By Taofeek LAWAL, Abuja
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) is a religious parastatal directly under the direct supervision of The Presidency. Among other functions, the national hajj body is establish to license, regulate, supervise and perform oversight functions over organisations, associations (corporate or non-corporate) or similar bodies engaged in- (i) organising and coordinating the movement of persons from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj or Umra; and (ii) providing accommodation, transportation and other services related to the performance of the Hajj and Umra to pilgrims in Saudi Arabia; (b) liaise and co-ordinate with the appropriate government authorities or organs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the rules and regulations governing entry into and staying in Saudi Arabia for the purposes of Hajj and Umra including all appropriate immigration, passport and related consular services.
Since the inauguration of 4th NAHCON Board under the supervision of Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan on February 13, 2020, the board has introduced a lot of initiatives which include the much-talked about Hajj Savings Scheme (HSS), the proposed Hajj Training Institute (HTI), the digital transformation of its activities as well as the welfare of its staff. The Zikrullah Hassan-led board has always carried the fourth estate of the realm, the media, along in its activities for briefing at the Hajj House Headquarters, Abuja.
On March 8, 2021, the NAHCON leadership at an event held at the Chelsea Hotel, Central Area, Abuja invited Muslim scholars (Ulamas) from all over the country to deliberate on how to achieve a successful Hajj for 2021. The entire world was shook to its foundation when the Covid-19 pandemic broke out in Wuhan City of the People Republic of China with Nigeria recording her index case in February 2020. As a result of the deadly pandemic, the world economy was grounded and for the first time in a very long time, the fifth pillar of Islam, the holy pilgrimage to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia did not hold and Nigeria was not excluded.
At his first contact with the scholars since his coming on board tagged, “ Interactive Session between the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and Ulamas, Zikrullah Hassan while lauding the Ulamas for their advisory roles as well as educating and mobilizing pilgrims during hajj activities said they were invited to Hajj House for three things; to interact and intimate them on NAHCON’s vision and activities, seek their advice as veterans on hajj matters and to continuously seek the Ulamas’ support and prayers to serve and satisfy Nigerian intending pilgrims as the preparations towards 2021 hajj gathers momentum.
The NAHCON boss expressed optimism and hope that there will be hajj for Nigerian Muslims in 2021 on account of the fact that Umra (the lesser hajj) has started and the good news that the vaccine against Covid-19 distribution is gaining momentum all over the world. He added that while the commission remains hopeful that the 2021 hajj will hold, he nonetheless told the audience which also had journalists in attendance that NAHCON has maintained constant communication with the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19 which is expected to result in adequate hajj travel arrangements in line with the standard set by the Saudi Arabia authorities and the World Health Organization (WHO).
Hassan, while urging the Ulamas to enlighten their followers on the importance of Covid-19 vaccines, said the scholars have more tasking job at hand to confront disinformation and unsubstantiated rumour about the efficacy and safety of the Covid-19 vaccine and advised that every Nigerian adhere strictly to the Federal Government protocols to stem the spread of the pandemic.
In their contributions during the parley, some of the participants advised the commission to be pragmatic as well as commended for its recent achievements. Most speakers in the forum assured the fourth board of their full and continuous support. The Chief Imam of Lagos State, Sheikh Suleiman Abu-Nolla submitted that NAHCON must continue in its mobilisation and sensitization of intending pilgrims as far as hajj activities are concerned. He added that the time has come for the commission to embrace full automation of its activities to save intending pilgrims from staying longer than necessary in hajj camps across the country.
The Chief Imam, Challenge Central Mosque, Ibadan who also heads MURSHID Islamic Prayer Group, Sheikh Musa Kolawole Nojimudeen, to always have plan B for unforeseen circumstances saying the importance of technology can never be overemphasized in the smooth operation of any organization that knows its onions. He laid emphasis on timely procurement of Covid-19 vaccines for intending pilgrims adding that it is also very important to follow to the latter the conditions, rules and regulations that the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia rolled out as far as 2021 hajj is concerned.
An Imam from JIBWIS, Isah Abdullahi, called for synergy between NAHCON and the Ulamas saying the Ulamas remains the backbone of every society with the promise that the scholars will do all within their powers to give support and advice that will see to the successful hajj operations for Nigeria intending pilgrims in 2021 and beyond. The Director, Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), Professor Ishaq Akintola, advised on strict adherence to Covid-19 protocols by all to stem the spread of the pandemic and not to endanger other people’s lives. Imam Abdulfatah Adeyemi said it is high time those in the hajj business realised that has gone beyond just spiritual journey as it now encompasses national, security and diplomatic assignments with the support of all.
A representative of the Federation of Muslim Women Association of Nigeria (FOMWAN) while applauding NAHCON for coming with the idea of the Hajj Training Institute (HTI) said competent hands with background in education must be involved in the drafting of the curriculum for the proposed HTI for proper take off later in the year. A permanent commissioner with Kaduna State Peace Commission, Hajiya Khadijah Hawaja Gambo, said NAHCON must as a matter of fact, ngage competent and committed hands who will not hesitate to attend to pilgrims’ needs during the hajj activities and make them comfortable during the rigours of hajj rituals.
The NAHCON boss in his final submission while accepting that the activities of the commission have been slowed down by the pandemic agreed that the yearnings of the intending pilgrims must be met at all times.