Re: Federal agencies paid N3.77bn in fictitious ‘estacodes’ to top staff, families
By Fatima Sanda Usara
A report by one ICIR, International Centre for Investigative Reporting, published online on 4thof February 2021 refers. The said report indicts 10 MDAs whose officials allegedly spent 3.7bn Naira collectively on “fictitious estacode’. For NAHCON, the report quotes 79.5 million as monies buried under the fictitious estacode allegation.
It was about a fortnight ago when the said report appeared online. Although this office itched for this rejoinder, the laid down protocol had to be respected. Suffice to state here that NAHCON had to first do the obligatory by responding convincingly to the query from the Office of Auditor General before looking at the publishers of the story straight in the eyes.
It is quite interesting that out of the about 344 lines report, with about 67 paragraphs, only nine lines in two paragraphs detail the NAHCON accusation and its crucifixion. In fact, the story seems more like an editor’s stunt: in a dilemma to step down a hot story or carry it despite little material that would substantiate the information. In another 20 lines the story explains “a” NAHCON’s “refusal” to respond to the ICIR enquiries.
Before engaging in such stunts, the ICIR needed to have known at least a little about NAHCON’s pre-Hajj visits.
Every year, The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) carries out three pre-Hajj visits. The first and most crucial is the meeting for signing of Memorandum of Understanding for the coming year’s Hajj. This meeting is at the behest of Saudi Arabia, extended to each country that intends its citizens to participate in the Hajj season. It is a meeting where both parties enter into contractual agreement based on an MoU that becomes binding on both groups once it is signed. Indeed, it is a privilege for any country to be invited for the MoU meeting by Saudi Arabia because it signifies a cordial bilateral relationship between the two.
Due to significance and sensitivity of this assignment, NAHCON selects participants carefully. The Commission’s contingent comprises of members drawn from sister agencies that play oversight functions on NAHCON or whose job interplays with NAHCON’s mandates. Reason for including members from these agencies in the trip is to guide management in decision-making that will serve the best interest of the Nigerian pilgrim before committing its signature to the agreement.
To start with, Honourable Minister of Foreign Affairs is normally leader of the Nigerian delegation or his/her representative. Select members from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the diplomatic corps join the minister as well. Also in this entourage are some members of the National Assembly under the Committee on Foreign Affairs. Co-participants in these meetings also feature representatives of a few security agencies, representatives from the aviation sector, representatives from the SGF, NAHCON Executives and then its essential staff.
Some of the functions that are traditionally carried out during this trip are:
i. Coordination meeting: consultation with all members of the delegation in order to collectively agree on the demands to present at the meeting;
ii. Meeting between NAHCON delegation and representatives of all the concerned Hajj functionaries in Saudi Arabia to agree and disagree on issues before signing of agreement. The Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj and Umrah anchors this meeting.
iii. Session with Saudi Arabian Minister of Hajj where the Memorandum of Understanding is signed.
Thereafter, the Commission’s delegates hold further meetings with individual agencies supervising Hajj affairs in order to deal with specifics. There is the:
iv. Meeting with Saudi Arabia’s General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA)
v. Meeting with Islamic Development Bank in Jeddah.
vi. Meeting with United Agents Office (Wikalah) in charge of pilgrims’ arrival into and exit from Saudi Arabia’s boarders.
vii. (a) Meeting with the General Car Syndicate (Naqabah) in Makkah in charge of local transportation of pilgrims.
vii. (b) Meeting with any of the selected Transport Companies under the General Car Syndicate. The companies are suppliers of the buses that convey pilgrims. Here, selection of specific model buses is made and agreed upon by the Nigerian delegation. Saudi Ministry of Hajj And Umrah determines a fixed price for all the routes, however, NAHCON does request for a concessionary discount for its pilgrims where there is a situation that warrants such.
viii. Meeting with Establishment of Mutawwifs, Makkah (Muassassah) in charge of general welfare of pilgrims ranging from comfort to complaints in Makkah, Muna, Arafat, Muzzdalifa until exit from the city of Makkah.
ix. Meeting with National Adillah Establishment in Madinah in charge of pilgrims’ welfare, in Madinah only, until their departure.
x. Reconciliation of Accounts between the concerned agencies on one hand and NAHCON’s Accounts and Legal Units on the other hand.
xi. Securing of pilgrims accommodation in Madinah.
xii. First phase of inspection of pilgrims’ accommodation after selection by state pilgrims’ officials
Hence, it is safe to assert that there is hardly a chance that NAHCON would design estacodes for an event of such magnitude and then fail to attend, without the expectant result being a miscarried Hajj season. There is no way it could even be hidden. For the year in question, NAHCON does not only have custody of stamped entry and exit passport pages; it has pictures to back up authenticity of its claim that all members travelled to Saudi Arabia.
The MoU pre-Hajj is a huge assignment that dictates how the ensuing Hajj is going to be therefore it is one that NAHCON cannot toy with. Besides, NAHCON does not proceed for any international assignment without following the procedures set by the OSGF, neither does it do so without OSGF approval. After return, the Commission normally submits to the OSGF a report on the trip in which names of all the attendees are captured. In addition, Nigeria’s Central Bank would only release estacode after presentation of visas and air ticket.
Among NAHCON’s delegation in 2017 first Pre-Hajj visit were
Hon. Khadija B. Abba Ibrahim, Hon. Minister of State, Foreign Affairs, in addition were seven representatives from the Ministry. From the National Assembly were the then Chairman, House Committee on Nigeria- Saudi Arabia Parliamentary Friendship and Hajj Affairs together with the committee’s clerk. From Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (OSGF) were two Deputy Directors, while two other members were drawn from Nigeria’s Aviation Sector: the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA) to be precise.
Apart from NAHCON’s Chief Executives and some Board Members that made the trip, NAHCON senior and some staff responsible for the following assignments were carried along: the Secretary of the Commission, two staff from Bilingual Unit, one staff from ICT, Head of Finance and Accounts Division, one representative from Audit unit, three members from the Legal Unit, one from Aviation Unit, one staff each from the Inspectorate & Compliance Unit. Others are, Head of Tour Operators Unit, Head of Licensing , Head of Pilgrims’ Education & Orientation, the Commission’s S.L.O, two NAHCON’s media unit representatives and Special Assistants to the Chairman and those of his two Commissioners present.
Yes for sure, NAHCON’s delegation attended the first pre-Hajj visit in December of 2017; there is nothing fictitious neither about the visit nor about the estacode.
From wherever the ICIR lifted its story, one would have expected an acclaimed investigative medium to go beyond pages of the report in digging for more information. Its eagle eye should have discerned an anomaly that almost all accused MDAs were axed uniformly based on a “No response from management” claim.
Usara is Head/ Public Affairs, NAHCON