On the pre-hajj activities, we have all witnessed how the online visa processing was hijacked and centralized by the commission leading to arbitrary cancellations. Even the BTA distribution was mired by crisis as some states were unable to process BTA for their pilgrims. On the airlift, it was simply a mess as airlines were allowed to bring planes with as low as 100 passenger capacity contrary to their contractual agreement, as well as allowing some of the crafts to fly to Saudi Arabia with almost 100 empty seats. It was an open secret that some of them were made to wait at evacuation airports for more than 24 hours waiting for pilgrims. This is not to mention the fact that some NAHCON-approved airlines mixed official pilgrims with private ones during operations without any sanction as provided for in the contractual agreement. Of course, they can’t be sanctioned because of the alleged compromise between the commission and some of the airlines. As at Wednesday 14 September, the commission was yet to make the third tranche payment to airlines, at a time that it should normally be doing reconciliations. This has overstretched the airline’s financial elasticity. It is not surprising if the airlines falter because everything in aviation is cash-backed.
Another issue was that of an over-bloated medical team that were ferried to the holy land, with more than 65 percent of them dormant throughout the operation in Saudi Arabia. In fact, some of them were not qualified, but were still picked during a selected process marred by alleged nepotism and favoritism. It was on record that the commission brought drugs with shorter expiration dates which will lead to massive loss because before the next hajj the drugs would have expired and can’t be used. Unlike in the past when drugs with long expiration dates were procured not only to save cost but to fill the gap before another procurement is done. The chairman blamed his poor performance on the short notice from Saudi Arabian authorities. This is grossly unfair. The timing of preparations for this year’s hajj was not any different from those of the past. That is why it is only Nigeria that complained. It is only Nigeria that was unable to ferry its 43,000 pilgrims to the holy land. It is better imagined the chaos if Mr Hassan’s leadership had the usual 95,000 pilgrims slot.
Mr Hassan is being clever by half here because at the peak of COVID pandemic in 2020, he kept on assuring Nigerians of the possibility of hajj. He was only muted by the Saudi’s bombshell of “No Hajj.” He started again in 2021, even when nobody was planning for hajj, he kept on assuring of hajj by making countless trips to Saudi Arabia for “preparation” only for the Saudis to say there was no hajj again. In 2022, the chairman jetted out to the holy land severally without any official invitation or appointment with any hajj official. Again, when Saudis said there would be hajj, he reportedly took over 90 staff to Saudi Arabia for “preparation.” In fact, the number of trips he made to Saudi Arabia since his assumption of office has surpassed those made by the first, second and third NAHCON boards combined. You can go and verify it. All these trips were mere jamborees and apertures of spending public funds. Leadership deficiency, not Saudi short notice, is responsible for the poor conduct of 2022 hajj. A lot would be uncovered if the anti-graft agencies and National Assembly would sincerely probe the commission’s expenditures, activities and the entire 2022 hajj operations.
On hajj fares reduction, the chairman also failed despite assurances and subtle deception of Mr President. On March 20, 2020, he told President Buhari that he had succeeded in reducing hajj fares by some meaningful percentage. The president curiously cautioned him that he hoped the reduction was not at the detriment of the prevailing quality services enjoyed by the pilgrims. At the time Mr Hassan met with the President, he neither have that year’s hajj fare breakdown nor signed any agreement with the airlines, or Saudi service providers. Question is: how did he arrive at that fake reduction? He also reintroduced uniform hajj fares across the 36 states and FCT irrespective of the quality of services render by them. The truth was laid bare when he jerked up the hajj fate from N1.4 million to N2.5 million.
On Mashair services, NAHCON had publicly complained of the poor services in Muna and Arafat, but only later to end up hosted to a lavish dinner bankrolled by the same food contractor that shortchanged the pilgrims. What he fails to realize is that the sumptuous dinner he ate with his army of staff was in lieu of the refunds for the Mashair poor feeding. And time shall tell.
It was clear that Mr Hasan’s NAHCON has placed premium in sponsoring friends and family members to hajj (having sponsored over 600 adhoc staff to hajj in 2022), instead of its primary role of providing oversight. This is not to mention the other 400 sponsored pilgrims vaguely designated as ‘stakeholders.’ It is safe to say that those sponsored to applaud the commission over this year’s hajj are oblivious of the pain of raising N2.5 million hajj fare, trauma of missing hajj, disappointment of having poor services, among others. That is why no state pilgrim agency or tour operator is commending the commission for any “job well done.” As a Muslim, I take solace on the fact that we will be held accountable for what we say and write. The hajj industry has been subjected to needless crisis, as NAHCON board members petitioned the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF), while the executive members are not working in harmony, leaving the staff to exploit the situation to do what they want. Already, pilgrims are threatening court cases, while dozens tour operators are going bankrupt as they count their NAHCON-induced losses. During the operation, the commission was allegedly reduced to a market square, with free-for-all racketeering. The honest staff in the commission have became onlookers who resorted to prayers for change. This is a wrong time to celebrate the 2022 hajj as successful. Rather, it’s a time for sober reflection, serious stock taking and soul searching. Instead of playing the ostrich before the cameras, the commission leadership should convene a meeting of all stakeholders and sincerely analyze and address the mundane issues that messed up the 2022 hajj. Even in secular societies, any leadership that is fraught with these glaring allegations of incompetence and financial improprieties should honorably quit. Mr Chairman, ẹ bẹ̀rù Ọlọ́run.
Mr Raheem can be reached at email@example.com