The Press Corps of the House of Representatives in collaboration with the Correspondents Chapel of the Nigeria Union of Journalists (NUJ), FCT, Abuja chapter recently found it worthy to recognize the achievements of over 50 Nigerian patriots in their different fields of endeavour. It was tagged Maiden Dinner/Award of Excellence organized by the press corps to honour deserving lawmakers, ministerial departments and agencies (MDAs) as well as corporate organizations. Among the awardees was the man in charge of Hajj affairs in Nigeria, Bar. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, who received the award of the “Most responsive CEO, corporate organization in the public sector”. He was also honoured by Manara Satellite TV/Radio station. Those who can sincerely attest to the transformational indices going on in Hajj management in Nigeria will laud these recognitions.
The first event which held at Aso Hall of the International Conference Center Abuja on March 10, 2018, was the first time in almost 18 years of the existence of the House Press Corps. The second event by Manara held at Ladi Kwali Hall of the Sheraton Hotels and Towers same day.
Speaking at Manara event tagged “Legacies of Hajj Operations and the Nigerian Question”, the National Chairman of Jama’atu Izalatil Bid’a wa Iqamatis Sunnah (JIBWIS), Sheikh Abdullahi Bala Lau, mentioned some of the transformations of Hajj management in Nigeria under Barr. Muhammad. Said he: “NAHCON under the leadership of Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad deserved a special mention. I commend the executive chairman and NAHCON as an agency for their selfless service in ensuring successful Hajj operations year in year out.”
Abdullahi Mukhtar does not deserve less recognition, according to the laid down criteria for the awardees. He has done more than the organizers could recognize. Mukhtar is a man with great possibilities. His rising political profile has yet no limit as he has proven to be able to effect change in any capacity amidst challenges. His abilities to transform Hajj operations in his state Kaduna and in Nigeria have been exceptional.
His history is full of revelations of a patriot born to conquer the oddities of life for excellence. He was educated at Yusuf Dantsoho Primary School, Anguwar Rimi and Rimi College before going for his Diploma in Chemical Engineering at the Kaduna Polytechnic and Advanced Diploma in Business Management at Abubakar Tafawa Balewa University Bauchi. He obtained a Bachelor of Law degree from Ahmadu Bello University Zaria, a post graduate diploma in International Law and Diplomacy, a Masters Degree in International Affairs and Diplomacy and was called to the bar in February, 2013.
His working experiences and capacities transcend the aviation industry, diplomatic and government organizations. Notable among them are Kaduna State Water Works, Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Board as director of operations, consultant to Chanchangi Airlines in 1998 Hajj operations, officer of Pilgrims’ Affairs Abuja, as a consultant for the Hajj 1999 operations, Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board as Executive Secretary and as commissioner in charge of Operations in the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). On 25th May, 2015, he became the Chairman/CEO of the commission to date.
He has been involved in various community development programmes and is a member of various non-governmental organizations (NGOs) such as African Network for Prevention and Protection against Child Abuse and Neglect. He is a trustee of the I Care Women Youth Initiative, Green Heart Impact Initiative, FOMWAN, Kaduna State Chapter and chairman of Al Amanah Foundation and Darun Na’eem Foundation, Abuja. He also founded the Open Heart Foundation, Kaduna.
His achievements in Hajj management at the state level include the expansion of Hajj awareness to the general public in Kaduna State through the famous FRCN Kaduna programme, Kalubalenku Maniyyata, the professionalization of Hajj by initiating IATA/UFTAA training and certification of his staff; instilling and maintaining discipline in pilgrims. He championed better accommodation for pilgrims under states, computerized the pilgrims’ registration system in Kaduna which, by and large, eliminated Hajj slots hoarding and abuse. He also eliminated abscondment of pilgrims by introducing guarantors during Hajj registration, ensured early remittance of Hajj fares to NAHCON and secured a gradual increase in the allocation of Kaduna State which has become the state of the federation with the highest number of pilgrims.
