The Dynamics of Hajj Operations

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Ibrahim Muhammad is the National Coordinator of Independent Hajj
Reporters, a civil society that monitors and reports on Hajj
activities and also a member of NAHCON Inspectorate, evaluation and
compliance committee for Hajj 2014. In this comparative analytical
report, he chronicles Hajj 2014 challenges and outlines a way forward.
Putting pen on paper to write, or swapping my fingers on top of a
laptop keyboard to write reports about hajj proved to be the most
challenging decision as a professional. First, as the National
Coordinator of Independent Hajj Reporters, a non governmental
organisation that monitors and reports hajj activities both in Nigeria
and Saudi Arabia, my position is to mirror hajj operations and
report.
Secondly, as a member of NAHCON Hajj 2014 Inspectorate, evaluation and
compliance committee, I am to inspect and evaluate services provided to
pilgrims by Hajj service providers and enforce compliance where
necessary. Now, the journalist in me is tempting me to utilize my
third eye in reporting Hajj events, while on the other hand, the terms
of reference of my assignment stated that I should submit my report to
Hajj authority; a dilemma of sort.
The Inspectorate assignments took me to Sokoto and Kebbi during
outbound airlifts.  After the inspections and monitoring, I finally
departed to Saudi Arabia from Kaduna International Airport on 27th
of September 2014 aboard Flynas air with Reg no KNE 7270 and landed at
King Abdul Azeez International Airport in Jedda by 4:15 am local time.
To adjudge this year’s Hajj as a success or failure; there is the need
to reflect on what was obtained in the past and compare it with the status of Hajj operation, especially this year’s Hajj.
By that, objective assessment can ascertain whether Hajj operation is
improving or whether it is a usual case of retrogression.
Comparatively, Hajj exercises in the past were synonymous with disorderliness for both pilgrims and Hajj officials. Whether it is in the
movement of pilgrims – where pilgrims do stay at the airport for days awaiting airlift, pilgrims carrying multiple luggage at boarding
points, confusion at the weighing centers, state pilgrims boards
securing sub standard accommodation for their pilgrims, the unhygienic
conditions in pilgrims’ accommodations etc. There were also rampant cases
of pregnant women delivering during Hajj and in some cases miscarriages. There were no yardsticks to measure the performance of Hajj administrators.
However, in the last four to five years, management of Hajj exercise begins to take shape. There are now established criteria to measure Hajj operations. Though we might yet be able to compare Nigeria’s Hajj exercise with countries like Pakistan, Iran or Malaysia – whose Tambug Hajj is adjudged the best in the world.
MOVEMENT OF PILGRIMS
Previously, Nigerian pilgrims do spend close to 6 days at the airport waiting to be airlifted either to or from Saudi Arabia. It was as a result of monopoly enjoyed by indigenous airlines in airlifting Nigeria pilgrims by then. In the last four years, airlifts of pilgrims have been a remarkable success story compared to the past. For example this year, Airlift of Nigerian pilgrims commenced on 6th of September and ended on 28th of October 2014.
Summarily, a total number of 66, 450 pilgrims were airlifted to Saudi
Arabia in 22 days despite the challenges of delay in issuance of visa.
This year, Pilgrims were evacuated from 14 departing centers. Kebbi
and Jigawa now has new airport. During the return journey, Max air
airlifted 40, 430; Flynas evacuated 9 , 435; Kabo evacuated 8, 326;
Medview ferry 4, 957 and Sky power returned 1, 500 pilgrims from Kano.
Except for Kabo air, other airliners did exceptionally well to overcome the challenges of operation. The return flight commenced on 9th of November with Flynas returning 496 Kogi State pilgrims. The last flight was on 4th of October by Kabo air returning 500 Kwara State pilgrims. The return journey lasted 27 days.
PILGRIMS ACCOMODATION
In the past, there are no benchmarks for providing accommodation for
Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during Hajj. States pilgrims boards secure accommodations they deemed fit for pilgrims. Also, the Almighty Saudi landlords rent accommodations to states on ‘take it or leave’ it basis. As at 2005, most Nigerian pilgrims’ accommodations were located far away from the Grand Mosque with some states accommodation as far as 3 kilometers away from Holy Mosque.
The setting of standard for states pilgrims’ welfare boards by NAHCON
in securing accommodation has yielded positive results.  According to statistics obtained from the operation department of the NAHCON,
this year FCT, Niger, Bauchi, Zamfara and Kaduna accommodated their
pilgrims in a hotel that is less than 1km away from the Grand Mosque.
