The incoming Chairman and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON), Barrister Dhikrullah Hassan, is certainly a lucky ‘chap’. This is not necessarily because he is just awaiting his confirmation by the Senate—any time soon—having been nominated by Mr. President as the new NAHCON boss.
It is obviously not because he has gotten a political appointment that readily offers him a ticket to also feasts on the proverbial ‘national cake’, and better the lot of his own people. But it is because he will soon become the pilot of NAHCON. And not only that, he will have nothing arduous to do than to build on the rich legacies already bequeathed by his immediate-past predecessor, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad.
It was in 2015 that Barr. Muhktar Muhammad, a former Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Pilgrims’ Welfare Board, was appointed as NAHCON’s helmsman. But after bestriding NAHCON’s landscape in just four years, many things changed. Critical reforms were championed.
The introduction of the Automated Pilgrims Management System (APMS) is one outstanding feat recorded by NAHCON under the dynamic leadership of Mukhtar Muhammed. There is no gainsaying, the efficiency of APMS will only be enhanced if the incoming NAHCON boss technically improve the system.
Then, there is the decentralization of Hajj fares, which the Commission introduced in 2017. Since then, each State of the Federation has proposed the contents and amounts it intended to charge its pilgrims.
However, Barr. Hassan and his team must sustain this laudable policy, to ensure that States Pilgrims’ Welfare Board do not arbitrarily and exploitatively fix Hajj fares that will milk intending pilgrims.
It is on record that the ‘National Reception Team’ constituted during the administration of Barr. Mukhtar, has helped to sanitize the operations of Nigeria at Jeddah and Madina Airports. Now, with even less staff, arrivals into and departures from Saudi Arabia are more organized and efficient.
The tenure of the ex-NAHCON boss, it was, who facilitated the unification of media activities in Saudi Arabia after setting up the ‘National Media Team’. The media team carries the representatives of all media organizations going on Hajj, and assist them carry out their activities in a coordinated fashion.
Kudos to Abdullahi Mukhtar, there is now an improvement in the quality and quantity of foods served to pilgrims at various locations of the pilgrimage. This is to prevent them from patronizing illegal food vendors. With the Hajj saving scheme, those still praying to make it to Hajj have been giving a lifeline, even as NAHCON, under Abdullahi Mukhtar, established a Training Institute to cater for pilgrims’ educational needs.
Other reforms include consolidation of the national Hajj team which took off from 2016, reliable and efficient medical services for Nigerian pilgrims, and the exquisite Markaziyya accommodation in Madina, not forgetting the decent and comfortable houses for pilgrims in Makkah.
Again, while holding sway as NAHCON CEO, the amiable and principled Mukhtar, on several Hajj occasions investigated, and thereafter punished Hajj service providers and Tour Operators who rendered poor services to Nigerian pilgrims.
He also introduced and started some ‘Hajj Development Levy Projects’ across Hajj transit camps in the country. The projects, which include the construction of hotel-like accommodation and clinics are to be used by pilgrims free-of-charge during Hajj airlift and by the community at a subsidized rates.
Others are construction of event centres for revenue generation, construction of mosques and other amenities in pilgrims’ camps. While some of these projects have been completed and handed over to the state welfare boards, others are on-going.
Amid the sterling achievements of Barr. Mukhtar Muhammad, which have remodeled the face of Hajj operations in Nigeria, the coming of Barr. Hassan, who is seen as a square peg in a square hole, should usher in a new dawn for NAHCON. Hassan’s enviable intellectual pedigree and managerial acumen, indeed has already made the task of sustaining the legacies of his predecessor a lot easier for him. Thus, he must hit the ground after his confirmation, in a bid to take NAHCON to the ‘Next Level’.
Since the 2020 Hajj exercise is just a matter of few months, the incoming NAHCON boss, should start making preparations. Credible and competent Hajj Tour Operators should be recruited to transport pilgrims to the Holy Land. To guarantee decent accommodations for pilgrims, it is pertinent that Barr. Hassan and his team inspect available hotels, and tents to be provided for Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi, prior to the Hajj commencement. More importantly, there should proximity between the accommodations and the two Holy Mosques in Makkah and Medina.
The transportation logistics for pilgrims in the Holy Land, and their feeding arrangements should also not be left to chances by Hassan, as NAHCON prepares for this year’s Hajj exercise. Initiatives such as the Hajj savings scheme, and Training Institute, are two things the NAHCON new helmsman must nurture for them to realize their full potentials of enhancing Hajj operations, among others.
Conscious of the verdict on his tenure in some years ahead, there is need for the new Sheriff at NAHCON to be receptive to brilliant ideas, and practical suggestions offered by well-meaning individuals and critical stakeholders on the most effective way to pilot the affairs of Commission. He should however not refuse to hearken or draw lessons from their objective criticisms. Additionally, he should be pragmatic in formulating sound administrative polices and reforms that will enhance smooth operations and management of Hajj and Umrah activities for pilgrims.
To cap it all, the new NAHCON management team spearheaded by Barr. Hassan, should assiduously put machineries in place to address lingering challenges in diverse areas of Hajj operation, in spite of the extraordinary accomplishments still recorded by the purposeful, but visionary ‘squad’ of Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad. It is a task that must be taken with all sense of responsibility and abiding obligation.
Mahmud, a journalist, writes from Abuja. via [email protected]