The Journey to Hajj 2018 Begins In Earnest

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MOUSA UBANDAWAKI

 

The Consultative meeting between the Nigeria’s delegation to Saudi Arabia led by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and the Saudi Ministry of Hajj on January 2nd, 2018 that culminated in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (M.O.U) symbolically kick start the 2018 Hajj in Nigeria.

 

The event marks the formal admission of the country to participate in the 2018 Hajj. It is at this forum that the ground rules are set for the participating countries.

 

The Commission will be heading to the 2018 Hajj on the back of the numerous successes recorded during the 2017 exercise which drew the accolades and encomiums poured on the country by none less than the Minister of Hajj Affairs,  Sheikh Bentel  Muhammed who described the Commission as one of the three best Hajj managers in the world, especially the strategy adopted by the Abdullahi led board which have permanently tackled some of the problems associated with Nigerian pilgrims vis- a- vis, unstable flight schedule, indecent accommodation and rowdiness at the airports.

 

Immediately after the signing ceremony, the Commission in conjunction with 36 states pilgrim’s welfare Boards/SPWB have hit the ground running. From the venue of the agreement signing, the leadership of the Commission, the Nigerian Missions in Saudi Arabia and the Members of the joint committee of the National Assembly on Foreign Affairs and Nigeria Saudi Arabia Interparliamentary friendship proceeded to Medina to engage the Adilla establishment- the Saudi organization responsible for Feeding, Transportation and Accommodation agreement.

 

The outcome of the meeting revealed that the Commission under the leadership of Barr Abdullahi Mukthar had indeed made a great leap in the management and implementation of Hajj activities and services in Nigeria since he came onboard in 2015 to steer the affairs of the commission.

 

It is to the commission and indeed Nigeria’s credit that the 2017 allocation of 95,000 slots to the country last year was retained, a further confirmation of the nation’s status as one of the well-behaved, disciplined and managed contingent to the yearly Pilgrimage, as any country found wanting during the exercise is penalized or slammed with reduced allocation.

 

Since strategic planning is said to be the first step towards achieving success, thus is a logical model. From the Commission even before the signal of the 2018 Hajj race had commenced, leg work had started with the opening of Tender, Application and screening of Air carriers for the 2018 Hajj Airlift.

 

The event is one of the major activities that usually define the success or otherwise of Hajj exercise in the country. And in line with global best practices the event was made public and witnessed by all the stakeholders especially experts in the aviation industry who not only formed the major and active participants but were to rate or score the applicants based on their well horned international aviation standards.

 

Similarly, the Commission’s Inspectorate unit  have just concluded the annual inspection and verification exercise of the registered International Tour Operator Companies. This is with a view to certify their existence and competence in the fields for organizing Hajj or Umrah. This idea which have become an annual routine had helped to sanitize the industry from hands of quacks and shylock operators who hitherto have field days in only milking unsuspecting clients of their hard-earned money, but sometimes denied many from performing their divine obligations in comfy environment in fact, some have been sent to early grave and untimely death due to nefarious activities of some of the bad eggs who collect Pilgrims money and never organize their transportation to Hajj.

 

In spite of these heartwarming and positive score cards however, the 2018 Hajj,  like with previous ones would not be a roller-coaster ride. This year a remarkable issue which may soon be on the front- burner of public or national discourse or conversation is the decision of the Saudi Arabian Government to introduce a 5 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on services in the country. Like most oil producing nations, the Saudi government is suffering from the global oil glut and lower oil prices which has culminated in the government’s plan to raise revenue through taxation.

 

Although on the face of it, the idea isn’t particularly bad but neither was it inspiring, at least to many nations going to Hajj, this is because, the Tax will affect the Hajj expenditure by Pilgrims including Nigerians.

 

How then does this affect the Nigerian Hajjis some may wonder? The implementation of the VAT will foremost increase the prices of commodities including hotel prices which will impact on the Umrah and Hajj.

 

Another issue being envisaged that may cause some hiccups is the planned introduction of biometric data capturing for Hajjis. This Policy in itself like the VAT issue is not a problem itself, but the process is what might bring up or raise objections as the process as it stands will take place at Saudi Missions in Abuja, Lagos and Kano. How this will have panned out is a matter of conjuncture in the remaining Months to commencement of the Hajj Airlift.

 

In addition to the above is also the introduction, in fact full commencement of implantation of payment of additional 2,000 riyals for those who have performed Hajj in the last five years.

 

Conclusively ,however, with the on-going effort, being put in by the management of NAHCON and the 36 states pilgrims welfare Boards and particularly the confidence and trust reposed in the Nigerian team by the Saudi-Government,  some of the hurdles envisaged would have been removed from the way ,though not without the concerted effort, of every Nigerian Muslims who must show commitment in the way of advise and enlightenment of intending pilgrims on ‘DO’S and Don’ts’s’ and also avoid constituting destructive  stumbling  blocks.