Hajj Management In Nigeria (2)

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TOPSHOTS Muslim pilgrims perform the final walk (Tawaf al-Wadaa) around the Kaaba at the Grand Mosque in the Saudi holy city of Mecca on November 30, 2009. The annual Muslim hajj pilgrimage to Mecca wound up without the feared mass outbreak of swine flu, Saudi authorities said, reporting a total of five deaths and 73 proven cases. AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD HAMS (Photo credit should read MAHMUD HAMS/AFP/Getty Images)

“Hajj in Islam”, according to Dr Bugaje, “is neither fun, nor joke, nor a past time for self-aggrandizement, which unfortunately it has been made to appear today.” He said as “one of the five pillars of Islam,”  Hajj is an opportunity for the pilgrims to learn from each other what will advance the cause of the Ummah socially, politically, financially and whatnot; in as much as “the Qur’an explicitly states” the objective of Hajj: “so that they can witness that which is of benefit to them.” (Qur’an 22: 27-28).  These benefits abound, Bugaje said, in “every generation”, as Hajj will provide it with “its needs and capacity to excel” and become “a model for others” to emulate. (Qur’an 3:110).

Dr Bugaje established a number of cases in African history where, “in the last 1000 years”, Hajj has played roles “in state building, social integration” as well as being a potent instrument in “political and economic transformation of Muslim polities and communities…” : a) Yahya bn Ibrahim the patron of the Murabitun movements; b) Mansa Musa of Mali; c) Askia Muhammad of Songhay; d) Umar al-Futi of Sene-Gambia.

The ‘Mai of Borno’, Bugaje mentioned, was probably ‘the first’ to undertake the Hajj trip ‘in the whole of Bilad al-Sudan..’ He said ‘the Mai of Borno, Mai Dunama bn Ume c. 1098-1150,’ made ‘Hajj twice and died when returning from the third.’

I elaborated on the above point (and more) when His Eminence, the Sultan and Chairman, gave me 7 minutes to ‘discus’ the paper. I said that King Dunama bin Umme, as mentioned by Dr Usman Bugaje, was of the Sayfawa Dynasty. However, Mai Dunama may not have been the first pilgrim of the Sayfawa since records have it that his father, Mai Umme bin Abdel-Jalil (1058-1097), died in the land of Masr (Egypt) having intended or even accomplished a pilgrimage.

Also, I added a brief history of Hajj when people trekked passing through Sudan in groups. The leader of a caravan was known as the madugu under whom intending pilgrims would congregate and travel, often on foot. In those days, the Hajj was usually at the discretion of private individual and groups. The informal Hajj tour operator was the madugu who was usually an important personality such as a scholar, wealthy merchant or notable person. He was also automatically the Ameerul Hajj (Pilgrims’ Leader). This was before colonization.

Nigeria was colonized for about a century (1861-1860). By 1906 when the British finally occupied the Northern part of the country, the British colonial government was already meddling in Hajj operations. They sought to reduce the chances of interaction between pilgrims of different West African countries, as explained by Dr Bugaje. They restricted the number of annual pilgrims and put in place restrictions such as passports, immigration control, health regulations and some payment of deposits for services in the holy land that ensured that as many intending pilgrims as possible were discouraged.

The positive aspect of this era was the introduction of buses, trucks, ships and finally, aircraft for conveying the pilgrims.

In 1920, His Majesty, the Emir of Katsina, Alhaji Muhammadu Dikko, pioneered Hajj by sea when he travelled aboard a British steam boat from Lagos through London and Cairo; a feat he repeated by road later in 1936. Six years later, Alhaji Baba Latsu Alfindiki, a famous businessman from Kano made the second ever trip by sea. Encouraged  by this, the famous Kano businessman Alhaji Alhassan Dantata travelled by the same means through Morocco and Egypt in company of fifteen persons after obtaining passports from the colonial Resident in Kano in 1927.

It was in 1948 that the first organised Hajj tour operation started in Nigeria from Kano. The trip was by road. It was a joint business owned by three merchants. The leader was Alhaji Muhammadu Nagoda. They bought lorries which conveyed pilgrims to Sudan, which was the land route terminus for all West African pilgrims for centuries, and they put them on ships at Port Suakin, close to Port Sudan to cross the Red Sea and arrive in Jeddah. They charged each pilgrim 20 pounds. The journey usually lasted six months. This was the beginning of what my company and hundreds of other companies do today.

When in 1948 the trio of Alhaji Mahmud Dantata (1922-1983), Alhaji Haruna Kassim and Alhaji Ibrahim Musa Gashash, established the West African Pilgrims Association (WAPA), the first private Hajj company, things took a rapid turn for the better. There were more lorries and buses which conveyed pilgrims from Kano through Borno then Chad to Sudan. From Sudan, it was as before; they boarded ships from the coast of Sudan across the Red Sea to Jeddah.

WAPA later founded Hajj Air Limited when aircrafts were available. In the same city of Kano, Pilgrims Aid Society (PAS) also arranged air travel for Hajj pilgrims. This went on through the 1950s. Compared with the arduous 6 month ordeal the pilgrims went through by road, air travel was very easy and fast. The West African Airways Corporation (WAAC) was the airline in those days.

The government began to concern itself with Hajj operations in Nigeria in 1953, when during the budget session of the Federal House of Representatives in Lagos  Alhaji Abubakar Imam raised a motion for the establishment of the ‘Nigeria Office’ in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia to cater for Nigerian pilgrims. After the motion was accepted with some minor adjustments, Alhaji Imam was asked to submit a proposal for the actualisation of his motion. This took him to Saudia on a flight chartered by Nigerian Pilgrims’ Aid Society Limited, which started operating in Kano since 1951. He saw first-hand the problems Nigerian pilgrims faced. The local guides (Mutawwifs) charged Nigerian pilgrims arbitrary fees, they had no official to fight for their rights and many had no formal accommodation. They slept wherever they could find.

He returned with his findings and recommended the appointment of a Hajj Commissioner (the earliest precursor to the Hajj Commission), dispensaries in major pilgrim centres like Makkah, Madeenah, Minaa and Arafaat (the earliest forebears of the Medical Mission) and provision of accommodation for the pilgrims in Makkah and Madeenah.

Another Hajj delegation led by Alhaji Isa Kaita went to Saudia to make more findings. The report of that delegation was submitted in 1954. A year later, the late Sardaunan Sokoto and Premier of the Northern Region at the time, Alhaji Ahmadu Bello, led another delegation to the holy land. He had become quite interested in the affairs of the pilgrims. His observations were to prove valuable. Alhaji Ibrahim Dasuki was assigned to Kano as a pilgrims’ officer to assist Nigerian pilgrims at Kano airport on matters of hajj operations especially relating to passports, visas, customs and immigration formalities, health requirements and foreign exchange.