His achievements in Hajj management earned him recognition by President Umaru Yar’adua who bestowed on him Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) in 2010. This is in addition to 58 other recognitions in terms of awards and honours locally and internationally.
At the national level, he championed the direct landing of Nigerian pilgrims under the boards into Madinah during Hajj. Other changes he effected are elimination of waiting days by Nigerian pilgrims at Nigerian and Saudi airports during outbound and inbound airlifts, improvement in standards of pilgrims’ accommodation for Nigerians in Makkah and Madinah through stringent inspectorate regulations, introduction of luggage and zamzam management system for Nigerian pilgrims, streamlining and sanitization of private Hajj and Umrah operators and operations and elimination of the sharp practices by briefcase companies in Nigeria and in Saudi Arabia.
He strives to enhance the legacies of Hajj through forging socio-economic ties with other countries and to boost the unity of the Nigerian Muslim Ummah irrespective of ideological differences. His introduction of nationalism in all teams that participate in Hajj has been wonderful. There are now the national Ulama team, the national medical team, national reception team and the national media team. All the Nigerian Ulama gather on Arafat Day to pray for Nigeria in their different local languages irrespective of sect or ideology. Before, Nigeria used to operate in Saudi Arabia with many states having banners and stands at the Jeddah airport. Today, the unified Nigerian contingent to Hajj has changed the ugly trend.
He has utilized the numerical advantage of Nigeria being the 7th largest contingent in recent Hajj operations to improve efficiency in organizing Hajj. Service providers in Saudi Arabia who used to treat Nigeria with levity cannot do so again. That is why they are legally pushed every year in recent times to refund to Nigerian pilgrims money for services for which they are paid but they could not render. In addition to services rendered to pilgrims, some companies, upon the invitation of NAHCON are considering making investments in the hospitality, transportation and agricultural sectors in Nigeria.
As a closer observer, the greatest achievement of NAHCON is the stabilization of Hajj operations in Nigeria. Gone are the days when Nigeria sought for extension of deadlines for airport closure. The usual rowdiness associated with pilgrims’ airlift both in Nigerian and Saudi Arabian airports has been virtually eliminated. Pilgrims now travel in a more organized manner with more comfort compared to what obtained before the establishment of NAHCON.
The Saudi Hajj authorities have commended Abdullahi’s tenure. Enough to mention is Dr. Farouq Al-Bukhari, the President of the United Agents Office in Saudi Arabia who recently said: “…in the last five years, Nigeria has come from being one of the worst to one of the best Hajj missions in the world”. For those who know Abdullahi, he is a parable of the tough who turn challenges to opportunities and weakness to strength. It’s such characteristic and enigmatic nationalists that Nigeria requires to grow.
Abdullahi enjoys respect of constituted authorities and elders. He strongly believes in the legacies of Hajj, thus he reveres the architects of NAHCON one of who is Dr. Usman Bugaje who, in one of his conference papers delivered in 1996 said: “Hajj is one source through which Islam is nourished and by strengthening it, the government is helping its own war against crime and such other vices. Similarly hajj, like any journey abroad, is an effective education and the more educated the citizenry the easier it should be for their government.Yet Hajj has always been and still remains one of the most effective international trade links, not only with the Middle East but also with the Far East.
Among the awardees were the Speaker, Rt. Hon. Yakubu Dogara; the Clerk of NASS, Alhaji Mohammed Ataba Sani-Omolori, Sokoto State governor, Hon. Aminu Waziri Tambuwal, Enugu State governor, Rt. Hon. Ifeanyi Ugwuanyi, the ambassador of the House and Deputy Speaker of the Pan African Parliament, Hon. Abdulrazak Namdas, former speaker, Rt. Hon. Dimeji Sabur Bankole, former chairman of the House committee on media and public affairs, Hon. Eseme Eyiboh, FCT minister, Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello, Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Godwin Emefiele, most responsive private sector CEO and founder of Aiteo Group, Benedict Peters, Hon. Femi Gbajabiamila, among others.