to Northerners. Arewa should wait for the next sixteen years, around 2035, before entertaining the hope of leading NAHCON again. 

Muhammad Musa Bello, your predecessor and current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) has, during his two-term tenure as chairman, established the orbit on which Hajj operations run as well as the administration of NAHCON. Muhammad Musa’s style was akin to that of the first Caliph, Abubakr, even in his demeanour  — mild, amenable, indulgent. You served then as the Operations Commissioner. That was an opportunity for you to learn,  and you did, notwithstanding the vast experience you garnered during your sojourn in the Kaduna State Pilgrims Board. But your style was not Abubakr’s, and thus you could not tolerate what Muhammad Musa Bello patiently and silently endured. You were unlucky to have been his successor as the dispositional difference between the two of you was so apparent that some people deemed you haughty, unfriendly and vile. But Umar was not like Abubakr! 

Mr Chairman, I am not trying to exculpate you of any wrongdoing or administrative lapses if there were any. Only Allah knows you better than anyone of us. We are only human and all too fallible, but our fallibility will not blight the efforts we make in the advancement of Hajj. When you took over from Muhammad Musa Bello you, and indeed other members of the board, did not only perfect what he started, you built on it and brought innovative, positive changes to all spheres of Hajj operations in Nigeria and in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. The History of Hajj is incomplete without chronicling your contributions to its development. 

This correspondence is not an adulatory comment on your chairmanship of NAHCON. I write a balanced exposition, as a professional, not a dilettante, of the imperishable value you added to our industry and your unsurpassed experience, a fact that even your bitterest opponents attested to: “..that boy is a workaholic…” and “I am not a fan of Abdullahi Mukhtar, but I must confess that he has the knowledge of Hajj operations at his fingertips.” An Arab poet averred in a verse depicting this kind of testimony: “The real truth is in what adversaries ejaculated.”

State Pilgrims Boards And Agencies

My dear Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, you and your team (which includes the commissioners, representatives of ministries and agencies in the Commission, your staff and right down to drivers in both Nigeria and Saudi Arabia), should be garlanded with the flowers of honour as revolutionisers of the way Hajj is organised in Nigeria. That is no mean feat! It was all possible because you gave the right leadership. You have indeed set a very difficult and hard-to-follow precedent for any chairman of the Commission that will come after you!


Before you came, state pilgrims’ boards and agencies were operating as quasi-autonomous bodies with discordant systems of operation. Harmony was brought out of chaos under your watch as operational activities of all states, that hitherto appeared uncontrollable, were closely monitored as a complete whole, licences were issued with the policy of carrot to those who upheld regulations, and that of stick to those who flouted them. To enhance responsibility states were involved in the selection of air carriers for their pilgrims. Your assumption of the leadership of the Commission in 2015 heralded the issuance of more landing rights to outbound flights from Nigeria to land in Madeenah Airport. Our pilgrims were thus spared the odious and risky road transport from Jeddah Airport to Madeenah. 

The Ulama Team

His Eminence Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar introduced the Ulama Team into Hajj operations in order to bring together Muslim scholars of diverse hues to foster intra-religious cohesion. It is indeed heartening to observe that even though the Ulama Team was not your manufacture, you embraced, maintained it and even went further to enlarge its membership to include scholars that were not necessarily very prominent or close to those in authority but nonetheless scholars in their own rights that could add value to the Hajj through their instructions and guidance to the pilgrims. You have shown leadership by convening meetings with these ulama in Nigeria even before departure to the holy land as well as the pre and post-Arafah meetings in Makkah when you listened to their counsel concerning the operations of Hajj every year.     

National Medical Team (NMT)

Mr Chairman, the National Medical Team was another of your innovations that reduced the crowd of about 2000 medical personnel from state pilgrims board to around 500 only thus forestalling duplication, saving cost and achieving better coordination and effective dispensation of medical services to Nigerian pilgrims. This consolidation of the National Medical Team saw the deployment of Electronic Health Medical System into the medical operation which gave doctors ‘real-time data’ of the patient. You saw to the success of the EHMR by the provision of computers in all the clinics and ensuring that the personnel became ICT compliant. With EHMR, the NMT dropped the obsolete method of using ‘paper as a medical record system that manually stored a summary of daily patients’ consultations. The previous system made it cumbersome to check if patients have accessed services in any of the NMT clinics.’ By introducing the EHMR into the NMT system, therefore, you ensured ‘that the operations at the clinics run as smoothly as possible.    






In part two of this letter, I will dwell on the Media Team of NAHCON among other issues. Some Muslim journalists from the South “felt alienated and discriminated against” because it appeared that you forgot the South controlled the media; and you composed NAHCON Media Team with ninety per cent of journalists from Kano-Kaduna axis, neglecting our brothers and sister from the South. I will interrogate this complaint and address you accordingly.

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