Every Nigerian who paid to travel to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia as a pilgrim under the State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards, Commissions or Agencies during the 2015 Hajj can rejoice that part of the payment for the spiritual trip to the Holy Land is getting back to him or her. The money is refund for not traveling at all to the Kingdom for some reasons, or for services not rendered to them by the service providers contracted for the purpose by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
All service providers in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia namely: Air carriers, excess luggage carriers, accommodation providers in Makkah and Madinah, food caterers, transport providers, tent providers, zamzam providers, amongst others are subjected to rigorous screening exercises by the Commission. Agreements are signed between each service provider and the Commission on behalf of the Nigeria pilgrims and every bit of the contracts is clearly spelt out. NAHCON in most cases write the contracts to favour the Nigerian pilgrim, thus the yearly refunds to the pilgrims through theirs state boards.
NAHCON has been making refunds to the pilgrims since its establishment in 2006 and first operation as a Commission in 2007, but the 2015 Hajj recorded the highest. Over 1.7 billion naira has been refunded. This does not only portray the highest Islamic spirit of the leadership of the Commission, but also exposes its fiscal frugality, patriotism and efficiency in the management of Hajj affairs. Though unlike other business slogans where the customer is the king, in NAHCON whose vision is to provide efficient and effective service delivery to pilgrims, its slogan is that Nigerian pilgrim should get “Hajj mabrur” with ease. No more Hajj with tears.
The irony in this is that it was a very turbulent Hajj exercise in recent years due to the twin tragedies the exercise witnessed: the crane mishap in the Grand Mosque of Makkah on September 11 and the unprecedented Mina stampede on September 24, a day after Arafat obligations. These two calamities posed a great threat to the smooth operations. Needless to discuss here the efficiency with which NAHCON handled the Nigerian side in terms of prompt information gathering and releases as well as responses to emergencies that erupted throughout the disasters.
Nigerians should appreciate the efforts of the Commission and pray, as always that such does not reoccur. Altogether Nigeria recorded six dead and six injured pilgrims to the crane misfortune, while with recent update on the Mina catastrophe 277 Nigerian pilgrims have been confirmed dead and 32 still termed missing. The NAHCON in collaboration with the Nigerian Embassy in Saudi Arabia is hardly pushing on the Saudi authorities to quicken the processing of the DNA analysis. The Commission had in December sent the member representing the Federal Ministry of Health on the Board of the Commission to Saudi with blood samples of nuclear family members of the yet missing pilgrims for the DNA analysis. Technically, the Board member was the Head of the Federal Medical Team during the Hajj and has involved in all the measures mapped out by the Commission to account for all victims of the two unfortunate incidences. We pray to Allah to accept the souls of the departed Nigerian pilgrims, as well as those of other nationalities from these natural or man-made accidents. We also pray to Allah to grant quick recovery to all the injured pilgrims and to grant the leadership of the Commission the strength and wisdom to continue to protect the interest of the Nigerian pilgrims.
From the above, it is to be noted that the deceased pilgrims have more money to be refunded for services not rendered. Victims of the crane mishaps have been promised some compensations by the Saudi King but yet to be redeemed. One million Saudi Riyals are for each dead and permanent disability, five hundred thousand Riyals for serious curable injuries. However, to the best of our knowledge, no compensation has been promised by anybody for the Mina stampede. The Commission has reiterated its readiness to utilize all legal means in ensuring that the compensations of the crane crash victims reach the next of kin of the affected victims once the Saudi government releases them.
As for the 1.7 billion naira, the Commission has set up an internal mechanism that will ensure that the refunds reach the pilgrims. Zonal commissioners and coordinators of the Commission are to be involved. State Boards, which may not need charge pilgrims for this service, are to provide evidences to NAHCON of actual refunds to each pilgrim. The Commission has produced jingles in all the main Nigerian languages run on national stations to enlighten the pilgrims on how to get their refunds. Even if the pilgrim could not come for the refunds – because a large chunk of them are often from the rural areas and quite unread – it is the duty of the state boards to find them or their next of kin through their telephone numbers or guarantors. The end is that the money should reach its legitimate owner.
According to the chairman of NAHCON, Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, the Commission is in line with the federal government anti-corruption crusade, thus it has resolved to ensure that every kobo paid by the Nigerian pilgrim is accounted for, either by full provision of paid services or refunds to the pilgrim after every Hajj. He reiterated this stand when NAHCON met with State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards, while receiving recently the Muslim Media Practitioners Association of Nigeria, the Muslim Corpers Association of Nigeria (MCAN) and the Kaduna branch of National Union of Journalists (NUJ) in the Board room of the Commission.
Barr. Muhammad insisted in one of the courtesy calls he granted his visitors that state boards have been directed to employ all possible means to refund the pilgrims in good time, even as he maintained that the Commission will not hesitate to sanction failure to comply with the directive, at least to the extent that the NAHCON (Establishment) Act permits. Other government organs saddled with the responsibilities of enforcement, he averred, will be involved.
Sources from where the huge refunds were mopped up included meals that were not served to some pilgrims to and from the King Abdul-Aziz International Airport, Jeddah and Prince Muhammad bn Abdul-Aziz International Airport, Madinah. Caterers were contracted to provide packaged meals for each pilgrim on the arrival and departure points of both airports. But some pilgrims were not served either because they arrived the airport late and began the screening processes immediately or that NAHCON compelled airliners to take pilgrims to hotels when they had spent the minimum stay of six hours without being airlifted.
There were also meals not served and bedding facilities not provided at the holy sites of Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifat. Meals that were not provided to some pilgrims while in their accommodations in Makkah and Madinah, deposits made by every pilgrim as guarantee to the Saudi Ministry of Hajj among others accounted for the refunds. Pilgrims who could not travel are refunded almost all their money including that for air-ticket.
While in Saudi, NAHCON constitutes several committees to liaise with the state boards and service providers. These service shortfalls are identified by NAHCON officials in collaboration with the state boards. Forms are endorsed by NAHCON and the service providers on the spot after each service is confirmed to be satisfactory rendered. Then after reconciliation at the end of every Hajj rite, NAHCON pays for the services provided and keeps the left money for onward refunds to the pilgrim on arrival back to Nigeria. In addition to this measure, NAHCON has gone further to create what is called Performance Status Report (PSR) which must be filled by each state pilgrims’ welfare board, agency or commission and returned to the Commission immediately after the Hajj activities.
The PSR requires the Hajj administrators, on behalf of their pilgrims, to assess all the service providers and identify shortfalls. It provided the Commission all the necessary information which enables it to carry out the reconciliation processes with the service providers, thereby sorting out those services that could not be provided, even if to a single pilgrim.
In conclusion, it is very necessary to mention that the good legacy left behind by the immediate past Chairman of the Commission, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello currently the Minister of the Federal Capital Territory, is being jealously upheld by the Commission led by Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad. The current leadership has vowed to sustain the great achievements bequeathed it by the past administration and in line with the philosophy of Mr. President in transforming all sectors the Nigerian economy, make Hajj trips easier, more spiritually uplifting and more economically rewarding for the Nigerian pilgrims.