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Hajj 2024: Gov Bago is right, but we can’t throw away the baby with bath water — Lagos Amirul-Hajj 

*We'll press for refund on services not provided *Hails Tinubu, Sanwo-olu, Saudi Arabia 

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The Lagos State Amirul-Hajj and Commissioner of Home Affairs, Hon Olanrewaju Ibrahim Layode has reacted to Governor Mohammed Umaru Bago’s position calling for the scrapping of NAHCON, saying “we can’t throw away the baby with the bath water”, noting that those areas NAHCON erred can be discussed at a round table and correction made. He took a swipe at the forum of Chairmen and Secretaries which recently gave kudos to NAHCON on the just concluded hajj. In an interactive session with newsmen, Layode touched on the issues of feeding at Muna, the BTA, 32kg bags for pilgrims among other issues. Enjoy it!

“My worry is who are those people that often disappoint and could not get the big stick? Is it compulsory that we continue to use them even after these disappointments? NAHCON is the one giving the contracts. The arrangement where we cannot question such person on any misgiving that affects us is not acceptable.”

What is your assessment of the 2024 hajj at the state level and your view with regard to NAHCON activities this year?

Airlifting of pilgrims should be made faster than what it is presently. The first thing to note is that FlyNas is not only transporting Lagos state pilgrims, it is taking other pilgrims in Kebbi, Ogun, Osun and others. The first opportunity we had was to fill the Kebbi slot. They had 180 left, so, we had to fill it. That wasn’t our slot, our airlifting slots started on Monday, June 24, where about 320 were airlifted.

We had a lot of challenges, and most of them are from NAHCON. You can see the pilgrims complaining of unavailability of bags. The bags were contracted to someone through NAHCON, the disappointment led to some pilgrims using sack bags. Our pilgrims this year are very considerate, they seldom complain. If we have any challenge, we communicate to them and they agree with us and they move on. May Allah accept their hajj and all their prayers.

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I can’t imagine what the situation would have been if they had insisted they would not go until their bags were given to them,  that would have been chaotic. There are other challenges, needless to mention them here because NAHCON also admits there are challenges.

We also had some challenges in Muna, I believe we will meet with NAHCON, point out their mistakes and deliberate on how these can be amended for a better 2025 Hajj.

Lagos state pilgrims were so happy and impressed with what Governor Sanwo-olu gave them. The addition the governor made to their BTA, payment for their ram sacrifice to all the 1,869 pilgrims, as well as their ihram cloth. He also gave them stipend during the Arafat day and also paid the Ziyarah fee for each pilgrim. This wonderful assistance encouraged and motivated the pilgrims a great deal. This is very commendable and the pilgrims offered prayers for him.

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Also, kudos to our President for making it easier for us to perform this year hajj by giving support in the cost of hajj when the exchange rate went up.

READ ALSO: Decentralisation of NAHCON is a wrong idea, CSO warns

READ ALSO:2024 Hajj: Most successful in recent years—Ithra Al-Khair

READ ALSO: Hajj 2024: State Chairmen, ESs commend NAHCON, knock CBN on $400 BTA to pilgrims

About the bag, it was a challenge. We had to appeal to pilgrims, for those who have been airlifted, we gave them money to buy bags. At a time, I paid over 500SR for bags for some pilgrims. Alhamdulillah, if they said they won’t go without their bags, it would create another challenge in the airlifting process. These are some of the areas we will press for a refund. Even the hand luggage could not go round before departure in Lagos. Some had to buy bags to serve the purpose, because the bags didn’t come on time, some had left before they brought the bags. It is not only Lagos; other states were affected.

My worry is who are those people that often disappoint and could not get the big stick? Is it compulsory that we continue to use them even after these disappointments? NAHCON is the one giving the contracts. The arrangement where we cannot question such person on any misgiving that affects us is  unacceptable. If you call him now, he will tell you he will come now and he will never. Is that a serious supplier? We need to demand for such a refund.

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On the dollar, in a civilised world,  NAHCON would have been sued, but we always have recourse to prayers and sometimes because we know them, we move on. It shouldn’t be man-know-man stuff! I know the President won’t like such things. I trust him. After collecting money from November, December to January and the dollar came down to N1,100, one would have expected that you would collect their dollars. You now panic when it jumped to N1,500 and above. When they gave you the money what did you do with it? Who is keeping the money and in whose interest. If the governor had not come out to say what he said in a bid to rescue the situation, what would have happened. I heard they said Ogun collected it and why Lagos should not do the same? Is transport from Ita-Oshin to Abeokuta in Ogun the same as transport from Badagry to Ikeja? Certainly not. NAHCON, no doubt, needs to explain to us better what happened on the issue of Dollar.
You can see what is trending on the social media. A governor coming out to condemn some of the activities of the NAHCON, which honestly, I align with. But we cannot throw away the baby with the bath water. We won’t say NAHCON should be scraped, we will sit with them and point out where they went wrong and hope that those areas will be corrected.The governor was in Makkah, he knows what happened. I saw a video where Mr Governor assisted a pilgrim who nearly collapsed from Muna to Jamarat. He tried to carry the person on his back, trying to assist the pilgrims to gain some strength. If he monitored and saw a lot of things himself, and he came on air to tell NAHCON what they need to do, then the governor should be taken seriously. He couldn’t have lied against NAHCON.

