The Chairman/Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan has expressed delight over the success of the 2023 hajj, saying, for the first time in nearly a decade, Nigeria went to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia with full delegation of the allocated 95,000 pilgrims.
In an exclusive interview with Muslim News on Sunday, Alhaji Hassan said the feat began with outbound operation which was concluded days before the closure of Jeddah, noting, “It’s pleasing to note that no single pilgrim with valid visa was left behind in Nigeria”.
According to him, “Despite the turbulent nature of our starting and our outbound journey, the total number of days spent to bring pilgrims to Saudi Arabia was 28. And the total number of days spent when returning to Nigeria was also 28, despite the hues, cries, fears and other challenges. All happened ahead of fixed dates.”
The NAHCON boss also addressed the shortage of tents and poor feeding at Muna and Arafah, where he stressed that the Saudi Arabia authorities did not expect that Nigeria would fill all its allocation of 95,000 since such feat was last achieved in 2014.
He was, however quick to add that the Commission has taken the issue up with both the Saudi company (the Mutawifs Company for pilgrims from non-Arab African countries, popularly known as Mu’assasa) in charge and Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj, demanding a refund.
“We have also informed the Saudi authorities on the need for refund. We have written letters to both organisations that hosted us in Muna and Arafah and the ministry, persuading them to order the company to refund. When they do the refund, we’ll inform Nigerians and will also pass on the amount to them.
“Immediately we returned from hajj, we constituted a committee and asked each state and operator to submit what they went through and what they expect in terms of compensation. So, with this, we coupled it together and sent to the Ministry of Hajj as well as the company, expecting refund. We are hopeful. How soon is what we don’t know exactly. We involved our embassy in the Kingdom too on this matter,” he said.
Alhaji Hassan also mentioned that the most important thing despite all the turbulences was that all the pilgrims performed hajj. He noted that even the sick ones were wheeled to Arafah by the Saudi Arabian authorities.
“The first good news for me is that all of us who went to hajj except for those who lost their lives, performed hajj and we all returned safely. That’s the most important thing. To the credence of the Saudi authorities, even some of our pilgrims who were ill were wheeled to the Arafah. You won’t see this because they are not going to bring them to your tent. They just brought them to Arafah and took them back, including those who were on life support. This is so because, if they eventually became conscious, it would be said that they did perform hajj. They supported them that much. For me, that’s the first good news. We intended to perform hajj and we came back safely.
“To be honest, as human beings, you can’t eliminate challenges. What you try to do is minimise them. When you are at the tent at Muna, it’s not something you can say is pleasurable. For the first time, somebody who’s used to being in the confines of his bedroom will now be in the tent with thousands of people. Somebody who has access to several convenience (bathroom, toilet) will now have to line up to ease himself. That’s the nature of Muna itself, that’s how it’s designed. It’s only because of the reward from Allah that anybody should go through such experience.
“So, hajj itself is not a luxury journey. It’s a journey of sacrifice. That’s why the Qur’an says you should prepare, but says the best of preparations is the fear of Allah.
“However, it is important enough to say that we got to know that the tent would not be enough very late. At that moment, we couldn’t tell some people to stay behind while others moved to Muna. Everybody must be there, even if they had to make sacrifices”, he noted.
He said Saudi Arabia must have an expansion strategy in order to make the exercise more convenient for the pilgrims while also stressing that there should also be an improvement with the tents.
The NAHCON boss pledged to commence preparations for the 2024 hajj by September, noting they are still on the drawing board to assess their experience in the concluded hajj.
“We are actually on the drawing board at NAHCON. We have to finalise the 2023 operation. We have to do some recommendations on the basis of our experience. We have to expect government ratification. I am sure that by September we will start preparations for 2024. Part of reasons we are on the drawing board include the fact that the exchange rate may further push up the cost of hajj for next year. Last year, we worked on the basis of N456 to a dollar, but now, the exchange rate is around 714. We’ll still need to come to the media to inform the ummah of the likely effect of the foreign exchange on hajj.
“Over 90% of the cost of hajj is based on foreign exchange, including the ticket, food, hotel, tent in Arafah and Muna. So, as long as the cost of dollar rises, it will also affect the cost of hajj. We want to work on that because not every country has such challenge. We do have it. It isn’t caused by this government or the former government. It was caused by the totality of the belief of Nigerians in, and their over reliance on imports instead of export. No country develops via importation when you don’t have concurrent export.”
Watch out for the full interview in the print edition of Muslim News Hajj 2023
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