Thursday, December 26, 2019



The last part of this series would hardly be very palatable, I must warn, as it touches on either what you should have done or what you desired to do but did not or could not do. The former may look like an indictment of your leadership; the latter, a lament over what should have been but was not, which, in Islam is not altogether bad since good intention, even when it fails to come to fruition, is recompensed. Both cases should interest the incoming board which Zikrullah (Sikiru) Olukunle Hassan Esq shall superintend, and, as Hajj appertains every Muslim, you will oblige the board any clarification that would lead to resolution or realisation of what you did not or could not do. 


I am certain that you will recall the wristband project which was launched with aplomb under your watch; that the wristband could, among other uses, guide pilgrims who lose direction to their places of accommodation in Makkah, Madinah and the Mashaa’ir; that it could serve as a communication device for pilgrims to ask for assistance, and whatnot. After all the vaunt concerning the wristband and its usefulness to pilgrims during Hajj, the whole project was a total failure as it was not allowed to prove its worth. At the point of entry, Saudi security personnel confiscated it from the wrist of every pilgrim that donned it. Many wondered why NAHCON exposed our pilgrims to this folly, made them pay for so expensive an electronic equipment without first clearing its admission into the Kingdom with Saudi Hajj authorities. What was more bitter than the embarrassment suffered at the entry points into the holy land was that the Commission refused to refund the pilgrims what they paid for the wristband that did not serve its purpose. NAHCON should have explained to the pilgrims, with equal vigour the project was launched, what went wrong and when they were likely to receive their refund. Silence, as you know, Mr Chairman, breeds suspicion. Cynics saw the whole wristband issue as a fraud orchestrated by you in favour of companies in which you had an interest. During the public presentation of the wristband by NAHCON nobody doubted what was said about the device, and no one thought that it will be denied entry into Saudi Arabia. But unfortunately, that was what came to pass.

Mr Chairman, whatever might have occurred in this regard was not unknown to you. You knew what went wrong and whoever must have frustrated your good intention on the wristband. NAHCON insisted then that the Saudi Hajj authorities, during one of the meetings in Makkah before that year’s pilgrimage, had permitted Nigeria to come up with its own version of the wristband for the exclusive use of its pilgrims. Whatever was the case, Mr Chairman, the pilgrims who paid for that "fated to fail" device deserved to be refunded just as you had always championed, with immense success, the cause of giving Nigerian pilgrims value for their money from all service providers, and adequate refund where such services were not delivered or poorly rendered! 


You have always wanted to have a training facility, a learning centre which will not only enhance the management of Hajj in Nigeria but shall also serve special academic and commercial needs of the Ummah. The International Hajj Training Institute is one of many things that you could not achieve as head of NAHCON, but this institute has the imprint of many people’s DNAs who must be given due credit. The current Governor of Bauchi State, His Excellency, Senator Bala Mohammed allocated the land for the project when he was the Honourable Minister of the FCT. The current Minister of the FCT and your predecessor Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, when he was NAHCON Chairman perfected all formalities for the collection of the Certificate of Occupancy from Bala Mohammed and went personally for the receipt of the title document. And you have done almost everything for the takeoff, (design and build) of the project including the funds to be spent on it. Now, over to Zikrullah! 


You could not achieve the Hajj Savings Scheme that you designed to assist indigent Muslims pay for Hajj through trickle deposits over a stretch of time. Depositors to the scheme will have the chance to perform the Hajj as well as gain dividend on a Shari'ah compliant venture in which their deposits would be invested. By initiating the savings scheme you started a process by which Hajj would be independent of the encumbrance of government’s financial support. Hajj is both a ritual and an institution capable of attaining financial autonomy if properly managed. Hajj savings programme, in some of the countries operating it, has been so successful that governments borrow billions of dollars from it. I believe that was the picture you had in mind when you took the idea to whatever level it is in the Commission today. The incoming board will continue from whence you stopped. 


