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New face of hajj management in Nigeria
IN the beginning among the Nigerian Muslims, holy pilgrimage to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia was solely an individual's affair just like prayer and fasting. As time went by, private agents came in to assist individuals in performing this religious duty.
In response to the yearnings of Muslims, the government of the defunct Northern and Western regions established pilgrims boards in 1958 to cater for the welfare of pilgrims from their respective regions while the Federal Government set up the defunct Nigerian Pilgrims
Board in 1975 to control pilgrimage at the national level and co-ordinate the activities of state pilgrims’ agencies.
However, the Military Government headed by General Ibrahim Babangida (rtd) repealed the board and established the Nigerian Pilgrim's Commission in 1989. From 1991 to 1995, the commission became a directorate under the office of the Minister of State for Foreign Affairs.
From 1995 to 1999, it became Presidential Task Force. In 2000 to 2001, it was transferred back to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In 2001 to 2002, members of the National Committee on hajj were appointed by the Federal Government apparently to address the problem of hajj administration in the country which was unstable as the body devoted solely to the management of Hajj matters was practically absent.
The inevitable result of that was the well-known tradition of "Hajj with Tears" that Nigerian pilgrims were compelled to accept.
Consequently, to the outside world, the hajj operation then reflected the image of the country as grossly inefficient and unorganized. The inefficiency manifested itself in all facets of the exercise viz: shoddy arrangements, shortage of aircraft, airlifting the pilgrims behind schedule, substandard accommodation for the pilgrims, pleading sometimes at the presidential level for the extension of the closing of Jeddah Airport and abandoning of the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia after hajj exercise among others.
This was the situation when the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NACHON) was established via the National Assembly Act of 2006, and the body was inaugurated by former President Olusegun Obasanjo ably represented by then Head of Service and later Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Alhaji Mahmud Yayale Ahmed on 24th May, 2007.
The Commission was a product of the clamor for a separate body to handle Hajj affairs by the entire Nigeria Muslims as a panacea to the annual hiccups which were the order of the day for Muslims who want to prosecute the fifth pillar of Islam.
The former President in his inaugural speech stated inter alia,
"Today's formal take off of the Commission is very significant as it marks a departure from the previous ad-hoc arrangements for administering annual pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The establishment of this commission with its own enabling legislation is a testimony to the government’s determination to reform pilgrimage administration in Nigeria in order to enhance and safeguard the welfare of pilgrims by eliminating undue hardships and difficulties experienced by Nigerians while performing their religious obligations."
Similarly, he stressed that it is his ardent hope and desire that the inauguration of the commission will mark the end of the suffering and harrowing experiences that Nigerian pilgrims had suffered annually in the hands of insensitive and inscrutable hajj operators and unconscionable pilgrimage administrators.
In pursuant of the challenges before the newcommission, the establishment act enumerates the following as the responsibilities of the newbody:
(a) licence, regulate, supervise and perform oversight functions over organizations, associations (Corporate or non Corporate) or similar
bodies engaged in:
(i) Organising and co-ordinating the movement of persons from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia to perform the hajj or Umrah; and
(ii) Providing accommodation, transportation and other services related to the performance of the Hajj and Umrah to pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.
(b) Liaise and co-ordinate with the appropriate government authorities or organs of the Federal Republic of Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia on the rules and regulations governing entry into and stay in Saudi Arabia for the purpose of Hajj and Umrah including all appropriate immigration, passport and related consular services;
(c) Co-ordinate the provision of health, financial, security, customs, immigration and services to persons proceeding to or returning from, Saudi Arabia to perform the Hajj or Umrah;
(d) Ensure the establishment and management of pilgrims camps and related facilities, equipment and such other necessary materials;
(e) Establish and maintain an adequate information system and libraries of books and other relevant publications as well as cinematograph and other facilities for use by persons interested in or desirous of undertaking pilgrimage, so that the library shall be opened to the public upon and subject to any conditions the Commission may deem fit;
(f) Establish and maintain a biometric data bank of all Nigerian intending pilgrims for the Hajj and Umrah;
(g) Conduct educative and enlightenment campaigns on Hajj and Umra, in all the States of the Federation, and the Federal Capital Territory;
(h) Appoint such number of medical practitioners and medical staff as it deems fit;
(i) Issue guidelines and rules that will ensure that State Pilgrims Welfare Agencies provide appropriate welfare services and guides for pilgrims;
(j) Regulate and control in or outside Nigeria all matters concerning the welfare of Nigerian pilgrims and to formulate policies in connection therewith.
It is pertinent to mention that the interest of all stakeholders was considered in the appointment of membership of the Commission as it consist of:
(a) A Chairman/Chief Executive Officer
(b) Three full time members and six part-time members representing each geo-political zone, two of which shall be women;
(c) A representative each of the Ministry of:
(ii) Foreign Affairs
(iii) Internal Affairs (Immigration)
(d) A representative of the:
(i) Central Bank of Nigeria
(ii) Jama'atul Nasril Islam; and
(iii) Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs