By Muhammad Ajah
It is no more news that Nigeria got 95,000 slots for Hajj 2018. This was the same number of slots granted Nigeria for 2017 Hajj by the Saudi government. The slots were shared 75,000 and 20,000 to the State Pilgrims Welfare Boards/Commissions/Agencies and the private tour companies respectively.
The slots were granted at a ministerial meeting between Saudi Arabia and Nigeria in Makkah, where the Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for 2018 was presented, kick-starting the Hajj process this year. The Saudi Arabian delegation was led by the new Minister of Hajj and Umrah Affairs, Dr. Muhammad Saleh Bin Taher Benten while the Nigerian delegation was led by the Minister of State Foreign Affairs, Hon. Khadija Bukar Abba Ibrahim with the Chairman/CEO, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad and Nigeria’s Ambassador to Saudi Arabia, Ambassador Isa Muhammad Dodo.
However, it was surprising that Nigeria was one of the countries with large number of Hajj slots that utilized over 90 percent of its quota for last Hajj. Over 81,000 Nigerian pilgrims officially participated in the 2017 Hajj. Kudos to the Commission which explored all humanly possible means to ease the effects of the fares and opened up amicable communication with the Saudi authorities to relax huge penalties on Nigeria for crossing deadlines. That should not be allowed this year because of the reputation Nigeria has garnered globally over the years in the management of Hajj affairs.
It will be recalled that Nigeria’s slots which were reduced in 2012 when the Saudi government, began the expansion projects on the Grand Mosque of Makkah and Prophet Muhammad mosque Madinah caused agitation amongst the Nigerian Muslims who exhausted the slots every year until the 2017 Hajj that witnessed the restoration of the 20 percent global reduction.
On this note, the National Ulama team of NAHCON and all relevant teams, including the media have the onerous task of continually preaching to the Nigerian Muslim Ummah on the need to completely utilize the 95,000 Hajj slots for 2018. Since the nation’s economic situation is gradually but steadily improving, chances should not be open for the Saudis to reduce Nigeria’s quota in future due to inability to use up the given slots.
For the Ulama team, they should utilize some of their sermons on Fridays and preaching in Mosques and religious gatherings to reach out to the intending pilgrims. They should seek the support of the Islamic scholars within their vicinities. They can go further and explore house to house meeting with Muslim families who have the interest and intention of going to Hajj.
For the NAHCON, it has already released the deadlines for every Hajj activity from the preparatory stage to the end of the Hajj exercise to state boards, in confirmation with the guidelines and dates released by the Saudi Arabia authorities. It advised intending pilgrims to make deposits of N300,000 monthly from November 2017 to March 2018 in order to make up N1.5 million, depending the final announcement of 2018 Hajj fares by NAHCON. It also advised those who can make bulk deposits of such amounts at once to do so. By the time the Hajj fares are announced, those whose deposits are more will definitely be refunded their balances and those who have deficits can easily complete the payments.
This is because the Saudi Arabia authorities have vowed not to tolerate late payments for services which every country struggles to secure for its pilgrims. The host country, in its renewed commitment to overcome the challenges which pilgrims faced during the 2017 Hajj especially in Mina, cannot change its schedules for any Hajj event. Saudi Arabia strives to give all human comfort to pilgrims and Nigeria must assist them in securing the best services for the pilgrims who must in turn pay in time to guarantee such services.
For the media team, the field is very important to reach the intending pilgrims. They should not only see it as a service to humanity, they can be assured that the spiritual reward of making a Muslim perform his or her obligation is immeasurable.
And the overall is on the governors who are primarily the owners of their boards and by extension the pilgrims. They should release funds to their Muslim Pilgrims’ Boards or Commissions or Agencies early enough to put them on the track of meeting up with the March 2018 deadline. It is especially necessary to remind the governors of states of Southeast and South-South that all Hajj activities are time-bound. It is unpleasant to find that pilgrim boards for these two geopolitical zones, save one or two, often cause operational hiccups for Hajj every year due to very late remittance of Hajj fares as well as lack of mobilization of the board officials by their state governors.
Finally, we must realize that it is not enough to rejoice that Nigeria was granted 95,000 seats for 2018 Hajj, the onus lies on all members of the Nigerian Muslim Ummah to ensure the full utilization of the slots and timely payments of the Hajj fares to guarantee securing best services, as always, for the Nigerian pilgrims.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. Efirstname.lastname@example.org.