Aside from the renovation work that is ongoing, the Hajj House is not part of what you could not do. That edifice at the Central Business District of the Federal Capital Territory is a  glowing testimonial to your contributions to Hajj in Nigeria. It is mentioned here to strengthen the point on Hajj Savings Scheme. You had stated in not a few forums how you came about the funds for the purchase of Hajj House. Some of my colleagues in the private Hajj operations and many Nigerians wrongly imputed the source to the Hajj Levy account. But according to you, the Commission got revenue from (a) the sale of pilgrims’ accommodation in the Markaziyyah (central) area for periods outside the time that Nigerian hajjis stay in Madinah, (before Arafah and during the peak of Hajj/Eid festivities) and (b) penalties for breach of accommodation contracts from property owners in Madinah. If NAHCON could raise more than N2b from its paid bed nights in Madinah accommodation alone to buy the Hajj House within five years, how much more could have been achieved if similar thinking was in place, say, twenty years ago? Look at the various multibillion naira projects in the states from the Hajj Levy - pilgrims will now wait for their Hajj flights in "hotel-like" facilities, amidst other structures at different levels of completion. And all that is just a little fraction of what the Hajj Savings Scheme would do to Hajj administration in Nigeria when implemented.  

Mr Chairman, aside from the above, NAHCON was able to conduct Hajj 2019 with naught financial support from the government, thanks to your prudence and foresight. The incoming board has to maintain this reality together with all the projects enumerated earlier so that pilgrimages of both Muslims and Christians in Nigeria be self-sustaining. The government can put its resources elsewhere and stop the sponsorship of religious pilgrimages. From there Nigerians shall witness a revelation, a criterion that will distinguish between a pilgrimage with textual evidence, and the one contrived by men in clerical raiment to have a share in the national pie!  


You might have wronged many people, yourself or the office during your chairmanship of the Commission. That is natural for the occupancy of an office as powerful and alluring that, before the expiration of your term, even former governors, former legislators and former ambassadors were among the suitors to take over after you. 

The Messenger of Allah, sallallaahu alaihi wa sallam said: “Whoever is thoroughly examined in reckoning is undone.” Certainly, you have committed numberless of things that were displeasing unto many. As stated earlier this correspondence is not to paint you with the brush of sainthood but to state, in spite of your human frailties, what profound advancements have been wrought in Hajj and Umrah operations under your watch. Nevertheless, if given the opportunity a third time, which is impossible for now, there are things, I am certain, that you would have done differently, with hindsight. The Amaanah is now on you to pass on whatever you garnered in NAHCON and what you gained in your 26-year experience in the service of the guests of Allah to the incoming board that it may avoid repeating what you would have done differently. Only in Nigeria are people of your stature allowed to fade into oblivion without creating a new role for them within their sphere to tap from their vast expertise for the benefit of mankind.

If all my interventions in what affected you and the Commission in the past were seen in some quarters as mere blandishments during the subsistence of your tenure as Chairman, why am I writing this correspondence now that you are outgoing? NAHCON is not like any government establishment. The Commission is greater than any individual, singly or as a group. It represents a pillar of the Deen. Whoever exerts their utmost in serving Allah’s guests through the Commission deserve praise, just as “whoever seeks wrongful partiality therein, him shall” Allah “cause to taste a painful doom.” (Hajj 22:25)    

Mr Chairman, this correspondence is a memorial to your tenure, and a signpost on a mountain for those who will come after you which they must climb to maintain the standards you have set; if they desire to surpass your record at NAHCON, they have Everest right in front to them. I have no doubt that Barrister Zikrullah’s team is capable of surmounting the mountainous challenges of their new billet at the Commission. The similitude of NAHCON today is that of an airline flight with the pilot and the entire members of the crew replaced with another set. In the airline industry, this is a matter of routine. The crew on a flight that arrives Abuja Airport, for instance, will be replaced with another set that has rested and is refreshed to serve new passengers aboard the same flight. But does it work in this fashion in Hajj and Umrah operations? The mechanics, as you well know, differs. Highly experienced as it is, the incoming board would most assuredly be faced with the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’ and ‘why’ questions as it assumes its new role in the Commission. Through the embedment of a few incoming with outgoing membership in the appointment of  NAHCON boards, those in authority would serve the management of Hajj better, rather than sweeping an entire set with the broom of change and replacing it with a brand new one. As you also reckon, Mr Chairman, Hajj operations prosper by transfer of experiences from exiting players to new entrants into the stage of service to the guests of Allah. That, to my mind, should not be sacrificed on the altar of political expediency!


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