Alhaji Prince Isah Abdullahi is the chairman, Kogi State Muslim Pilgrims Commission. In this interview with a select group of journalists, he bares his mind on some salient issues bordering on the commission and this year’s Hajj. SAM EGWU was there for LEADERSHIP Sunday.
You have injected new blood into the system; what informed thisnew direction?
Before I took over as the chairman of Hajji Commission in Kogi, a lot of things were not done rightly here. We met a shabby commission, but we have created more departments and units like ICT, Registry, research and documentation because various working tools of the commission were in the hands of different individuals which is not supposed to be. So, we thought that this has to be stopped. Government is a continuous process and nobody is to hold us down. After 29 years in public service, it dawned on us to strengthen the Hajji Commission because the governor of Kogi State does not believe in half measures under his administration and I cannot afford to disappoint him. The commission is functioning at full throttle now. These have been made possible because we have a listening governor, we have a governor that is working.
What do you think could be Governor Yahaya Bello’s impression about activities at Hajji Commission
Alhaji Yahaya Bello, the executive governor of Kogi State is very passionate about the place. He will always ask, ‘are we behind schedule’? This expresses how passionate he is about what happens at the commission. He has brought proper focus to the commission as against what was obtained in the past at the commission. All mails we send he treats and sign them. Being here is a task l, not an opportunity.
You were in Saudi Arabia recently; what was your mission to that country?
Yes, there was need for first and second pre-hajj visit to the Holy land before the Hajj proper to negotiate better accommodation for the Kogi State intending pilgrims. We went to negotiate for the right accommodations for our pilgrims.We secured a better place 400 meters away from Alhara during the last hajji. There were a lot of criticisms about accommodation for the pilgrims which was nothing to write home about and to avoid the last hajji pitfalls, we have to be proactive because if you key into the template of Governor Alhaji Yahaya Bello, you have no reason to be backward. Now we have accommodation which is 400 metres away. We had to start early tofine tune the strategy before air lifting the pilgrims.
The last Hajj operation really shocked the governor. Was it an oversight last year that you people did not prepare well?
That was what happened then and we may not allow the snag of the past to delay our activities for this year which has alreadycommenced in ernest. We have gone ahead to immortalise the past leaders of the commission to give them respect. We went into Information, Communication Technology (ICT) to key into the current trend as against the past where the working tools of the commission were in the hands of individuals and departmentalheads. We want to create the opportunity that even a stranger coming to work would know where to start from, as the open registry will provide all necessary guide. This was not done in the past. We create research and documentations to beat whatever intentions are created.
Are you saying the commission is undergoing a face lift?
The executive governor has given us free hand to operate. In givinga face lift to the commission to meet international standard, different agencies are allowed to interface with the commission. From all observation Hajji commission interfaces with other commissionsacross the globe and we cannot afford to remain a weeping child.That is why when we made presentation to the Governor, Alhaji Yahaya Bello he gave his approval. He gave us hundred per cent free hand to face lift the commission to international standard. This, in conjunction with the ministry of works, is what we embarked on.
Why did the commission create zonal offices in the state?
We created Zonal offices to create awareness because 67 per cent of pilgrims are from rural areas. We felt it will reduce the cumbersome task of moving to the headquarters to ask questions. The highest percentage of pilgrims are from the local areas. That is why we nowhave offices in Ankpa, Anyigba, Okene and Lokoja. Through the zonal offices, we have reduced drastically the struggle to come to the headquarters by intending pilgrims to get information.
What is the estimate cost of this year’s Hajj fare
A maximum of N1 million and minimum of N750,000 pending the final announcement by the National Hajj Commission is the estimated fare. From December 9, 2016, about 400 intending pilgrims to the holy land of Saudi Arabia to perform this year’s Hajji had paid some percentages out of their stipulated amount for a slot of 838 pilgrims, though it is subject to review upwards as the need arises. The commission generally is undergoing restructuring. We met it and we are constrained with information. The past executive never released any information to us. The Commission has given up to 1st March for all intending pilgrims from Kogi State to meet their statutory obligation. The Kogi Hajji Commission is in category B.