Friday, January 12, 2024


Today, I am writing from Jeddah Superdome, Saudia, the venue of the "third Hajj and Umrah Services Conference and Exhibition", which stakeholders worldwide are attending. This place is saturated with speeches, paper presentations and panel discussions by leading thinkers, innovators, researchers and entrepreneurs, sparing no effort to offer insights and address challenges to perfect future services for Hajj and Umrah.

Nigerian Tour Operators are here in ample numbers; whithersoever you turn, you spot many of them - in the main Auditorium, workshop sessions or around any of the more than 200 exhibitor stalls contracting business with service providers. And why shouldn't they, when they control 20,000 of Nigeria's pilgrims?

Participation in these kinds of conferences helps build our capacity through this series of presentations and training sessions. In the current edition of the Conference, moreover, we converge together with government representatives, regional and global leaders, policy and decision-makers and stakeholders in the industry, showcasing modern advancements in Hajj services, with attendees from over 80 countries, exploring how cutting-edge technology can serve us in the future.

Tour operators from Nigeria are included in this global engagement. Amid more than 5000 delegates, we are also showcasing our expertise, connecting with service providers and looking for solutions to challenges that pertain to us. We are now more abreast with the latest laws and regulations as well as opportunities open to us in the Mashaa'ir and holy territories to serve our pilgrims more efficiently in Hajj 2024 and beyond.


To prepare us for what we are witnessing now, the NAHCON Chairman, Mal Jalal Arabi, invited us to a meeting on Sunday, January 7, 2024, at Ummul Jud office of the Commission, Makkah.

It was indeed a long day for the Chairman, who had three meetings, not least the one with the Tour Operators. No sooner had he finished his interaction with officials of state pilgrims than he commenced the meeting with the Private Hajj Organisers, as the Tour Operators are described here. The chairman was trying to project a strong demeanour despite the weariness visible in his eyes. As we learn from the Saudis, service to the pilgrims is a trust and a responsibility. Call him a new entrant into this noble service, but Wallaahi, even his predecessors, have a lot to learn from Mal Jalal Ahmad Arabi - his humility, his posture, engendering comradery and bringing the best out of the people.

After exchanging pleasantries, the NAHCON Chairman apologised for keeping the Tour Operators waiting, said that the delay in starting the meeting on time was not intended, and said that the earlier one with the state pilgrims officials lingered beyond schedule. He welcomed us warmly and assured us that the Commission holds us in high esteem.

On the reason for the meeting, the Chairman said we need “to have a point of convergence” on addressing Hajj 2024 operations. He briefed the meeting on his earlier engagement with the Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj and Umrah, Dr Taufeeq Al-Rabi’ah and the signing of the 2024 Hajj Memorandum of Understanding between the two countries. He said the Nigerian Minister of Foreign Affairs Ambassador Yusuf Maitama Tuggar did not mince words in stating the problems Nigerian pilgrims face yearly in the Mashaa’ir and how a lasting solution must be found to forestall their recurrence. Mal Jalal said that the response of the Saudi side was sincere and straightforward: Minaa will not be as excellent as we would desire; the capacity of the entire space can only cater to 95,000 people, but no year has had less than 2 million pilgrims. The authorities, he said, are looking for other options (like permanent structures) to address the inadequacies of space in the Mashaa’ir. The Chairman said the Saudi Minister of Hajj and Umrah has accepted the invitation to visit Nigeria soon.

Opening Remarks by the Ag. Chairman/CEO

One would be forgiven if they assumed what I mentioned before was the Chairman’s opening remarks. It was not. He was coming out of an earlier meeting with the state pilgrims officials. He had two meetings with a similar set of people, with probably the same subject matter, in the same venue, going into the second one minutes after ending the first. The two nocturnal meetings were so close in timing, location and participants that nobody remembered to call for the Opening Prayers during the second meeting, even though it was the first item on the Agenda. That was nobody’s fault.

In his remarks, the Chairman called for openness among ourselves, as partners working towards one goal, one target - a hitch-free Hajj. He said our prayer should be to cover many grounds with stakeholders and service providers so that we can take back an exact figure for the Hajj fare at the end of the day. The Chairman recognised the challenges of the exchange rate. Of course, Hajj services are not paid in naira. “I’m an optimist”, he said, “and a realist…”. Without any intervention, he said, “We have to go to the open market…” but we will not despair; maybe there will be succour one way or another.

The merging of two or more companies in Hajj operations was also discussed. “I’m happy you have proved to the world that you can be organised,” said the Chairman, “and come together as one body. I’m impressed by the way you handled the issue.” He said in consolidation matters, the entities coming together will agree and disagree on several things. Still, the critical key to opening limitless doors of opportunity is honesty and straightforwardness in business dealings. He advised Tour Operators to record all contractual agreements among themselves in writing as instructed by the Glorious Qur’an. (Al-Baqarah, 2:282)

When it was time to discuss the Challenges of 2024 Hajj Operations, the Private Hajj Organisers informed the Chairman of the demeaning ways the Company for African Pilgrims treats them, the former Mu’assasah. They pleaded with Mal Jalal to intervene in our desire to sunder any engagement with a company that views us as a despicable lot with whom ratified covenants are not respected. Every year, Tour Operators pay the company for African pilgrims for services that are not rendered - no efficient water supply, adequate food, and no accommodation. Yours sincerely complained once regarding constricted tents allotted to my pilgrims, and the haughty officer in charge of the A Plus Tents said, ‘If you don’t want the tents, bring them back; many people are waiting to pay for them’. Such has been our lot with this Mu’assasah, as if we are a group of beggars and not business partners!

Responding to our plea, the Chairman said, “We listened to your complaints on the 2023 Hajj. Remember, we are the supervising agency concerning pilgrims and service providers. Thus, if you think you have better, cheaper services elsewhere by today, you can engage them. Go ahead, but be certain of what you are doing. Search deeply inwards at the cause of your problems to see if you were the cause of the issues…” The Chairman further stated that exploring possibilities is what the Commission encourages, but, as a lawyer for more than 40 years, what he will not condone is flouting of the laws. “If there are grey areas”, he said, “let us discuss” and resolve the best course of action to adopt. But “no one can gag an entrepreneur from using an opportunity” for better service delivery.

Tour Operators have started discussions with some service providers. With this nod from Mr Chairman, we will not return to Egypt, if you understand what I mean!

At the end of the meeting, we expressed our dismay over the non-representation of the Tour Operators in the MoU signing between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia for Hajj 2024 as if we were not significant stakeholders in the Hajj project.

On the above complaint, Mal Jalal Ahmad Arabi, OON, fwc, said, “Regarding not inviting you to the MoU signing, I take personal responsibility. As stakeholders, we should have invited you; I apologise for that, and henceforth, starting with the GACA meeting we are having soon, you will be formally invited….”

I hope the predecessors of Mal Jalal are listening!


This is to congratulate the newly appointed members of the Board of NAHCON. May Allah guide your decisions towards hitch-free Hajj 2024 operations.