But the issue is that we need to come to a round table to discuss these grey areas and some of the issues raised by the Governor of Niger state, because part of what he said is also our own position in Lagos state. I will not rate them, but the governor has said they failed, because all those things shouldn’t be happening in modern days of hajj. But you can see they performed woefully in some areas where they should be having credit.

“On the dollar, in a civilised world,  NAHCON would have been sued, but we always have recourse to prayers and sometimes because we know them, we move on. It shouldn’t be man-know-man stuff!”

About Saudi Arabia

The Saudi Arabia did very well. They did their part very well. On the area of food, we are not contesting we want to do it, but it is better they let us know those involved in the feeding arrangement and what and what menu are agreed on. Nevertheless, the Saudi Arabia did very well in their arrangements especially when you compare it to what happened in 2023. From Muzdalifah to Muna and then to Jamarat, it was better this year, save for some pilgrims who didn’t adhere to instructions regarding the heatwaves and the stress of walking that long distance. They told the pilgrims to return to Muna from Muzdalifah and not to proceed to Jamarat, but some Nigerians because they wanted to do everything all at once, proceeded to Jamarat from Muzdalifah and that caused fatigue and weakness even under the harsh weather. Some of them collapsed on the road, but we were able to control our pilgrims, so we don’t have record of such among pilgrims in Lagos State.

Could you please elaborate on the conduct and behaviour of your pilgrims in relation to the services offered?

The conduct of our pilgrims was very impressive, they are well behaved, they adhere to instructions. But that is not to say you will not find one or two who are recalcitrant, but when you call them to order they listen.

In view of the challenges you mentioned particularly during your stay at Mina, do you plan to seek refund of money for services not rendered?

I am impressed by this question because you also know that services paid for and not provided should be refunded. Everything is not about prayers, if what you paid for are not given, seeking refund is your right. Let me make allusion to what happened on our first day at Muna, the service provider brought a food that our pilgrims couldn’t eat, the SA to the governor, myself, the Chairman and other board members went all out to ensure that we get a better dinner for the pilgrims from their pockets. It was not only Lagos; Ogun pilgrims were also affected.
Where there is justice, we don’t need to pay such money. We need the cooperation of the people. We will also not allow anyone to cause confusion among us. This is because if the pilgrims protest as a result of bad services by the service providers, people will misconstrue it as bad services and insensitive provided by Lagos state, they won’t know how those poor services came about. On that night, we should have called the food provider to demand for better services, but we don’t know about them. Imagine, in Muna, we don’t know the person bringing food for us. This is not a good arrangement. I suppose that when this arrangement is going on, we need to sit with them and highlight some of these issues. So, on that night, we didn’t eat and that caterer will still be comfortable collecting the money for services not rendered. They need to return the money.

Recently the forum of chairmen, chief executives and secretaries, met to consider various reports from states and gave kudos to NAHCON for a job well done. Lagos was not at the meeting, why were you not there and do you align with their resolutions?

The meeting was impromptu. While we were holding a meeting here, there came a call that we should come for a meeting and I said that is why I always frown at NAHCON for calling impromptu meetings. There should be at least a 24 hours notice of meeting. On that day, the chairman and the secretary said there was another meeting at NAHCON. At the meeting with NAHCON that day, they came up with the brilliant idea of how 2025 hajj should go. But also, you need to first do a post-mortem of the 2024 hajj before talking about 2025, so that you can correct a lot of mistakes that occurred in 2024. That is also the position of Governor Bago of Niger state that issues of 2024 hajj should not be allowed to come up in 2025 hajj. It is not that Lagos state is making any gain on the pilgrims’ affairs, but we always ensure the comfort, security and well-being of our pilgrims. That is why people come from others states in Nigeria and abroad to register with us. This year, we have no less than 60 people from America and UK. So, we need to sit and talk with a view to correcting the mistakes in 2024 hajj. NAHCON has to remove its hands on so many things, they also have to explain to us why some things happened the way it did. We need to ask questions on 2024 hajj before we talk about 2025 Hajj. That is why I said earlier that I support the position of the Niger state governor. So, I am not aware they gave any resolution and if they did, my chairman and secretary were not part of it. We had some challenges on some of the areas you said they gave kudos to NAHCON. If my chairman gave kudos on the issue of accommodation, I will tell him he is on his own. We know what happened in Muna and how can we now go there and clap for them that they did well.
The governor also mentioned about the airline. Yes, I need to sit with the airlines and discuss. If they are giving me a service, we should discuss it. Qatar airline come to Lagos twice a day, if Flynas can do the same, we can pay. This is one area that will benefit the pilgrims as the time of airlifting will be reduced and numbers of days spent in the holy land will be reduced. If you are taking people both morning and night, why should we spend five weeks here? We are having professors and businessmen here, why should we elongate our stay after concluding our Hajj rites? So, the number of days can be shortened with that arrangement. We can discuss that, same with other states. Within three days the airline can ferry all pilgrims to the Kingdom.

 

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