By Mousa Ubandawaki
When the Hajj Development Levy idea was mooted over a decade ago by the pioneer management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) led by the current Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) Mallam Muhammad Musa Bello at a Stakeholder meeting in the National Mosque Abuja, it was met with skepticism.
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The Hajj Development Levy is a creative platform to raise an alternative financing source outside the government in view of the dwindling funds from the Federal Government.
In fact, there was a divided and passionate argument by the attendees at the event about its workability and implementation if eventually adopted. The major argument was that the money could be misappropriated or diverted by those at the helms or borrowed by the federal government to finance its other projects.
And quiet appropriately, there were disturbing signs at the beginning as most of the states that had waited to see any sign of the utilization of the fund became disgruntled and agitated.
It first started in muffle tones and then later the noise began from the roof tops that the contributory fund may have gone the ways of several others – gone down the drain or personal pockets as they’d anticipated.
Not even the assurances from the then Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of the Commission, (Musa Bello) and the Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Saad Abubakar II who was superintending over the Commission as the Amirul Hajj that the fund was in safe hands of Jaiz Bank.
The agitation became more profound after the assumption of the current management board led by Barr.Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammed in 2015. Apart from being confronted publicly by some of the State Chief Executive of Pilgrims Welfare Boards, petitions were also written to the Presidency and the National Assembly, accusing the Commission of diverting the fund.
However, what is unknown to many of the agitators for the delay is the fact that several administrative procedures put in place by both the government and the Commission to safeguard the fund against possible predatory instinct are working.
The idea was that the fund would be disbursed through a tripartite arrangement involving the state Pilgrims Welfare Boards (being the owner of the pilgrim and source of the fund); the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) who is legally empowered to administer the fund as well as the Federal Government who oversees and keeps the fund in its custody through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Therefore, except by the approval of the three, no part of the fund can be disbursed, spent or called without all of them agreeing to it. Therefore, by the arrangement, the state board is expected to conceive the project of its choice and forward same to the Commission for approval after which machinery would be set in motion for the execution.
The bureau of public procurement angle (BPP)
It should be noted that one of the several ways adopted by the Federal Government to stem the tide of corruption was the institution of the Bureau of Public Procurement. By this Act, it is mandatory for any agency of government to seek an approval of BPP for any of its project before funds are released for its execution. There are also many procurement layers to it. As with government procedures, there are many bottlenecks standing against the quick execution of projects as expected by the people.
Several years after the protracted administrative humpy-thumpy, the Hajj Development Levy Scheme projects took off to a flying start and got the momentum it deserved in 2018 and 2019 with the award of contracts worth over N2 billion across the six geo-political zones involving construction, rehabilitation, re-modeling of infrastructural facilities in the Hajj Reception Centers.
Some of the contracts included construction of mosques, clinics, hotel-like accommodation, shopping mall, fencing among others in Ilorin, Sokoto, Yola, Kano, Maiduguri, Lagos, Gombe, Bauchi, Kaduna etc.
Indeed, there are lots of good stories to tell now as many of the projects embarked on by the Commission have started to germinate and in some places bear fruits. For instance, the 800 meter perimeter fencing of the Hajj reception center in Ilorin had been completed and ready for commissioning. The fence has finally put paid to the perennial case of the center being used as drug trafficking point as no case was recorded during the 2019 Hajj.
Some of the other projects which have reached advanced stage of completion included the multi-purpose hall and hotel accommodation in Yola, Construction of the Event Hall and Clinics in Abuja, construction of event centre and land scarping in Lagos, construction and renovation of toilets in Maiduguri, construction of hotel-like accommodation in Kano and Sokoto. All of these demonstrate that with greater cooperation between all the stakeholders; state pilgrims welfare boards, private tour operators and the commission, the sky would be the beginning of positive things to come for the advancement of the welfare of Nigerian pilgrims.
Ubandawaki is of the Information and Publication Division of NAHCON