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The Senate Ad-hoc Committee On Hajj Report: A Strange Concoction (3)

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Last week, I started a rebuttal of the pathetic report of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics, Feeding, Onshore and Offshore of Nigerian Pilgrims. As I have written earlier, I am duty-bound to expose the lies and present the truth that anyone can verify. I urge every other player in the Hajj and Umrah industry, who has the fear of Allah in his mind and knows that these are unfounded allegations (regardless of the lingering inefficiency of NAHCON), to keep educating those who are seeing the lies written from outside and assuming the worst as Nigerians are wont to do.

Let me continue with the rebuttal. Hopefully, it will clear the grey areas:

7. Allegation L: As I earlier explained, this is a false allegation. Nigerian companies were not involved in the provision of services ab initio. Ibrahim Suleiman, the Nigerian manager of a Saudi business, Island Economic Ltd, owned by his wife, was the source of this false information. Their company was not edged out for fun. They committed a monumental fraud by nearly doubling the cost of the accommodation they rented to the Kano State pilgrims. NAHCON found out about this and other infractions and penalised the company. The owner’s husband then returned to Nigeria and has been lobbying for the Chairman of NAHCON to be ‘dealt with’ for daring to do the needful. Anyone who is close to the Kano State Pilgrims Welfare Board can confirm this.

The other aspect of the allegation that NAHCON rented buildings that were 10 kilometres away from the Haram is also untrue. I have been to the accommodations myself and I know for a fact that NAHCON is giving us, the ‘international’ tour operators a run for our money these days. They use hotels that are close to the Haram both in Makkah and Madeenah. In fact, in the case of Madeenah, they stay in the Markaziyyah area, which is about as close to the Haram as you can get.

The report also alleged that NAHCON imposed unilateral levies on the service providers. This is a strange one. NAHCON has an annual budget which it sends to the Presidency for inclusion into the total budget of the country. That budget is defended in the Senate. In that budget, it made an estimate of revenue that will fund the budget, as the country is moving away from spoon-feeding any MDA. The estimates for NAHCON’s revenue included these so-called unilateral charges and the Committee decided to ignore this and instead tried to indict the Commission. How pathetic!

8. Allegation M: The report says that NAHCON issued dud (actually, the report called it ‘dude’) cheques to Messrs Arif Mohammed Hijazi Establishment in Saudia. The transaction in question was concluded in October 2014, while the current Chairman was appointed the following year.

The company received three instalments of the complete sum through valid cheques. The manager of the company in question ran into trouble with Saudi authorities over an unrelated matter and for some reason withheld the cheques and did not lodge them. By law, all Hajj Mission bank accounts in Saudia are closed by Muharram of the next year (a month after the Hajj season ends in Dhul Hijjah), perhaps to forestall the use of the accounts for funnelling money illegally into the Kingdom. By not cashing the cheque in Dhul Hijjah, the money could not be cashed any longer, since NAHCON’s account with the bank was liquidated and closed.

When the manager was released, he formally requested a new set of cheques to be issued to their company. Rather than pay with three cheques, the entire sum was paid at once with a single cheque in 2016. The manager was again charged to court and did not cash the cheque or deposit it in the company’s account until the next month of Muharram, when all accounts of Hajj Missions are closed. After this, he approached NAHCON in 2017 to once again issue a cheque in his own name this time. As a financially responsible organisation, they declined the request. The transaction was not a personal one, but between two legal entities.

This is what the Committee described as issuing dude (sic) cheques. And to think that the Committee members had access to the documents detailing this matter and deliberately ignoring it. By Allah, every soul shall stand before the Lord of the Ka’bah. How do these people want to face Allah with these lies?

9. Allegation N: The Committee report blamed NAHCON for not standing up for the rights of Nigerian pilgrims and simply accepted that Saudi careering companies should feed Nigerian pilgrims. This again exposes the ignorance of the authors of the report. If they had been diligent, the members would have asked the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah in Saudia, when they visited, why the Hajj Missions of all countries were mandated to include evidence of a catering contract with the other details they submit on the e-Hajj portal of the Ministry.

Hitherto, Nigerian pilgrims would suffer untold hardship as house owners and hotel accommodation providers ripped them off with unfair conditions and less than standard accommodation. The problem faced with food was quite pathetic. The pilgrims ate from Nigerian food vendors, many of whom were operating illegally and under quite unhygienic conditions. Many fell ill on account of contaminated food.

To sanitise the system, the Hajj Ministry and the Ministry of Interior in Saudia ensured that only certified catering companies were allowed to provide catering services. Of the list of licensed catering companies, your country’s Haj Mission would shortlist the ones who met with the requirements of that particular country and then ask the SPWBs to choose the ones they wanted. After signing contracts with these companies, their names are listed in the portal of the Hajj Ministry under the service providers for your country. NAHCON cannot alter that arrangement. No country pulled out of that arrangement; it wasn’t even theirs to pull out of. The Committee goofed as usual. Anyone can visit

http://www.haj.gov.sa/english/Hajj/HajServices/Pages/External.aspx

All external pilgrims are expected to provide the following on the e-Hajj portal, either through their licensed tour operator like me or through their country’s Hajj Mission like NAHCON:

A schedule of their flights.

An application for the issuance of Hajj Visa.

An application for the approval of transport contracts.

An application for the approval of accommodation Contracts.

An application for the approval of catering Contracts.

Request for Tafweej of Umrah pilgrims from Makkah to Madinah under housing agreements.

An application for the approval of service package contracts intended for the pilgrims.

An application for the payment of bank guarantees.

Without the above information, the e-Hajj portal will not even allow you to complete the process.

For anyone who has been monitoring the progress of the Hajj Commission, it is clear that they are improving with each year. When was the last you heard about crowds of abandoned pilgrims in Saudia? NAHCON is even competing with VIP tour operators for the use of VIP buses. Rather than commend this, the Committee seems angry at the improvements.

To further expose their ignorance and malicious intent, the Committee alleged in the report that Messrs Shuraka Al Khair was given the contract to handle the catering for 23 SPWBs in 2017. Although the company in question is experienced and qualified to handle the catering of any SPWB, it did not partake in catering for Nigerian pilgrims in 2017. Not only that, the allegation makes no sense because NAHCON merely licenses catering companies from which each SPWB will choose. Where did these people obtain information?

10. Allegation O: This one is laughable! The Saudi General Car Syndicate (a.k.a. Niqaabah) handles the fixing of transport fares. The rate that the report alleges to be hiked by NAHCON was, in reality, just a review by that Syndicate for the routes Nigerian pilgrims ply during the Hajj season. The buses they used were also much better than before. The uninitiated would mistake the buses for those of ‘international’ tour operators. Indeed, many tour operators used those buses.

11. Allegation P: The report alleges that NAHCON sponsors an outrageous number of officials on Hajj. It also mentioned that these officials were mere families and cronies of the real officials. The Committee could not substantiate this. I saw a rejoinder by NAHCON’s Executive Secretary to the allegation, which bears repeating verbatim here:

“While NAHCON cannot hold brief for any State, it has restricted the recruitment of its officials to medical personnel, ulama, media and institutional representatives nominated by their respective organizations”.

The disturbing level of laziness and the apparent lack of due diligence has made the Senate Ad Hoc Committee report a study in how not to write a report. It is shoddy and calculated to embarrass these hardworking souls at NAHCON. It should be thrown where it rightly belongs: the dustbin.

 



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