By Fatima Sanda Usara
By now, it is no longer news that NAHCON’s delegation under the leadership of its Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan has been traversing the country to shore up support for Hajj Savings Scheme and Hajj Training Institute. In addition to visiting state governments and royal fathers for this purpose, the team also inspects progress of Hajj Development Levy Projects in the cities.
The Chairman’s call in these visits is clear: that with global trends that keep decimating the number of our pilgrims, which reached its nadir with the COVID-19 pandemic, the Commission is pivoting a strategy that will enable intending pilgrims plan for Hajj through gradual savings. He quintessentially explains that Nigeria has not been able to utilize it 95000 Hajj allocations due to the escalating cost of Hajj fare that is unavoidably hinged on the dollar exchange rate. That COVID-19 will surely make the situation move from frying pan to fire.
This gloomy reality is foreseeable from Saudi Arabia’s triple VAT hike from 5% to 15%. The alarm is also loud from extra COVID-19 measures that will definitely be put in place for sake of safe Hajj. Besides, the present dollar exchange rate has killed the option of reducing Hajj fare unless a total reversal occurs. To make matters worse, NAHCON has set a path for its financial autonomy and there is no going back. The Commission understands the financial burden already on federal government, therefore is determined not to add to it. This self-reliance was attained 100% in the last Hajj where NAHCON ran its offshore assignment solely without government sinking one Naira into the operation.
With these pointers, NAHCON’s strategy in mitigating further dwindling of Hujjaj numbers from Nigeria is to make Hajj affordable to all, regardless of one’s financial status. Thus the Commission’s drive to make the Hajj Savings Scheme a reality. With the scheme, self sponsorship is a given, financial autonomy is a done deal while affordability of the fare arises from gradual deposits albeit investment that will yield profit that will hopefully reduce the amount that will be needed to complete one’s Hajj fare. The practice has yielded fruits in Malaysia and other countries; with their support and blessings, it will not be different in Nigeria.
While responses from other quarters were pledges for full support, accompanied by praises for the initiative, Emir of Muri, Alhaji Abbas Njidda Tafida’s reply was philosophical. It did not come as a shock when his Royal Highness quipped that government has no business sponsoring Nigerians for pilgrimage. He condemned people who wait on government to dish out Hajj seats to them in order to discharge a religious obligation. In his opinion, people should use their brain and their sweats to earn for Hajj as there lays the wisdom of the Almighty in commanding pilgrimage only from those with financial muscle to undertake that worship. His Royal Highness, Alhaji Tafida explained that this is because The Almighty wants people who will use their brain to make money to go for Hajj.
Hence, the monarch advised NAHCON to promote skills acquisition with the same energy. Doing this will uplift Muslims from poverty and boost self-sponsorship to Hajj. According to him, no one will remain poor with acquisition of the right skills.
Thankfully, skill acquisition is precisely what the Hajj Training Institute is programmed to offer. The institute is designed to equip Hajj administrators with the right skills in tourism, digital competence, ticketing, luggage management, hospitality, crowd control and aviation matters among others. Apart from Hajj administrators, interested persons may also enrol for acquisition of the desired skill as major objective of the institute is to professionalize Hajj and to offer training to any willing applicant.
The Hajj Savings Scheme and the Hajj Training Institute are two among the immediate projects being pursued by the Zikrullah led NAHCON board and recognised in the Commission’s Establishment Act for the development of Hajj industry in Nigeria.
Usara is of NAHCON’s Public Affairs Unit