NAHCON screens air carriers for hajj

•Says, Nigeria now among countries with best hajj management

THE National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has inaugurated a 32-man screening committee to assess applicants and select suitable passenger air carriers as well as cargo freighters for the 2019 Hajj season.

The committee has its members drawn from aviation agencies, financial crimes institutions, Nigeria Customs Service, Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, NAHCON board and state pilgrims welfare boards.

In a remark at the ceremony held in Abuja, NAHCON’s chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, reminded the members that their job was a trust on behalf of pilgrims who would bear the consequences of the committee’s final decisions.

He, therefore, appealed to them to insist on the best services on behalf of the pilgrims.

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He also advised them to be guided by the criteria adopted by the different sister sectors of government in determining those carriers that would qualify for the slots.

Alhaji Muhammad commended the air carriers for declaring interest to participate in airlifting Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia and urged them to take in good faith, the outcome of the screening exercise.

As for those who will sail through the screening, the NAHCON boss called on them to explore the possibility of doing business with private tour operators in conveying their pilgrims numbering up to 20,000. Doing this, he said he believed, would reduce the hitches experienced yearly from that sector.

Others who spoke at the event included representatives of chairpersons of Senate and House of Representatives committees on foreign affairs, Senator Monsurat Sunmonu and Honourable Nnenna Ijeoma Elendu Ukeje.

About seven air carriers applied for the 2019 hajj airlift exercise. The screening is already in progress.

Meanwhile, NAHCON said that Nigeria has been rated among countries of the world that are doing well in hajj management due to the reform and sanitisation of hajj and umrah management in the country by the President Muhammadu Buhari administration through the chairman of the commission, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad.

The Head, Public Affairs Division of NAHCON, Fatima Usara, made the disclosure at an interactive session with media professionals at the commission’s headquarters in Abuja.

According to Usara, President Buhari’s hajj reform has saved Nigerian pilgrims billions of naira in the last three years.

She said said N75 billion was saved by the Buhari administration after it discontinued the US dollar concession policy.

According to her, the aim of the interactive session was to highlight the achievements of NAHCON under the current federal administration.

Usara revealed that the abolition of hajj sponsorship by the current administration enabled the country to be saving N1.6 billion annually since 2015.

She said that in 2017, NAHCON, with the support of the government, introduced direct accommodation negotiations with hotel owners in Madinah and Makkah, thereby eliminating agents and saving more than $14 million.

Usara said in 2018, N229 million was saved through querying of local fees imposed on pilgrims by the various state pilgrims welfare boards, agencies and commissions.

She said as part of efforts to curtail fraud in the payment for hadaya (ram sacrifice), Jaiz Bank, in conjunction with Islamic Development Bank, was designated to collect money and carry out the sacrifice for pilgrims.

She said: “This has prevented pilgrims from being defrauded of N1.6 billion annually.”

She said that the anti-corruption crusade of the Buhari administration had provided solid ground for the chairman of NAHCON, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, to sanitise the management of hajj and umrah in the country.

Similarly, Usara said that the commission had succeeded in curbing the proliferation of unregistered tour operators by issuing licenses to authentic operators, instituted legal actions against defaulters and shutdown some.

She said: “All these achievements were recorded in NAHCON under President Buhari because of his political will and support to the leadership of the commission.

“President Buhari gave the NAHCON boss the go-ahead to reform and sanitise the management of hajj and umrah and to the glory of Allah, Nigeria is now rated among countries that are doing well in hajj management in the world.

“This has helped the commission to curb waste and acquired Metro Plaza at the cost of N2.4 billion, only N587 million came as government contribution in form of capital project.”

The Commissioner of Operations, Inspectorate and Licensing, NAHCON, Alhaji Abdullahi Modibbo, said the commission was working to curb all forms of fraud associated with the registration of intending pilgrims.

Modibbo warned state pilgrims boards against collecting more than N500 for hajj registration form and advised intending pilgrims not to pay above the approved cost by the commission.