By Muhammad Muhammad
Although the 2022 hajj exercise may have come and gone, the operational undercurrents and heaps of concerns emanated from across stakeholders in the country’s hajj industry would remain indelible.
About 41,003 Nigerian pilgrims joined global contingents in the annual spiritual exercise, after two years of hiatus and eventual suspension of restriction issued on foreign pilgrims by the Saudi Authority. Expectedly, the deliberate crowd control mechanisms deployed was intended to cut back the spread of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic in the holy land.
No doubt, the reopening of the two holy mosques to international pilgrims spurred overwhelming excitement by Muslims globally. The joy that knew no bound, essentially to those who had long craved willingness and devoted hard earned resources to perform the once in a lifetime religious obligation. Yet, millions of faithful had considered the two years interjection as undoubted trial even when they found solace in Allah’s will.
Beyond the spiritual exercise, the return of the 2022 hajj has resuscitated the near moribond multi-million dollar industry that created job opportunities to hundreds and enhanced economic activities. However, it was a mixed feeling for hajj managers who have had to muster the huge responsibility and complex task of ferrying over thousands of Nigerians to the holy land within a short period.
Dissimilar to previous hajj exercises, where the Saudi Authority issued green light to participating countries to commence all offshore and onshore arrangement early enough, reverse was the case on the 2022 hajj. It was common knowledge that even when the restriction was officially lifted, it took additional pressure before Saudi signaled the green light and directive on how the post-Covid-19 hajj would take sharp turn.
Consequently, hajj managers globally left with no alternative than to swing to action spontaneously to execute the task within a limited period, yet under stringent conditions. The situation was not different in Nigeria.
Struggling to manage documents, visa processing, facilitate issuance of Basic Travelling Allowance and the conveyance of over 41,000 pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) was embattled with a series of operational predicaments.
Although, critical among the challenges recorded were not unforeseen, because of the limited period the commission had to manage the multifaceted activities that transverse the shoreline of Nigeria, most of the concern could not be resolved spontaneously.
Nevertheless, it is worthy of note that despite the pile of hiccups, NAHCON, under the leadership of Barrister Zikrullah Kunle successfully navigated the hurdles and even emerged stronger with commendable records. For instance, NAHCON was able to transport over 41,000 pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and conveyed the same back home seamlessly. That, in no small measure, is a huge success built within the tough period.
Similarly, NAHCON must be applauded for actualizing the long overdue Hajj Saving Scheme (HSS) for the first time in the history of hajj operations in Nigeria. Within the space of two years, the present board activated the deposits in HSS to transport pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Before the eventual kick off, the scheme has been left inactive for several years.
Essentially, the efforts of the board should also be lauded on excellent health service delivery rendered to Nigeria pilgrims in the just concluded exercise. For instance, the medical services rendered to hundreds of Nigeria pilgrims at one of the NAHCON health outfits sited at Misfala district in the heart of the holy city of Makkah epitomized service delivery.
A pilgrim who was attended to attested to the commitment of the medical care the sick persons received. The pillgrim who does not want his name on print said, “at Misfala where I stay, it is always full of pilgrims and none of those pilgrims leave without being attended to or served the desired medical attentions. That is an achievement worth celebrating.”
NAHCON as an apex hajj regulatory body succeeded in allocating hajj seats to States Muslims Pilgrims’ boards and Private Tour Operators using performance benchmarks to ensure fairness to all. Similarly, Nigeria pilgrims who performed the 2022 hajj also arrived in the country with their Zamzam water. That means a lot to every pilgrim.
Despite the tireless efforts of the present board of the hajj commission, stakeholders believe there are areas requiring urgent review. NAHCON should consider observations, constructive criticisms and in some cases, confrontations raised by concerned stakeholders on the 2022 hajj as critical reference points that must be addressed to avoid a repeat in subsequent operations.
After all, NAHCON, as a responsible regulator, has regretted the entire setback emanated during the exercise even when the larger percentage of the bottlenecks were orchestrated by some contracting agencies.
Muhammad writes from Kano
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