BY Muosa Ubadanwaki
The Consultative meeting between the Nigeria’s delegation to Saudi Arabia led by the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs, and the Saudi Ministry of Hajj recently which culminated in the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) has kick-started the 2018 Hajj preparation in Nigeria. At the forum which set the ground rules for the participating countries, the Saudi Minister of Hajj Affairs, Sheikh Bentel Muhammed described the Commission as one of the three best Hajj managers in the world, adding that the strategies adopted by the Abdullahi led board resulted to successful operations especially on the areas of flight schedule, accommodation and control of pilgrims at the airports.
Immediately after the signing ceremony, the Commission in conjunction with 36 states pilgrim’s Welfare Boards/SPWB hit the ground running. The enlarged delegation proceeded to Madinah to engage the Adilla establishment- the Saudi organization responsible for feeding, transportation and accommodation to conclude arrangements. The outcome of the meeting revealed that the Commission under the leadership of Barrister Abdullahi Mukthar Muhammad had indeed made a great leap in the management and implementation of Hajj activities and services in Nigeria since he came onboard in 2015.
The retention of the 95,000 slots to the country was a confirmation of the commission’s hardwork which earned the country a status of well-behaved, disciplined country in the managment of hajj operations. It should be noted that any country found wanting during the exercise is penalized or slammed with reduction of slots.
Similarly, the Commission’s Inspectorate unit have just concluded the annual inspection and verification exercise of the registered International Tour Operator Companies. This is with a view to certifying their existence and competence in the fields for organizing Hajj or Umrah. This idea which have become an annual routine had helped to sanitize the industry from hands of quacks and shylock operators who hitherto have field days in only milking unsuspecting clients of their hard-earned money, but sometimes denied many from performing their divine obligations in comfy environment. Some have been sent to early grave and untimely death due to nefarious activities of some of the bad eggs who after collecting Pilgrims’ money, never provide transportation to Hajj.
This year, one issue which may soon be on the front-burner of public or national discourse or conversation is the decision of the Saudi Arabian Government to introduce a 5 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) on services in the country. Although on the face of it, the idea isn’t particularly bad but neither was it inspiring, at least to many nations going to Hajj, this is because, the Tax will affect the Hajj expenditure by Pilgrims including Nigerians.
How then does this affect the Nigerian pilgrims, some may wonder? The implementation of the VAT will foremost increase the prices of commodities including hotel prices which will impact on the Umrah and Hajj.
Another issue being envisaged that may cause some hiccups is the planned introduction of biometric data capturing for Hujjaj. This process according to plans will take place at Saudi Missions in Abuja, Lagos and Kano. How this will work out is a matter of conjuncture in the remaining months to commencement of Hajj airlifting.
In addition to this is the commencement of implementation of payment of additional 2,000 riyals for those who have performed Hajj in the last five years.
However, with the on-going effort, being put in by the management of NAHCON and the 36 states pilgrims welfare Boards and particularly the confidence reposed in the Nigerian team by the Saudi-Government, some of the hurdles envisaged would have been removed, though not without the concerted effort of every Nigerian Muslim who must show commitment in the way of advise and enlightenment of intending pilgrims on ‘DO’S and Don’ts’s’ and also avoid constituting destructive stumbling blocks.