Friday, August 7, 2009

Towards Re-Branding Hajj Operations In Nigeria (2)

By Al-Amin Ciroma (Published in LEADERSHIP Newspapers, June 19, 2009)
Last week, we discussed in preamble some basic problems being faced by Nigerian pilgrims and key preparatory arrangements by the Hajj operators and professionals. I received quite a number of reactions from readers, whom expresses their divergent opinions and inputs. That shows how greatly the problems affect most Nigerian Muslim pilgrims.
Like I said in my conclusion, in Nigeria, we have our own unique way of approaching a certain predicament, but at the end of the day, we come out with zero result in implementation. Laws are abused willingly, without being conscious of the impasse and consequences that may befall us. It is only in Nigeria that people believe in cutting cost a long successful journey to a ‘Sharp-sharp’ addendum. That does not matter wherever we are, in places of worship, mostly people absconds from any Imam that recites long Surahs in prayers. I used to caution my people, that in the five daily prayers, we have a total number of 17 Raka’ats to pray right from Subhi to Isha’I prayers. In a simple arithmetic, a rough calculation will arrive at a minimum of 3 minutes per Raka’ah, therefore, we have a total of 51 minutes for the whole of our daily prayers. Is it not worthy to extract two hours out of our 24 hours per day to conveniently perform all our daily obligations, including the Nawafil prayers? That is just a typical Nigerian that does not believe in steady activities.
The topic of discussion is Hajj operations in Nigeria. This piece intends to highlight problems and prospect of the exercise and possible ways of eradicating them to the barest minimum. It also attempts to address the policy of the Nigerian government on hajj. In doing so it has tried going some several centuries back, when the institution of hajj took roots in the West African region and then walking its way up to date. This is to enrich our appreciation of the place of hajj in the history of the region and provide us some background against which to see the policy of post independent Nigeria. It is the considered opinion of this paper that Nigerian government’s policy on hajj is to say the least ambivalent. Admittedly government itself has in recent years been plagued with instability and consumed by corruption. The ship of the nation has been adrift and the captains are too busy with internal bickering to bother about which port to sail to. And as it has been said if one does not know to which port one is sailing to, no winds are favourable. All the same, attempt has been made to raise those issues that appear to be germane to a clear and sustainable policy on hajj, for what they are worth.
I could recall in some write up by Dr. Usman Bugaje on Hajj Operations in Nigeria, he highlighted that in 1953, Alhaji Abubakar Imam appeared to have started it all, for during the Budget Session of the House of Representatives in Lagos, early in 1953, he “tabled a motion for the establishment of a ‘Nigeria Office’ in Jeddah to cater for the welfare of Nigerian pilgrims going to Saudi Arabia every year.” The motion, according to writer was adopted with minor amendments and he planned to make the pilgrimage that same year to be able to report back in detail what was required to be done. He immediately received a letter from Mr. Bruce Greatbatch, the Permanent Secretary in the office of the Minister of Local Government and Community Development, who was then M. Ahmadu Rabah, the Sardauna of Sokoto. The letter informed him of one Haruna Dan Kassim of Kano who then wanted to build a hostel for Nigerian pilgrims in Jeddah and requested him to clarify further his motion in the light of this effort of Dan Kassim. In his clarification he suggested that his report should be awaited. He obtained permission and made the hajj and wrote a detailed report on the problems and what needed to be done.
The thrusts of Alhaji Abubakar Imam’s report was that it was necessary that every year a pilgrim commissioner be officially appointed to accompany Nigerian pilgrims and lead them throughout the period of hajj. He quickly gave the qualification and added that this was not a full time job but the a three month job only. He then suggested the necessity for what he called dispensary attendant, what we today call the medical corps, giving a list of some of the most common medical complaints there. He then raised the issue of accommodation and the issue of royalties and foreign exchange procedures. He further suggested the creation of a kind of foundation for the assistance of pilgrims to which Muslims will make contributions on a continuous basis. This report was well received and A. Abubakar Imam did not hide his happiness, in his words, “What made me happy about the report I submitted on that years pilgrimage was that all the suggestions or recommendations in the report were accepted and implemented. Not a single one was left out. Alhaji Sir, Ahmadu Bello, Sardauna of Sokoto, on becoming Premier in 1954 also became the pilgrims leader every year until his death in 1966.”
I found the book, ‘Hajj and The Nigerian Government’, very relevant, Dr. Bugaje further stated that after 1966, the hajj, like many other institutions lost that unique leadership, concern and selflessness of the Sardauna, and started to go down the drain. The private agents started to have a field day, taking pilgrims money as they pleased and doing all manners of fraud and prompting cries for change. Admittedly there was a rapid increase in the volume of pilgrims during this period, but for every increase in volume there appeared to have been a corresponding increase in fraud and inefficiency, which kept growing unchallenged. In 1975 the government of the day interfered, abolished the private agents and created the Nigeria Pilgrim Board, giving them the sole powers of organising the pilgrimage. In the decree that established it, wide duties were assigned to the Board, under section 4. The opening paragraph says, “The board shall in the course of a pilgrimage render all reasonable assistance which pilgrims may require in matters touching or concerning health, immigration, foreign exchange,.... and it shall be the duty of the board to seek and obtain advice on standards (religious or of health) and other matters appropriate to pilgrimages as the board considers necessary, and to establish, or set up and maintain - (a) a library of books .... (b) a continuing campaign, educative as well as religious ....” This by any standards is very wide powers and could allow the board to address all issues associated with the hajj. It had the immediate effect of sanitising the operations from the pollution, which the private agents had wrought.
The basic headache in Hajj operations and most challenging, according to National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) was transportation. The NAHCON chairman, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, in a statement issued some months ago in Abuja that “Inability of some of the airlines to position their aircraft promptly created logistics problems for the commission. Some airlines failed to position their aircraft on schedule. This, in turn, created some logistics problems for the accommodation arrangements in Medina,’’ he said. Mallam Bello said that the idea of dedicating a separate airline for tour operators was also not effective. An airline appointed for that purpose was unable to transport pilgrims on schedule, according to him.
I believe, a typical water vendor on the street or sachet water seller in Nigeria has a way out for unraveling all our problems in Nigeria. The prayers Nigerians should engage themselves, as a matter of urgency is to get God-fearing leaders that will lead us to the right way. The topic continues next week.

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