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Stopping The Attempt To Stop Hajj 2017 (4)

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Last week, I stopped at the third allegation of Ibrahim Sulaiman Yusuf’s group; the Nigeria Arewa Foundation against the Executive Chairman of the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON). Today, we shall examine more of the allegations before looking at the other related allegations from another group. The motive seems quite related, but I digress.

The fourth allegation was that in the last two Hajj Operations, the Chairman of NAHCON misled some State Pilgrim Welfare Boards (SPWBs) to pay money meant for the hadaya (animal slaughtered on the 10th Day in the month of Hajj) into “a particular bank Account with Jaiz Bank under the pretext that his led Commission would make the sacrifices on behalf of the Pilgrims and that the meat would be preserved and transported as donations to Nigeria internally displaced Persons”. They went further to allege that only a few States revolted against the Chairman as most states were “lured” into handing over their hadaya (rams) money to the Chairman. They allege that not only were no rams slaughtered, there was no meat sent to Nigerian IDPs.

These are strong and weighty allegations which should bear scrutiny. On the contrary, however, you just read empty words bereft of any truth.

NAHCON actually appointed Jaiz Bank at the 29th meeting of the Executive Committee of the Board of NAHCON on 1st April 2015, to collect hadaya money from pilgrims for onward delivery to the Islamic Development Bank, which had a stake in Jaiz Bank.

The Board had resolved to deal directly with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) in getting and paying for the hadaya of pilgrims. The current Chairman was still the Commissioner of Operations on that day. He resumed office in May 2015. Hitherto, agents and SPWBs collected the funds with the promise to buy and slaughter the animals. Not all have been faithful to their promises. The IDB is the banker of the Muslim world and its integrity was not in doubt. The bank has shares in the only Islamic bank in Nigeria, Jaiz Bank. The Board, not the Chairman, reasoned that it would make things easier if Jaiz was appointed to collect the funds on behalf of the Hajj Commission. Earlier in June 2014, Jaiz Bank itself had approached the Commission with a proposal to do just that. NAHCON set up an ad-hoc committee to look at the proposal and report back to the Executive Committee.

It was that report which led to the appointment of Jaiz as the collector of the hadaya funds. The IDB was contacted about the development in a letter dated 8th May 2015 and another was written to the SPWBs three days later. Both letters were to the effect that Jaiz was the “Animals Sacrifice Fees Collection Agent for Nigerian Pilgrims during 2015 Hajj”. It was made clear to Jaiz and the SPWBs that all states were at liberty to deal with the bank or deal with any other organisation to procure the animals. Many states went with the Jaiz arrangement while others kept to the old arrangements they had. At no point did anyone pay to the NAHCON Chairman or his representatives. All funds were remitted directly to IDB by Jaiz Bank. The disingenuous mention of the Chairman collecting money which was paid to a bank, which transferred the money to the IDB, is unfortunate and malicious.

The same arrangement continued in 2016. There was never mention of any hadaya to be shipped to IDPs in those two years. The animals which the IDB procured for Nigerian pilgrims were slaughtered in the presence of officials of both NAHCON and the SPWBs. Ibrahim Sulaiman Yusuf’s Nigeria Arewa Foundation was neither a stakeholder during the slaughtering nor was it invited. The allegation is at best a mere figment of the authors’ imagination.

The first mention of the possibility of shipping the meat to Nigeria for onward distribution to IDPs was in January 2017 when the Nigerian Consul-General and the Chairman of NAHCON visited the Sacrificial Animals Office (Adaahee Office) on 15th January this year. The Chairman was made to understand that the office would only pay for the packaging of the meat but that freighting and preservation costs would be borne by NAHCON. This made the transportation more expensive than the meat itself. The duo of the Chairman and the Consul-General then requested that IDB should buy their rams and goats from Nigeria to at least patronise the country’s animal farmers. Again the talks stalled at the mention of transportation costs. To cargo rams and goats from Nigeria was more expensive than the unit cost of the animals themselves.

If the fourth allegation is outrageous, the fifth one is preposterous. The group alleged that the Chairman edged them out of business to accommodate only eight companies all of which were fronting for his interests! The petition says the minimum share capital for incorporating a business in Saudia is SR10, 000 for an ‘Establishment’ and can be up to SR50, 000 for some others. They allege that upon resumption in 2015, the new Chairman imposed a minimum of SR500, 000 as share capital and further increased that to SR5, 000,000 in 2016. They described these regulations as a pre-conceived manipulation of their business.

In the Chairman’s response, he explained that prior to the forthcoming 2017 Hajj pre-qualification exercise for service providers, no one fixed any minimum share capital for Saudi based companies. He also mentioned that a company with only SR15, 000 share capital got pre-qualified as accommodation provider in 2015. Therefore, he argued, the claim of gradual increment is false.

In the Federal Government Official Gazette (No.3 Vol. 163) dated 11th January 2016, NAHCON gazetted its Rules and Regulations for the provision of Hajj and Umrah services. Part of the rules is that contained in Grounds for Refusal to Issue License. It says the Commission may refuse to give license to a company if it lacks the financial strength to undertake Hajj and Umrah services and if it is not in the interest of the Muslim Ummah or the general public for the company to offer Hajj or Umrah Services (Section 3 (a)(iii)and (iv)). In Saudia, an Establishment is a sole ownership. It is the equivalent of registering a business name with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) in Nigeria.

Before 2017, Establishments were prequalified to provide services to pilgrims and they received payments in tens  of millions of riyals. Many of them had share capitals of less than SR50, 000. The risk exposure was enormous. If anything untoward happens, the financial strength of these business entities cannot withstand it, since the claims the pilgrims have against these companies, by law, is limited to only their share capitals. It was therefore not in the best interest of the pilgrims to allow such financially weak establishments partake in providing accommodation and feeding to over 60,000 pilgrims. The Commission came up with three policies to reduce the risk exposure of the pilgrims:

  1. The minimum share capital of SR5, 000,000 was introduced.
  2. Sole ownership businesses called Establishments had to go and
  3. Any company found to have short-changed the pilgrims in previous operations was disqualified.

NAHCON had put a benchmark of SR 4000 on accommodation cost per pilgrim. The accommodation providers were to stay within this benchmark. Some companies, including Island Economic Establishment, a sole-ownership run by the main petitioner, Ibrahim Sulaiman Yusuf’s wife, got substandard accommodation of less than SR 2,000 per bed space and inflated the cost to SR 4000. For such unjustified increments, the Kano State government coughed up 460 million to augment accommodation rates in 2016. You get a clearer picture of what led to the malicious accusations against the Chairman when you remember that the petitioner’s wife has a business registered as an establishment and which has very low share capital in comparison to the amounts they handle.

To protect the interest of the pilgrims, NAHCON took a new approach to providing accommodation for Nigerian pilgrims for the 2017 Hajj Season. The Commission discussed with house owners in Saudia directly, thus saving a lot of cost to the pilgrims and the Nigerian government, which often had to augment the deficit in the past. Obviously, this will not go down well with companies which benefitted from the old order. A poor artisan always blames his tools.

We will examine the final allegation next week along with the other allegations, insha Allah. May Allah save us from the mischief of mischief makers. Aameen.

 

 




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