In its less than a year of operation, HajjPanorama.ng, foremost news platform solely dedicated to the coverage of hajj and related matters has not, for once, been found unbelievable. As at 8.33pm of Wednesday May 31, 2023, it reported that no fewer than 10,068 of Nigerian pilgrims, from different states of the Federation, have been successfully flown to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to perform Hajj by the National Hajj Commission, NAHCON.
NAHCON, with this, has demonstrated commitment combined with inspiring zeal and energy. The organisation has not only found a most pleasant way around the regular route on which lies the troublous Sudan, it has also, with her trajectory of excellent performance, convinced the immediate past government of President Buhari that it deserves some tangential government support, especially for the aviation companies, so that the burden that the rerouting from the war-ridden Sudan route wont impact too heavily on pilgrims.
The result of the smart suggestion from the Barrister Zikrullah Hassan-led NAHCON has been a most enthusiastic disposition from the enlisted airlines, both national and foreign, including Saudi’s Flynas.
This writer has had his monitoring instinct for NAHCON activities turned on since June 2022. This happened from Makkah shortly after the hajj rites for the year were over. NAHCON’s leadership, with an uncommon fervour for freedom of information and the complementing protocols of Open Government Partnership, OGP, had organised a meeting, right in Makkah, where it shared her reports on the Hajj 2022 exercise, from each of all its constituent operational departments before the full glare of stakeholders. The verdict on the preparations and the execution of the plan for what has come to be known as the “Emergency Hajj” was unanimous: excellent. It could not have been otherwise, given that it was the first outing of the sitting leadership captained by Zikrullah Hassan, credited with prized pedigree of combined experiential assets in hajj management across all the three tiers of private, sub-national and eventually the national level.
The endorsement from Nigerian stakeholders was later reinforced by the Hajj authorities of other African countries who, beyond a passing validation, voted Nigeria, and impliedly, Hassan, as their unanimous leader
In the light of all these obviously, NAHCON braced up early for greater accomplishments as envisioned from inception in line with the sanctity of amana or trust in Islam. Incidentally, the wider environment of operations has not been quite favourable to the ambition of the Hassan-led team of NAHCON to actualize an optimally friendly regime. Against the well schemed design to crash the cost of accommodation for pilgrims, this focused leadership engaged directly with the relevant authorities and owners. With them, the rate-spiking middlemen no longer have a space and therefore earning substantial gains for the pilgrims. But that was one joy with a slender body, to paraphrase Ola Rotimi. As with other monetary policies, the exchange rate regime turned out to skid on to a downward slope leaving the pilgrims and other dollar dependent transactions helpless. All gains earned from shrewd engagements by the NAHCON leadership got summarily frittered away. What would then have happened if some gains had not been secured in the first instance?
For one whose age-old philosophy in all spheres of life is transparency twinning with accountability while emphasising merit, nothing less than demonstrative expressions of abundant thanks to Allah in all possible ways should hold sway. The paramountcy of the health of the pilgrims for instance is non-negotiable. Beyond the clinical attention accorded the medical services in the previous years therefore, NAHCON, this year, published its recruitment agenda for medics and paramedics for the 2023 hajj. Since the recruitment exercise was concluded weeks back, it has been plaudits all the way being unprecedented. Most commendable, there has not been any visible complaint from any quarter. Indeed, as we write, some members of the medical team are already in Saudi Arabia having gone ahead of the first set of pilgrims.
In spite of its inclination for transparency, the incumbent NAHCON leadership recognises the peculiarities of the operations of the different professionals it must work with. The NAHCON board, in addition to having a lawyer as chair, has other professionals including academics, indeed a professor of media studies, Professor Bala Muhammed of Bayero University, Kano. More interestingly, NAHCON’s job delineation provides for a resident commissioner dedicated to information and research. Most suitably therefore, the recruitment of the media team was duly anchored with a high level of dexterity profoundly premised on acute professionalism, trust as well as unimpeachable integrity cultivated over time across cognate beats. On top of all these is the potential of the individuals to render quality services. The summary of the profiles of the selected media team is representative of the leading practitioners with varying affiliations but smacking of the competence to deliver trendy skills across media genres and all possible cyber-platforms.
Still with the media, the sitting NAHCON leadership broke yet another new ground. In addition to having consciously advised all members of the media team to familiarise with the website of NAHCON, for the first time it produced a customised guide for the enlisted media professionals. The 27-point manual applies lucidly to all categories of media workers on the Hajj assignment. A future edition will do better with the text or highlights of the NAHCON Act to enhance the familiarisation enjoined by NAHCON.
In the interest of all Al-Hujjajis and their supportive teams, NAHCON has further done well to ensure that catering arrangements for the entire duration of hajj exercise will emphasise the local dishes to which the young and the elderly Nigerians are used to back home in Nigeria. To give full strength to this vision, NAHCO facilitated a working visit of appointed Saudi caterers even as it has since mandated those caterers to hire qualified Nigerians to work for them for the desired Nigerian aroma and taste. If pilgrims will therefore miss Nigeria during their stay in holy land, food should be out of the components of their nostalgia.
Even as the NAHCON innovations have just commenced playing out, impressed stakeholders have started volunteering commendations and prayers on NAHCON. Leading the pack among the states was the Executive Secretary of the Plateau State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Barrister Auwal Abdullahi. In particular, Barrister Abdullahi expressed satisfaction with the hajj operations this year especially the airlifting of Plateau pilgrims which has gone on quite smoothly. According to media reports, the Plateau Board boss applauded “NAHCON for putting in place a sound structure and arrangements for a stress free operation this year.” From the Kaduna counterpart of Barrister Abdullahi, Dr Yakubu Arigassiyu, also came some applause. He appreciated the fact that the Zikrullah Hassan-led NAHCON team did all they could to ensure that intending pilgrims paid lower or the same amount applicable to the previous year’s hajj. He attributed the difference that eventually manifested to the situation unmistakably beyond the control of NAHCON.
The future looks good from all indications if all signals from Chairman Zikrullah Hassan and all his lieutenants are worth reckoning with. Hassan once admitted that he realised that his is a hot seat but that he’s used to such, as an MSS-baked activist who has had to function with the most minimal of resources including time. His lieutenants are not any less enthusiastic and indeed supremely enthusiastic to contribute their respective quota for the overall success of the hajj operations this year 2023 and the years to come.
Tunde Akanni, PhD, associate professor of journalism, is a member of the 2023 National Hajj Media Team. Follow him on Twitter via @AkintundeAkanni