By Al-Amin Ciroma
(Published in LEADERSHIP Newspapers, June 26, 2009)
Apart from factual problems surrounding Hajj affairs in Nigeria, a lot key professionals and hajj operators are determined to tackle the issues towards ‘hitch-free’ operations by going back to the drawing table. Immediately after its debut, the Association for Hajj and Umrah Operations of Nigeria (AHUON), in its quest to create awareness in order to counter Hajj problems in Nigeria, held a maiden edition of its summit. The event, which took place at Martinus Hotel in Lagos, held in serene atmosphere.
A statement issued by Alhaji Abubakar Bello Kaoje stated that the participants were from all segments of Hajj stakeholders, which included Alhaji Abdulazeez Arisekola Alao (Aare Musulmi of Yoruba Land), chief host, the governor of Lagos State, Babatunde Raji Fashola (SAN), ably represented by the Commissioner for Home Affairs, Alhaji Ibrahim Babatunde Balogun, the representative of the former Deputy Governor, Lagos State, Alhaja Lateefat Okunnu, who was the Chairperson, and the Special Guests of Honour, His Eminence the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa'ad Abubakar and the Chairman/CEO, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Muhammad Musa Bello, who were both ably represented His royal highness, Oba Rilwan Akiolu, was the royal father of the day and was represented by the Lagos Chief Imam. Others included the representatives of the Ambassadors of Republic of Iran and Indonesia. The Secretary-General of the Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs, Dr. Lateef Adegbite, was also in attendance.
During the summit, some thought, provoking papers were presented. Abdul Majeed Abdul Fatah, the AHUON Zonal Chairman and Vice National President, in his welcome address, set the wheel of the summit in motion.
Fatah's welcome address enshrined the basis of the summit which, he said, was to create awareness of the association in the mind of the larger public which, in turn, will help the Association to get rid of quacks operating within the industry. The aim of the summit was also to let the public know the challenges facing the association and to tap from the wealth of experience of the stakeholders towards effective and efficient service delivery.
The National Vice President threw the challenge to the Hajj stakeholders generally. He called on the tour operators themselves who deal directly with pilgrims in terms of all arrangement of the journey to and from Saudi Arabia. He advised his colleagues that as a profit-making venture, they should aim at international standard service delivery for their clients.
The NAHCON was not left behind. The vice chairman expressed the happiness of the Association for the cordial relationship with the commission.
He said because of the immense benefits envisaged in having such a commission in place, the AHUON was actively involved in the process of the passing of the Act establishing the commission.
Fatah also stressed that the modest achievements of the commission within just two years of its creation are worthy of commendation and appreciated the effort of the commission in the publication of names of registered tour operators in the dailies and on its website, the inclusion of the representatives of the association in the delegation that visited the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the 2009 pre-Hajj visit. He emphasized that already the association was reaping the benefit of the visit as concrete arrangement was being made to facilitate the movement of international pilgrims in Saudi Arabia for the registered tour operators unlike before when the movement of international pilgrims and their officials were hampered.
However, he advocated for the association to be left alone to source for its own air carriers and accommodation for international pilgrims. He added that tour operators should be allowed to use the airlines of their choice, be it scheduled or chartered without any strings attached to it.
He further pleaded to the commission to expedite action in the allocation of Hajj seat just as it did in the sales of application form.
His appeal also went to the Saudi Embassy to relax its stringent conditions on the issuance of visa. He specifically appealed to the ambassador to assist the association by ensuring that the demand of the embassy in making wives to bear their husbands’ names or a female pilgrim to bear the name of their Muhram is jettisoned. According to him, such condition has no basis in the Quran or Sunnah. He also appealed for the extension of visa period in respect of tour operators during each Hajj.
Dr. Adegbite was requested to share his elderly wisdom with the participants. He briefly surveyed the history of Hajj operations which, he said, initially started with private Hajj operators who proved to be so inefficient and perpetrated so much atrocities which caused so much embarrassment to the Nigerian Government.
The secretary-general said the situation made the government to intervene and salvage the situation. He further stated that for over 100 years, the performance of Hajj in Nigeria continued to be performed poorly, until the last two years when the commission was established.
The National Chief Missioner of Ansaruldeen Society of Nigeria, Sheikh Abdurrahman Ahmad, also called for authorities concerned to intervene in the prevailing exploitative tendency in the acquisition of e-passport which he claimed had gone up to as much as N100,000. Sheikh Ahmad pointed out that the bane of pilgrims airlift is the wrong pricing which explained why no reputable airline would like to participate in the airlift of Nigerian pilgrims since the fare is not attractive enough. He concluded by advising the travel agents to emulate the orderly manner the Indonesian, Turkish or Malaysian officials conduct their pilgrims in group.
The association's national president, Alhaji Nasir Koko, highlighted the activities of the association, which included the inauguration of its executive members and a courtesy call on the NAHCON headquarters Abuja. He said there is a scheduled meeting with the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Hajj commission on how to facilitate operational money transfer for the association's members.
Another resource person, an erudite scholar, Professor Tajudeen, emphasized the need for the education of official's and the pilgrims as a vital ingredient for a successful Hajj. He said officials must know how to manage their pilgrims' movement and the facilities they are to use.
A representative of Immigration Services also added impetus to the summit. He educated the participants on how to acquire e-passport which, he said, is not only for the purpose of travelling to Saudi Arabia but for travels all over the world. He hinted that the official cost for the acquisition of e-passport is N8,750.00.
Another resource person in the industry is Dr. Badmas O. Yusuf, a Commissioner Operations in the NAHCON. He was one of the representatives of NAHCON. He commented that the relationship between NAHCON and tour operators should always be cordial and should try to maintain the tempo. He advised the tour operators to consider the desire of their clients who, he said, needed first class treatment and would wish to enjoy the value of their money.
Lastly, the Secretary-General of the association, Dr. W. O. Gabadeen, presented an insightful working paper on Hajj and Umrah operations. The paper significantly captured the management of Hajj operations, especially in the areas of Product Packaging, Pricing and Marketing (PPPM). It also dwelt on regulations, public enlightenment campaigns, operational skills and other support services that included Airlift of pilgrims, operational rivalry, meeting pilgrims' demands and the public perception of Private Tour Operators.
No doubt, wind of change is now looming the scene of Hajj affairs in Nigeria. I believe as great people, we can do more to achieve our stated goals.