The attention of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has been drawn to some misleading headlines with storylines that depict the NAHCON strongman as blaming Saudi government for low turn out of pilgrims due to early closure of the Kingdom’s Hajj portal. They ascribe this claim to a recent interview which NAHCON’s Chairman, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad granted to a couple of pressmen in his office, the previous week.
The Commission would like to clarify that at no time during the interview did its distinguished Chairman, who reveres the relationship between Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, come anywhere close to blaming the Kingdom for closure of Hajj registration portal. In fact, in so many instances, he justified the closure seeing that an extension for the deadline was obtained thrice. Instead, he blamed Nigerian pilgrims’ attitude of treating Hajj registration with a lackluster manner, waiting until the last minute to make efforts for registration. Those present at the forum would testify that several times during the interview, the NAHCON’s head appreciated the Saudi government and its mission in Nigeria for their support on hajj and Umrah matters.
One recalls that even during NAHCON’s nation wide sensitization visits in preparation for this year’s season, the Chairman clearly warned against late registration stressing that, this time around, Saudi had set a deadline for its portal. He gave reasons for this being that the Kingdom would like to compile a comprehensive data of persons moving into the Holy land as a step towards maintaining its internal security as well as to plan for the reception of the expected guests. Indeed, during the said interview again, the Chairman reiterated this message and even termed it as rightly so. Pressmen present during the session would also recall that Barrister Mukhtar Muhammed decried how Nigerians plan for Hajj and even juxtaposed it with how they plan for their vacations outside the country. He distinctly said when it comes to Hajj, they wait until the last minute. He further expressed hope that henceforth, Nigerians may learn to prepare for Hajj well ahead of time, seeing how it affected late comers this time.
Besides, he called on Nigerians to learn from other countries whose pilgrims register for the pilgrimage early. The Chairman added that hopefully, the menace of late Hajj registration will end by the time the Hajj savings scheme program takes off.
In truth, to show that Saudi Arabia was gracious enough to accommodate Nigerians’ self induced problem of late registration; and to show that we have ourselves to blame for the fallout , the NAHCON Chief Executive Officer explained how Saudi Arabian authorities, thrice, extended closure of Hajj registration portal for Nigeria to allow more people to register. Initially, the deadline was set for the Islamic month of Rajab which coincided with 31st of March. After the Commission solicited for an extension, the Saudi authorities cooperatively granted that to our intending pilgrims until end of Shawwal. Even when the number of registered pilgrims was not very encouraging, the Commission still went back pleading for another extension to last up to first week of Dhul Hajj to which Saudi government declined but notwithstanding, extended the grace period to 15th of Dhul Qa’ada which corresponded to 25th of July. How could someone who made this disclosure to hail Saudi Arabia for its relentless understanding and tolerance turn around to insinuate any blame on them? After the Kingdom listened to and responded well to repeated requests for Hajj registration extension, how can they be responsible for some persons’ inability to meet up? On the contrary, those Nigerian pilgrims who came out for the registration late did themselves a disservice.
True, some Nigerians’ late Hajj registration attitude has always been a major setback to Hajj planning in the country. The Commission had hoped that the new Saudi policy that sets a deadline to closure of Hajj portal will motivate intending pilgrims to finally have a change of attitude from the typical. Unfortunately, some still behaved true to type to an extent that even after closure of the portal, thousands approached the Commission with cash in hand begging to be allowed to register for the 2018 exercise.
Indeed, this unfortunate scenario formed part of the thrust of the interview.
Journalists are advised to please cast headlines that capture what was exactly stated in interviews they hold with personalities so that we will not fracture diplomatic relations in which the people are beneficiaries.
Fatima Sanda Usara,
Head, Public Affairs Division