Hajj 2024 and the Misguided Media Priorities Amidst Challenges

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By Gbodamasi Lamidi Ayomide

As the 2024 Hajj season approaches, recent reports have highlighted concerns regarding the preparations of Nigeria’s contingent for this year’s Hajj. Specifically, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has come under scrutiny for delays in remitting funds to service operators in Saudi Arabia, raising apprehensions among intending pilgrims just to send shivers to them or to throw NAHCON under the bus, this has been the style of some newspapers over the years just to make headlines.

Firstly, it’s important to acknowledge the complexities involved in organizing Hajj. NAHCON, as the regulatory body entrusted with overseeing Hajj operations in Nigeria, operates within a framework that requires meticulous planning and coordination.

Well to set the record straight, I would like to begin by taking us back to the history of how the government got involved in Hajj, the management of Hajj activities.

After their conquest and reconstitution of the Sokoto Caliphate, the British did not encourage pilgrimage. In the 1950s, however, with Sudan’s approaching independence in 1956, the British, who by this time had established a cordial relationship with the traditional leaders, came to regard the Hajj as a major reward for the Northern Emirs. This innovation in British policy in former Northern Nigeria, coupled with the advent of air transport, gave impetus to the hajj tradition to the extent that government involvement in the exercise became inevitable.

In 1955, the late Sir Ahmadu Bello (the Sardauna of Sokoto) travelled to Saudi Arabia to examine the problems of Nigerian pilgrims and to consider policies affecting them. On his return, the Northern Nigeria Regional Government appointed three representatives to assist Nigerian pilgrims at Kano airport in matters of customs and immigration. This was followed by the appointment of three pilgrims’ representatives by the Federal Government to travel to Saudi Arabia to look after the welfare of Nigerian pilgrims.

The arrival of these representatives in Saudi Arabia led to the construction of a few hajj camps for Nigerian pilgrims at Jeddah. During these early years, the general provisions for Nigerian pilgrims included transportation and visa arrangements. In this regard, a special pilgrims’s passport valid for six months was inaugurated and arrangements were made in the north for pilgrim flights to be undertaken by the West African Airways Corporation. Similarly, the Western Regional Government showed concern about the welfare of pilgrims from its region. The Pilgrims Welfare Board was established in 1958 under the leadership of the late Chief Obafemi Awolowo. The Board was established to find solutions to the gamut of problems encountered by pilgrims from the region.

In the same year, the Nigerian Pilgrims Mission was set up by the late Abubakar Tafawa Balewa to negotiate many of the pilgrimage arrangements. The above clearly shows the position accorded to the hajj by the time Nigeria evolved from its colonial to its independence, and since that time up until 2015 president Muhammadu Buhari’s era, the government has been granting the pilgrims some kind of grants, with the economic situation on ground now and the need for government to bring back the hajj subsidy arises.

Now back to the reality of the 2024 hajj, the fluctuating value of the naira against the dollar has undoubtedly impacted the financial calculations involved in setting the hajj fare. It is essential to recognize the historical context of government intervention in the composition of Hajj fare, which has traditionally helped alleviate burdens for pilgrims.

The reported delays in remitting funds and uncertainties surrounding currency fluctuations deserve attention and resolution. However, juxtaposing these challenges with the government’s supporting the Hajj pilgrimage is not just about fulfilling a religious obligation; it’s about demonstrating a commitment to the well-being and aspirations of thousands of Nigerian Muslims. While discussions about government subsidies for pilgrims may spark debate, we can also look at other avenues where the government spends unjustly like sponsoring sports and the rest, it’s essential to remember that Hajj is a deeply spiritual journey for many, and facilitating it should be a priority.

President Tinubu’s recent commitment to supporting pilgrims underscores the government’s recognition of the Hajj’s significance and its responsibility to facilitate this spiritual journey for Nigerian Muslims. While the specifics of this support are yet to be detailed, it reflects a positive step towards addressing the concerns raised by stakeholders. He pledged while meeting with the Global Tijjaniyya movement sometime in February this year.

While we acknowledge President Tinubu’s pledge to support pilgrims, actions speak louder than words. Concrete steps must be taken to ensure that these commitments translate into tangible benefits for intending pilgrims. Transparency and accountability should guide every decision regarding the allocation of public funds, especially when it comes to matters as sacred as the Hajj pilgrimage.

Gbodamasi Lamidi Ayomide

Writes from Sagamu, Ogun state.

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