By Fatima Sanda Usara
Some prefer to see what went wrong with Hajj operations in Nigeria therefore rarely give room to study the circumstances leading to presumed failures.
Once during preparatory stages of this year’s Hajj, skeptics went to work questioning one thing or the other: whether or not every pilgrim will have their biometric capture and visas in good time and where? Some; either innocently or mischievously, accused NAHCON of centralizing the biometric centers to states of their choice for political reasons. Despite assurances by the Commission that everything was under control, few seem to have believed it. Thankfully, the assignments were rested successfully.
The same skepticism welcomed the airlift. There was the apprehension that not all pilgrims will be airlifted for Hajj. Some doubted NAHCON’s confidence in the matter. One journalist, who wanted to prove that NAHCON is hiding the truth to the public, went to press with an ill report that 17, 000 registered pilgrims were left behind in Nigeria. The writer based his report on his calculations and deductions then presented the picture as the whole truth. Thankfully again, NAHCON delivered on its promise.
How many are willing to understand NAHCON’s constraints in delivering its mandate?
Numerous reports showed how the biometrics capturing exercise was settled within the desired time. But what about the airlift program? Recall that for several years, NAHCON had consistently transported pilgrims to the Holy land ahead of time. In some instances, it had even beaten its own deadline. The situation may not have been the same this year due to some factors. First, certain policies were introduced by the host country that require few adjustments. The biometric exercise for example and the Hajj portal registration that came with a deadline for which NAHCON was granted special extension more than once. Despite the extensions, some pilgrims still waited until after time of closure to pay for slots. Despite the fact that these factors affected NAHCON’s arrangements, however, the commission made necessary adjustments that ensured that at the time of airlift, no single pilgrim was left behind. Precisely, on the last flight; a flight supposedly scheduled to convey NAHCON’s officials who had stayed behind to coordinate Hajj operations in the country, NAHCON’s Chairman, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad instructed that pilgrims yet to leave must all board first before even those for whom the flight is meant and before the Very Important People (VIPs). And that if after both state pilgrims and officials have boarded and there remains extra seats, pilgrims traveling under independent tour operators should go on board as well.
The Commission went an extra mile to take responsibility for transporting all registered pilgrims; whether from states or those who paid under independent tour operators, on a flight it paid for; at no extra cost.
Considering the amount being charged as feeding allowance, it baffles one that some pilgrims even complain on the food they are served. Taking masha’ir (Muna) feeding alone for instance, each pilgrim pays 26, 040.55 Naira for five days. This translates to 1,736.3 Naira per day, yet we complain. Compare this to what one would have spent eating from Takaris at 10 Saudi Riyals per plate which is equal to spending 3,000 Naira daily. Bear in mind that the quantity is less than the one supplied in the kitchen. Bear in mind also that fruits, water and fruit juices are not inclusive in the Takari menu which however is covered in NAHCON’s 1,736 Naira daily! Not to mention the hygienic processes through which our foods are prepared, preserved and served. After doing this calculations, one begins to wonder when some Nigerians will begin to appreciate good job? Yet, we complain of our food lacking maggi, salt and pepper!
And by the way, we eat from the same pot with our senior management officers, who also lodge in the same tent category as ours. Members of the feeding committee go round monitoring each meal before being distributed and from time to time, senior management take turns to inspect the inspectors too. The Chairman not left out of the inspection team, goes round at nights or day, sometimes unknown to pilgrims. This, he does, with the aim of seeing things for himself. Likewise, NAHCON executives and their supporting staff were the last to leave Arafat plains to ensure that no Nigerian pilgrim is left behind to the best of their ability.
And this is why no matter how ugly some writers try to paint NAHCON ‘s operations, at the end of the day, the Commission’s activities are still rated within category of distinction, thereby earning it a position within the top ten in the world. Last year, Saudi Arabia rated Nigeria fifth globally in terms of service delivery to pilgrims. Even within the most difficult conditions, within scarce resources, NAHCON still manages to succeed.
Usara writes from Muna, Saudi Arabia