One of the tasks which President Muhammad Buhari laid on the shoulders of the leadership of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) was to fight corruption and all ill-related practices that were associated with the conduct of the annual Muslim pilgrimage to the Holy Land of Makkah. The directive is an integral part of the Act that established the Commission. That is what the leadership is poised to achieve through its policy reviewal under Barr. Abdullah Muhammad Mukhtar, the vibrant Hajj administrator in Nigeria and the world at large.
Every year, with the renewed spirit to achieve the mission and vision of the NAHCON’s Act, preparations for the subsequent Hajj operations are begun at the end of every Hajj exercise with new policies to smoothen the way for more successes. In the past ten years, Nigerian pilgrims go to Saudi for Hajj and return back with minimal or no hitches. That is why NAHCON has come to stay. There is no single blame or regret for the creation of NAHCON and its supervision under the presidency. Rather, clear evidences are documented that the commission has grown from strength to strength recording successes upon successes since its birth. The only thing that the commission yearns to achieve soon is fiscal independence. So there is no justifiable reason whatsoever, on the part of truth and patriotism, for NAHCON to be scrapped or re-subjected to any other government organ.
Investigations have revealed that the Muslims of Nigeria and the world are happy with the performance of NAHCON under the present leadership. The host country, Saudi Arabia, since the creation of NAHCON has been full of praises for Nigeria over the conduct of Hajj, something that virtually proved impossible during the eras before the birth of the commission. The airlift operations, the accommodation arrangements, the feeding, luggage and Holy sites activities have become recurring success stories every year. In just few years, the commission will relieve the federal government of its financial obligations to it. The leadership of commission is planning fast towards being fully financially self-reliant. And with Almighty Allah being by its side, it will be to the benefit of Nigerian pilgrims and the nation in general.
One of the new critical policies introduced by the commission is in connection with the weeding away of quacks and faceless operators in the Hajj industry. In November last year, NAHCON met with the leadership of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON) on the need to play by the rules and regulations guiding the holy trips. AHUON President, Alhaji Abdulfatai Abdulmajeed expressed joy with the leadership of the commission for their services. Barr. Mukhtar, in the habit of carrying stakeholders along, informed the meeting of a Presidential directive over the implementation of some recommendations contained in 2015 Hajj report, where NAHCON was directed to collaborate with security agencies to stem the tide of fraudulent activities in Hajj and Umrah.
On 16th November 2016, the commission set up three teams on routine inspection of tour operators for its three zones: Kano, Lagos and Abuja. The teams led by the head of tour operators, Alidu Shutti and head of Inspectorate and compliance, Usman Shamaki and Muhammad Girei who were to ensure that existing companies were running their businesses according to NAHCON’s regulations. They were to ascertain the true existence of companies at the addresses provided in the documents from Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and that the companies were licensed by NAHCON. The teams were also to identify unlicensed companies by NAHCON and serve them “notice of non-compliance” with a 21-day notice to regularize their companies with the commission or risk further actions.
Finally, the teams were asked to visit the police, DSS and ICPC in the states to seek their support in areas of security and enforcement. They also liaised with the press. The Lagos zone team visited Kwara, Osun, Ondo, Oyo, Ogun and Lagos States.
While in Ilorin, the team visited the State Commissioner of Police, Olusola Amore (CP) and the State Director, Department of State Services (DSS), Abdullahi Shinkafi both of who urged NAHCON to design a mechanism for the sanctioning of licensed companies some of which engage in unholy activities inimical to the interest of the Nigerian pilgrims. They urged NAHCON to continue to publish list of licensed Tour Operators to guide members of the public against patronizing unlicensed ones. Vibrant feedback mechanism from stakeholders was paramount too.
Investigations showed that some unlicensed operators place adverts in print and electronic media while some operators who possess either Hajj or Umrah license were operating both outings. Further, it was observed that some of the operators were using agents to source for clients, with the agents sometimes engaging in unholy acts. Kwara state recorded seven licensed companies and two unlicensed ones; Osun only one licensed company; Ondo one licensed; Oyo nine and four; Ogun seven and two and Lagos 54 and nine respectively. A total of 79 licensed tour operator companies and 17 unlicensed ones equaling 96 were recorded in the Lagos zone.
The Kano zone recorded 63 licensed and 78 unlicensed companies as follows: Bauchi four and one; Gombe one licensed; Jigawa one and one; Kano 50 and 77; Katsina one licensed; Borno two licensed; Sokoto one licensed; Yobe one licensed; and Zamfara two licensed operators.
A total number of 75 companies were identified in the Abuja zone. FCT Abuja had 50 licensed and four unlicensed operators; Kogi one and one; Niger four and one; and Kaduna 63 and 13. This meant that in the whole country 312 Hajj and Umrah companies were inspected. 204 were legal operators while 108 were unlicensed. Kano zone has the highest number of illegal companies with 78 representing 25%, followed by Lagos zone that recorded 17 illegal companies representing 5.5%, while Abuja zone has 13 unlicensed companies representing 4.2%
Moreover, investigations revealed that some legitimate companies knew the illegal operators but were unwilling to expose them due to existing relationships with them. Some honest operators have been affected negatively by the activities of unlicensed agents with the attendant dwindling revenue. Again, resistance from some licensed and unlicensed companies especially in Kano zone were met.
However, the exercise has given the commission more insights on the way forward. The commission will consider the publication of the list of unlicensed companies in the print and electronic media at the local areas where such unlicensed operators are operating, while the routine inspection would be sustained at regular intervals to ensure compliance and reduce the spread of unlicensed ones. The commission will also ensure enforcement with considerable fines on the licensed companies found wanting.