By Mustapha Kamilu Bakori

For some weeks now, precisely since early November, when speculators began sensing that time is up for Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad’s extension as NAHCON Chairman on acting capacity, different analysis on the time lapse and legality of his stay in office increased. There was also news that a tour operator from Kano state sued the Nigerian president and the secretary to the government of the federation over the tenure extension of the NAHCON Chief Executive Officer. The appellant even lamented that his business has suffered under the leadership of this NAHCON administration, therefore wants it ended. There are other interested persons calling on him to resign voluntarily since his tenure has ended.

In this writer’s opinion, all these are needless distractions. My advise: allow the Chairman to focus on discharging the duties placed upon his shoulders by the government since he is not responsible for appointing himself. One is convinced that Barrister Abdullahi Muhammad will not spend a minute extra beyond the time government wants to have him in office. He demonstrated this as Executive Secretary in Kaduna State Pilgrims’ Welfare Board and no doubt, he remains true to his character. And as he left the Kaduna office, he was compensated with a higher office. The time will come when government will make its decision known, so why the hastiness by speculators? What are they afraid of? Perhaps that that the Chairman’s tenure will be renewed.

With the thousands of suitors wooing government to be made the new heads of the Commission, all the pressure is not coming as a surprise. However, it will be a disservice to Nigerian pilgrims and Hajj affairs if we allow parochial aspirations to shape our interest in the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria’s affairs.

A lot has been said about the CEO’s time in office, some spin-doctors interpreting the establishment act to suit their narratives, others reading it literarily. Some move on to add that the Chairman’s tenure was extended for six months only: but only the Almighty knows from where they got their information. No where was a date mentioned in the letter instructing the Chairman and board members to continue on acting capacity until a new board is constituted. Unfortunately, all the arguments only tilt towards the Chairmanship position, perhaps because the suitors are viewing it from a typical Nigerian point of view: a juicy post. The pathetic case is with those who believe everything they read and argue breathlessly over what they have little understanding of.

It is logical that a tour operator that is denied license renewal by NAHCON due to legal wrangling bothering on lack of registration with the appropriate commission would drag the president of Nigeria, the Secretary to the Government and the Chairman of NAHCON to court. It is also comprehensible that a tour operator battling a corrupt practices case would drag NAHCON and any other person to court seeking immediate termination of the present Chairman’s acting role in NAHCON because he refuses to shift the goal post in the operator’s favour. The pitiable ones in this one sides squabble though are those who do not understand the behind-the-scene intrigues. They keep falling over themselves arguing ignorantly with their masters’ skewed influences. Unfortunately for detractors in the mid-field, they dribbled their teammates woefully only to end up scoring offside goals.

As earlier stated, is it not curious that out of all the board members whose office tenure was extended pending constitution of a new one, it is only the Chairman’s office that is giving them sleepless nights? The reason cannot be far fetched; they need an umpire in the Hajj management field that would be overlooking all their fouls. Why else would one go to court praying for a change of a leadership of an institution because under that leadership, his business had suffered? Have other businesses in the same league with his suffered too? It would be of interest to the general public to have a statistics of those Hajj stakeholders groaning genuinely out of reforms being introduced for the betterment of the Hajj sector and those weeping out of refusal to play by the rules therefore want to push the Commission to the nadir from where it rose.

Again it is curious. On which level was the tour operator’s business thriving before that now it is not? Which privileges was the operator’s business enjoying before that he is now denied? As far as the public is concerned, many tour operator offices were closed down for not meeting the required standard. In the past, tour operator pilgrims were short-changed in the bargains for services paid for and services rendered. Even now, NAHCON seems to be battling those tour operators that refuse to comply such that the Commission is devising several ways to arrest the situation hands down.

One foresees a lot of bad news awaiting those agitating for the removal of the NAHCON Chairman in particular. They may have to wait another four years if the present administration decides to renew the Chairman’s office term. And why not? The NAHCON establishment Act recognizes office of the Chairman as distinct from those of the Commissioners and other board members. Meaning a board member, or a Commissioner, may serve for eight years and move upwards to become the Chairman. But for the fact that once an office holder transcends a lower office he or she cannot go back to a subordinate position, I would have said the present Chairman has eight years still remaining; to complete his Chairmanship and complete his former term as Commissioner Operations.

No matter the whirling against this fact, the truth is certain, and it shall be affirmed in due course. Truth is, some people are going to have sleepless nights calculating how this could be possible.

What gives this writer hope is, thank goodness that Nigeria today has a government that is not eager to replace great performing public servants due to lobbyists manoeuvres or just so that the juice may go round its loyalist. The government of president Muhammadu Buhari is one that recognizes hard work and relevance of continuity no matter how badly lobbyists may plot the person’s removal. President Muhammadu Buhari has demonstrated this wisdom and courage in doing what he believes is the right judgement in many re-appointments he made in his second term. May those creating the Abdullahi Mukhtar saga be served the Kyari treatment that President Buhari gave to naysayers.

The good news is, Barrister Mukhtar is an avowed striker, goal-scorer with numerous hat-tricks in his record. Hence, with yet another renewable window of four years, the sky is his target. His achievements cannot be written off by any spin-doctor. These successes have changed the face of Hajj for good in Nigeria and even across the world. In a recent Hajj event in London and another in Indonesia, the NAHCON Chairman was revered and recognised as worthy of presenting papers on a global platform and worthy of being a participant among a panel of discussants on Hajj matters. This kind of privilege is accorded only those renown for intelligence and excellence. Achievements attained by the present NAHCON leadership have impressed many Nigerian pilgrims and some Non Governmental Organizations in the Muslim Ummah that keep praying to the Almighty to renew Abdullahi Mukhtar’s tenure in office.

Indeed Mukhtar is a champion who has scored multiple hat tricks for pilgrims, from take off to landing, pilgrims are now the masters, they even challenge officials who do not do their jobs. This is because, they get to see these officials around them and in their midst. In the past, officials would be cooling off in their cosy hotels leaving pilgrims to their fate.

In Saudi Arabia, even governors sometimes reside with pilgrims in their hotel accommodations because the standard is upped.  Most pilgrims do not believe their hotel accommodations were actually booked for them until they are given the keys. Even if there are hundreds of equally qualified hands that can replicate or double Mr Mukhtar’s achievement, the puzzle is, since he still has a second term and he is not doing badly at all, why do some people not want him to complete his second?

My advise to the venerated head of NAHCON is not to allow the wailing of wailers to distract him from the responsibilities he has promised before God to discharge diligently on behalf of pilgrims. The government has not forgotten his seat but is relaxed with his captainship of the Hajj team and trusts his capabilities. He is advised to initiate reforms that will finally nail down some peculiar problems faced by Nigerian pilgrims. Our prayer is that the Almighty will guide Mr President to make the right decisions always.

Bakori resides in Katsina Road, Kaduna