That the Hadaya project can be transparent

IN 2016, when the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) embarked on fight against corruption as it affects the payment and administration of  Hadaya (animal sacrifice by hajj pilgrims), no one was left in doubt that the task would be herculean.

Long before the establishment of NAHCON and even some years after, no arrangement for the collection of Hadaya fees was in place. It was an all-comers affair in which not even the state was in charge. Private people collected money from pilgrims under the pretext that they would pay for the Hadaya on their behalf only to disappear without a trace. This practice got to a head in 2015 when some state officials were fingered in a syndicate that engaged in the fraudulent act.

Therefore, in 2016, the commission and the management of Jaiz Bank Plc, which had just been appointed as a representative of the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) for the collection of Hadaya, entered into a partnership in which the latter was approved as the sole and official collector of Hadaya fees.

The rationale behind the idea was to eradicate the endemic corruption in the Hadaya project and institute transparency in the scheme with a view to delivering quality and sustainable service to Nigerian pilgrims.

Three years down the road, an in-depth assessment of the partnership showed some improvement. There has been reduction in the number of cases of fraud associated with the collection of Hadaya fees as well as individuals involved in them. But there has also arisen a new set of challenges for the two parties in the implementation of the policy

Some of the problems include the reduction in the number of registered pilgrims from Nigeria due to the country’s economic climate, coupled with increased hajj fare. It should be noted that in 2016, for instance, there were more than 19,000 registered pilgrims who paid through the arrangement. In 2017, the figure fell to just over 15,000 and to lowly 6,000 in 2018.

The parties also identified lack of cooperation from most state officials as well as placement of Hadaya payment outside the official exchange rate. Investigation revealed that many of these officials have little knowledge of the arrangement, while others decided, for personal reasons, to stay aloof so as not to ruffle feathers. It was for these reasons that the two parties embarked on a plan of action to restrategise and work out a new formula to smoothen out the rough edges.

During a contract renewal meeting, the Chairman/Chief Executive Officer of NAHCON, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, said there was the need to adopt a new strategy to make the arrangement work smoothly. “We need to improve the relationship and arrangement of the Hadaya collection. Although you have demonstrated a high degree of transparency, there are still challenges and the market has not been optimally tapped.”

The NAHCON boss also reiterated the resolve of the commission to employ drastic measures to block leakages in the administration of Hadaya even if it meant using the carrot and stick tactic to ensure compliance. He added that the commission was unwavering in its commitment to rout the scourge of corruption in the Hadaya scheme.

Now, things seem about to get better with the decision of Jaiz Bank to improve relationship with the states by making them stakeholders in the scheme. In this connection, the states would be encouraged to key into the project through a commission-sharing agreement that will reward states on the basis of the number of pilgrims that paid through the bank in each state. This arrangement will make the states play more prominent role in implementing the Hadaya project.

Another encouraging thing is the pledge by NAHCON to extend the concessionary exchange rate to accommodate Hadaya payment to IDB, as being done to other service providers in Saudi Arabia so as to bring down the cost of Hadaya and make it affordable for intending pilgrims paying under the Jaiz arrangement. In fact, it is fair to say that so many of the pilgrims that patronise crooks do so due to the low rate charged by those outlets. For instance, while IDB charges between 475 and 490 Saudi Riyal, individual or illegal operators collect as low as 200/250 Riyal. No wonder only a handful of pilgrims paid through the Jaiz arrangement in 2018.

Now with a competitive price expected this year, it is hoped that many pilgrims will prefer to pay through the officially recognised entity.

Ubandawaki is of the Information and Publication Unit of NAHCON.