Towards a crime/hitch-free 2019 Hajj, By Ubandawaki

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There are two sets of persons that embark on the Holy pilgrimage to Makkah. Indeed, Nigerian pilgrims, just like people from other parts of the world, who embark on this spiritual exercise to the Holy land, are full of complicated characters ranging from those who are capable of putting up a good outing to those with penchant for doing the opposite.

In recent years, the activities of the latter group have left a sour taste in the mouth of the country particularly the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). The actions of these set of people have set off chains of negative reactions from the host country, Saudi Arabia. These activities border on drugs trafficking, over-staying or absconding.

Apart from placing their own lives at risk, it has posed a serious security concern to the Saudi government which, in times past, led to confiscation and impounding of materials or gadget the authorities deemed to be suspicious.

Therefore, as the 2019 airlift of pilgrims for the annual pilgrimage approaches, specifically on July 10, being the day of the inaugural flight, it is imperative for stakeholders to set in motion actions that would help to arrest or eliminate the twin activities of drug trafficking, absconding and other related crimes.

Although the menace is not a peculiar offence exclusive to Nigerian pilgrims because such traces involving Nigerians are in isolated cases compared to other nations, however there is a need to nip in the bud any of such possible occurrences. This is because many other nationals have been caught in the web of more dangerous crimes. However, listening and hearing the narratives of drug busters, one can reasonably assume that the incident is not as pandemic as it may seem, even though it portends a negative image for the country. Be that as it may, a way out will suffice.

It is, therefore, imperative for scanner machines to be provided at all the entry and exit points for the pilgrims. Also, a thorough and comprehensive analysis of the circumstances and environment that fuel the increased number of drug peddlers to the Holy land reveals that lack of standard and modern equipment to detect drugs and prohibited items at most of the departure centres constituted the number one factor.

The syndicate knows that apart from the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos and Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport in Kano, many of the other departure centres have no screening or scanning machine to detect or screen prohibited items, hence the unscrupulous individuals use them as safe havens or drug routes to Saudi Arabia. It is therefore imperative for the Federal Airport Authority of Nigeria (FAAN) to provide the necessary tools as well as equipment to the airports before the commencement of airlift on the July 10.

Closely related to this is the deployment of officers and personnel especially intelligence agencies to all the airports’ operations in order to complement other airport staff as it would go a long way to sanitising the system and curb compromise by regular staff at those centres. It was quiet warming that FAAN was able to smash drug rings operating at Kano Airport but this action must be extended to other airports.

Also, now is the right time to embark on enlightenment and education of intending pilgrims beyond the mere performance of Hajj rites to also include some information and issues about drug peddling, overstaying and absconding. It must form the major subjects that state pilgrim welfare boards /agencies /commission must focus on before the commencement of airlift. Enough time should be devoted to educating them on protocol, prohibited items because it is when this is adequately done that the states and indeed the nation can proudly beat their chest that they have worked towards producing better Hajj for Nigerians.

NAHCON has taken a significant lead with the launch of a drive to boost detection of overstaying and absconded pilgrims as well as drug peddlers through the institution of a task force.

Members of the task force were drawn from the intelligence community; Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS); National Agency for the Prohibition of Trafficking in Persons (NAPTIP); Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON) whose terms of reference include the detection and prevention of absconding, overstaying and drug peddling by intending pilgrims before embarking on the spiritual journey.

At its inaugural sitting, the commission highlighted the consequential damages those issues of overstaying the duration of visa eligibility, absconding and related crimes had caused the commission in terms of consular and bilateral skirmishes with the kingdom of Saudi Arabia. It therefore urged members of the committee to strive to eliminate or at best eliminate the ugly incidence.

There is also the presentation of guarantor/surety as a pre-condition for registration for 2019 Hajj. The surety who had to sign a bond that the intending pilgrim would be of good behavior and will return home on completion of Hajj exercise and would be responsible for any negative action that may be embarked upon by the intending pilgrim.

What is required now is support from everyone so that NAHCON can proudly dance on iroko tree like Agama lizard and praise itself for a hitch and crime free 2019 Hajj.

Mousa Ubandawaki is of the Information and Publication Division, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Abuja.


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