- Photo: Alhaji Hassan *
The month of February 2020 is indeed an epoch in the history of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). It was the month when the current 4th Board, under the leadership of Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, assumed duty at the headquarters of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), after inauguration.
Immediately on assumption of duty, the board critically studied the level of Hajj situation at the time and swung into action to move the industry to the next level.
As at the time the Board assumed office, everything about the preparations for Hajj 2020 was going on smoothly. The intending pilgrims were paying their Hajj remittance, the Commission was actively engaged in the sensitization of the intending pilgrims, the interactive meetings with Stakeholders had started in earnest, in fact, negotiations with the Airlines on Airfares was at its peak, when abruptly the scourge of Coronavirus began to rear its ugly face.
At first, little did everybody know that the world is passing through another major history and that the effect of Coronavirus could ravage and cripple businesses world-wide. At the peak of Coronavirus in 2020, the whole world was at standstill, there was a total lockdown in all countries of the world, no social gatherings, not even religious gatherings like congregational prayers or church services could be held, schools, markets, shops were closed down and no local or international flights from and to any nation.
Prior to Coronavirus, nobody could ever predicted that something could come to deter the Hajj annual event, the event that had been taking place uninterrupted for more than a century, had suddenly succumbed to the devastating effect of Coronavirus to the extent that no Hajj participation with any other nation except the insignificant number of pilgrims within the Saudi Kingdom.
The consequences of Coronavirus was a colossus loss to all economies of the world. The Aviation sector was the worst hit, the first week of the ban of all flights, consumed many air commuters, who committed their monies for travels but could not, the liabilities became huge and the airlines became bankrupt. This also one of the areas which adversely affected the Umrah operations. The Umrah intending pilgrims committed their funds with hope of traveling to Saudi and in turn the Umrah licensed Tour Operators committed their pilgrims’ funds to some service providers and suddenly the ban on all flights, these liabilities will continue to linger for sometimes.
In that critical situation, when the Board perceived that the annual Hajj in Saudi Arabia was not feasible. The Board did not relent in its noble course or fold its arm and cross legs to watch helplessly on the unfolding event of coronavirus; rather, the Board looked inwards on how to enhance future Hajj operations in the country with a view to consolidating the successes made by its predecessors.
Alhamdulillah, in the last two years, the Board was able to make some of the policies and Programmes of the Commission earlier put in place to become reality.The followings are the major areas where glaring success was recorded;
1. The long awaited Hajj Savings Scheme for Nigerian intending pilgrims is now in operation and relatively recording success despite the effects of covid-19 of non-Hajj performance for two years. The intending pilgrims are steadily enrolling into the scheme individually and some States Pilgrims Welfare Boards have already migrated their 2020 and 2021 intending pilgrims into the Scheme and other states are willing to follow suit.
2. The digitalization process of all spheres of Hajj operations is ongoing. The Commission has entered into agreement with National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA), to forestall any Saudi guidelines on e-hajj operation, as the Saudi itself is currently going on e-transactions in all facets of Hajj operations.
3. The professionalization of Hajj affairs Management is another cardinal objective of the board. The Board knew that the current reality for any industry to thrive is its professionalization. The Chairman of the Board have been emphatic on why Hajj a multi-billion naira business industry cannot be professionalized when professions like dancing, singing, fashion & design or facial makeup etc. have become professions. It is against this backdrop that the Board made frantic effort to first see to the establishment of Hajj Training Institute in the country to serve as a premier Institute in Africa and for other African countries to follow suit. In a recent disclosure by the NAHCON Chairman, he said the Institute has passed through all the most tedious stages for the eventual take off. The Commission is working hand in hand with the National Board for Technical Education (NBTE) and recently a site visit was organized and the NBTE inspectors were conducted round to see the Institute’s facilities for themselves and had final assessment of the facilities in the Institute. The Commission is now looking forward for the final accreditation by the NBTE for full swing of the Institute.
4. Another success of the Board is its pro-active steps to boost the Internally generated Revenue (IGR) of the Commission and the only option for the board is to find ways on how to effectively utilize some of the long abandoned assets of the Commission, scattered all over the country in its Zonal offices. The revamping of Zonal offices’ Facilities started from the last preceding board that made efforts to utilize the long idle pilgrims development levy funds to develop Zonal offices. Now there are completed projects at the Zonal offices like multipurpose conference halls and hotel like accommodation that could be used in generating revenues throughout the year for the Commission. Most of these projects are now awaiting the full utilization when normalcy returns.The Private Partnership Project (PPP) with the Infrastructural Concession and Regulatory Commissions (ICRC) has also tremendously contributed to the success of this laudable effort.
5. It was also during the period under review that the Board came when the Commission moved to its permanent headquarters in the posh of central business area, ever since, renovations have been ongoing to give the dilapidated office a new lease of life. In fact, if someone was to visit the office headquarters now, one will really justify this claim.
6. Staff training also became the order of the day during the two years of the Board. This is aimed at capacity building and a prerequisite for professionalizing the industry. The staff were trained and retrained in all ramifications of Hajj to raise the productivity level of the staff.
7. The Board was also not unaware of the importance of instilling good working relationships with all its stakeholders. In this direction, the Commission does not take unilateral decisions on any issue affecting its stakeholders without due consultations with them to ensure harmonious working relationship.
In nutshell, the Hajj industry is at the verge of achieving a giant stride in all its operations in spite of the ravaging effect of COVID-19 scourge on many industries.