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Let’s Turn the Pandemic into a Blessing

Another eid-el-kabir has come upon us by the special grace of the Almighty Creator. He gives life to whom He wills and takes life even under the watchful eyes of the most skilled medical experts in the world. The most apt medical technology does not guarantee life to whom death has been destined. Therefore, we owe gratitude of life to Him who gave it to us in the first place.

I congratulate all Muslims across the world for being alive to commemorate another eid-el-adha no matter the circumstance. Particularly to the Muslims chosen by the Almighty to perform the 2021 Hajj, we rejoice with them and pray for their pilgrimage to be Hajj Mabrur. May 2022 Hajj witness a return to normal times and may we be among those to answer labbaik to the call of Hajj.

To my fellow Muslims who had been planning to participate in the Hajj for the past two years but remain disappointed, my call to all of us is to celebrate eid-el-kabir as true Muslims are expected to, and to give deep gratitude to the Giver of life for His priceless favour. With life, goals are still reachable, with life we can still hope for many possibilities.

The pandemic has created a lot of hardships for many indigent families but let us remember, it also took the lives of many affluent persons whose wealth now is meaningless to them. Those still alive are not more important in the sight of our Maker than those whose lives He has taken; those alive only have another chance to appreciate their Lord. The pandemic forced many to reverse their plans, but because we are alive, we can plan again.

We in the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria recognised the necessity of going back to the drawing board as a result of the pandemic and did so within the fullness of time in the interest of our primary constituents. The NAHCON family had never relented in brainstorming and evolving several panaceas for different setbacks that may threaten our pilgrims under the Covid-19 pandemic.

In this regard, the Commission has weighed the effect of Naira devaluation against the Dollar, the effect of inflation, plus the likely rise of Hajj fare due to the Covid-19 pandemic and higher cost of Saudi Arabia’s VAT. To cushion these effects, NAHCON encourages pilgrims who wish to roll over their Hajj registration to do so under the Hajj Savings Scheme through which Ja’iz Bank will invest on their behalf. No doubt, the return on investment will offer succour to our pilgrims whose Hajj deposits have remained dormant in the past two years.

In addition, we cannot shy away from the reality that subsequent selection of eligible intending pilgrims will have to be done under a queuing system. This is in order to address the two years backlog from failure to perform the Hajj. The computerised Hajj scheme provides a unique domain of running this selection transparently without prejudice.

As we celebrate eid-el-adha, we in NAHCON assure our stakeholders in the Hajj industry that the Commission is not unmindful of the dip many have plunged into resulting from restrictions to international travels. It is to manage the situation that the Commission waived certain levies for some of our partners in the sector.

However, there is no better time for us to start thinking of alternatives in our income generation means than now. It is the pandemic today, who knows what in future shall cause the tourism industry to again cascade into recession at lightning speed? NAHCON has geared up to this challenge in several ways, one of which is through engaging in Public Private Partnership on developing our erstwhile underutilized lands. The expected income from this venture is huge. Similarly, the Commission is testing the grounds for digital economy exploits with a digital economy centre already established in the Commission. Our hotel-like structures and clinics in many of the country’s departure centres are to serve dual purposes: to serve the pilgrims at the time of airlift and as moneymaking ventures during off period of Hajj.

Similarly, a Hajj Training Institute is underway to commence activities soon, God willing. The institute will typically serve the interest of the pilgrims, pilgrims’ managers, and serve as an income avenue for NAHCON as well. The Commissions chief vision in forming the institute is to professionalize Hajj in Nigeria so as to better serve our pilgrims and as a tourism skill acquisition centre for persons interested in acquiring training in the field.

NAHCON management has always been keen on staff capacity building and welfare. Through out this slowdown period, the NAHCON staff had been engaged in numerous trainings aimed at grooming them with proficiency that will lead to greater success of Hajj operations when it resumes.

We must manage the pandemic period in such a way that we will be discovering opportunities out of the challenges posed by it; opportunities that will lead us to witness life-saving transformations for the whole of humanity. 2020 had been uneventful in the Hajj industry but we must move on with hope and vision: a vision that will reshape our world for the better, a vision to find blessings out of a difficult situation.

Once again Eid Mubarak to our stakeholders in the states, tour operator sector and their teeming pilgrims whose cooperation and goodwill we have never lacked. May we live to commemorate many eid-el-adha in good health and prosperity.

Zikrullah Olakunle Hassan,