The Manara Satellite Television organised a One-Day National Symposium with the above theme at the Lady Kwali Conference Hall, Sheraton Hotel, Abuja, on Saturday, March 10th, 2018, and in which event the Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad delivered the following Keynote Address:
I feel honoured and delighted to be invited once again by Manara to participate in this National Symposium. True to its name, this station has been a beacon of light for the Muslim Ummah in this age of heightened digital competition to be seen and heard. The Jama’atul Izalatul Bidi’ah wa Iqamatus Sunnah has covered much ground in the quest to disseminate Islamic knowledge since its inception in the late 70’s to the early 80’s and has now progressed with the times. I must, therefore, commend its leadership for their steadfastness and foresight.
The theme of this symposium aptly coined “Legacies of Hajj Operations and the Nigerian Question” couldn’t have come at a better time. Nigeria is an interesting country with numerous issues and sub-issues as diverse as the country itself. The Muslim population is not left out because we have our own discourse ranging from how to pray to which Muslim is a Muslim and who is not. However, two major events seem to unite the Muslim Ummah… more or less: The month of Ramadhan and Hajj. My focus will be on Hajj and its impact on Nigeria, especially in recent years.
Ever since Allah SWT instructed Prophet Ibrahim (AS) to invite mankind to Hajj as mentioned in the Quran (22:27), it has remained a yearning of every believer from every part of the globe to undertake the exercise. Embarking on Hajj was initially a personal enterprise. In this part of the world, Hajj seemed to be the exclusive preserve of Monarchs, wealthy merchants or scholars.
The first recorded Hajj trip in sub-Saharan Africa was undertaken in the 11th century by rulers of the Sayfawa Dynasty. Mai Dunoma bin Ummee was said to have embarked on Hajj twice in 1098 and 1115 before the famous entourages of Mansa Musa (1394-5) and Askia Mahmud of Songhai (1496-7) in the 14th century. In the 19th century, some of the notables that embarked on the exercise included the Emir of Katsina, Muhammadu Dikko (1920 and 1936), the Emir of Kano, Alh Abdullahi Bayero, along with about 40 family members (1937) and merchants like Alh Muhammadu Nagoda, Alh Mahmud Kassim, Alh Mahmud Dantata and Alh Ibrahim Musa Gashash in 1948. The Hajj journeys undertaken by individuals before the 19th century were life-threatening. In many cases those who travelled never came back due to death or permanent re-settlement elsewhere (Hanga, 1999). The Sokoto-Kano-Borno-Darfur- Oumdurman-Suakin trans-Saharan route was famous for use by pilgrims. Many were said to have undertaken the Hajj journey, settled briefly to trade or farm to secure enough for the journey to Makkah and same applies when returning home.
Hajj in Nigeria started as group-travels led or organized by Emirs and Merchants. The establishment of the West African Pilgrims Association (WAPA) and the Pilgrims Aid Society during the last decade of colonial rule, popularized and increased the number of pilgrims embarking the Hajj from Nigeria because of quicker means of transportation. The number of pilgrims increased from less than a hundred in 1936 to 2,483 in 1956 and 106,000 by 1977 (Hanga, 1999). With this increase came the need for Government to get involved because managing such numbers went beyond basic welfare to include diplomatic and security concerns.
The first body established at the Federal level and charged with Managing Hajj in Nigeria was the Nigeria Pilgrims Board in 1975. Since then, different bodies were established under the supervision of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to manage Hajj (Bugaje, 1996). However, the story of Hajj for many years after was that of poor coordination, gross inefficiency and wastage of resources irrespective of the quality and integrity of persons leading the Hajj Management bodies.
For example, Nigeria had to continuously seek for an extension of airport closure deadlines for three consecutive years namely; 2004, 2005 and 2006 but was still unable to airlift its pilgrims. In 2005, President Obasanjo had to request the King of Morocco to intercede and extend the closure of Jeddah Airport by 48 hours, yet about fifteen thousand (15,000) pilgrims were left behind. Also, Government was forced to pay over two billion naira in fines incurred by Hajj carriers or due to its violation of contract agreements and many other financial losses caused by poor arrangements. This was in addition to the full dependence on Federal Government for funding of Hajj and not to mention the haphazard manner in which Hajj activities were coordinated in Saudi Arabia with Federal and State contingents operating independently of each other, duplicating duties and at times working at cross-purposes.
This situation caused President Olusegun Obasanjo to initiate a reform that will solve Hajj problems once and for all by establishing
a body independent of the bureaucratic bottle-necks and other interferences of any Government Ministry. After the 2005 Hajj exercise, Stakeholders on Hajj were invited from all over the country and from various fields. The outcome of the effort was the birth of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria via NAHCON (Establishment Act), 2006.
With the establishment of a permanent and independent body in 2007, the course of Hajj operations in Nigeria changed direction for the better. To quote the Chairman of the Saudi United Agents Office, Dr Farouq Bukhari, the Head of the United Agents Office; He said
“.. In the last five years, Nigeria has come from being one of the worst to one of the best Hajj Missions in the world”. This is in addition to the award of excellence to the Nigerian Medical Team by the Saudi Ministry of Health in 2017.
I have mentioned some of these highlights, at the risk of sounding academic, to place the theme of this symposium in context. I am sure we have in our midst, scholars more eminently qualified to speak on Hajj than myself. Now to highlight the legacies of Hajj Operations in Nigeria.
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