The numbers of houses secured by states pilgrims also reduced
significantly. In 2011, there was a state that housed its pilgrims in 42 different houses scattered within Makkah. This year, Niger State has only 1 house for its 3, 279 pilgrims. FCT housed 2, 497 of its pilgrims in 4 houses, Sokoto with 5, 019 pilgrims were accommodated in 6 houses, Adamawa with 1, 966 had 4 houses. Kaduna’s 5, 698 pilgrims were camped in 6 houses. Kano State’s 5, 708 pilgrims were accommodated in 8 houses. If you compare the results with yesteryears, you will agree with me that there is a significant improvement.
PILGRIMS LUGGAGE
Conveyance of pilgrims’ luggage has been a major challenge for both Hajj administrators and airliners due to many factors. In those days, there were no limits to the size and amount of luggage pilgrims could carry. Hajj administrators have no operational standard on how to manage pilgrims’ luggage thereby causing confusion melee. Pilgrims’ luggage sometimes stay up to a year before it could be evacuated and if luck is on the side of the pilgrims – it will get missing on transit. For example in 2007, Senator Kanti Bello, the then National Amirul Hajj, was manhandled by some pilgrims at the Sukh Hijaz weighing centre because of his insistence that pilgrims should adhered to the approved luggage. Pilgrims themselves are not properly enlightened on air travel rules and regulations and its safety implication. So,
pilgrims assumed that it is like travelling from Kaduna to Kano or
boarding a molue from Lagos to Ibadan where luggage size and number
matter less.
However, the introduction of luggage management system has brought some sanity in the system. Most pilgrims now arrive Nigeria with their 8kg and 32kg luggage. This year, most pilgrims have their luggage weighed and tagged right in their respective accommodations.
However, NAHCON and State pilgrims boards should establish a standing committee to be saddled with the responsibility of educating and enlightening pilgrims on how to avoid buying goods and items that are worthless. Some of the things our pilgrims buy can be bought in Nigeria and even at cheaper rate. It is the indiscriminate buying that brings the challenge of pilgrims’ accurate or excess luggage.
Way forward Nonetheless, NAHCON needs to advise states pilgrim’s boards’ Hajj officials to discourage the habit of staying in accommodations
far away from that of their pilgrims. There are instances where pilgrims did not know where to locate their officials when necessary.
States Hajj officials should be made to stay in the same accommodation with their pilgrims to ease the hardship some pilgrims go through in trying to locate their officials.
Henceforth, NAHCON and States pilgrims’ welfare boards should ensure
that it appoints only those that are ready to actively participate in assisting pilgrims. Hajj officials should be people that are ready to sacrifice their pleasure in the service of pilgrims especially in the Holy Land. A situation where Hajj officials abdicate their responsibility in pursuit of pleasure is counterproductive.  NAHCON needs a serious internal reconfiguration to be able to function effectively.
Despite the huge amount of time and resources deployed to educate and enlighten pilgrims, experience has shown that most pilgrims are still not aware of the fundamental basics of Hajj exercise. Most of the pilgrims’ enlightenments are concentrated on the spiritual aspect of Hajj, leaving out the administrative and welfare sides. Increasingly, the welfare and administrative aspects of Hajj have direct impact on the ability of pilgrims to perform their spiritual obligations while in the Holy Land. Pilgrims entitlements should be clearly highlighted during enlightenments so that their rights and privileges will be known to them.
UNTAPPED MINE
The socio economic benefits of Hajj needs to be tapped by visiting countries. It is reported that the Saudi Arabia could earn about SR32 billion ($8.5 billion) from the October’s Hajj alone, according to a study published in Saudi Gazette.
In the report, The Makkah Chamber of Commerce said revenues from the
world’s largest annual gathering of Muslims would increase by three percent from last year. The study was based on estimates that 1.98 million pilgrims will travel to the holy city of Makkah, including 1.38 million, or 70 percent, from abroad.
According to the report, a pilgrim who has traveled from another country will spend an average of SR17,381 ($4,633) during Hajj, which runs for five days. A domestic worshiper pays around SR4,948 ($1,319), expenses include housing, food and drink, gifts and phone bills,  the study found.

Of this 1.38 million people, South Asian countries have the largest contingent of 410,000 Hajis followed by Arab countries with 250,000. About 228,000 pilgrims from Southeast Asian countries including Indonesia and Malaysia, while Turkey and European countries send 190,000; non-Arab African countries 170,000 and Iran 63,000. Outside this, about 41, 000 pilgrims’ benefited from the newly introduced low- cost Hajj.
Finally, most Nigerian pilgrims must be commended for the maturity they exhibited throughout the Hajj exercises. It goes to show that our people are law abiding especially when their rights are not trampled upon. This year’s
national Amirul Hajj in the person of His Royal Highness, Oba Rilwanu
Akinolu of Lagos has proved to be a true father for all. His dedication, commitment and above all, philanthropic gesture to Nigerian pilgrims deserve applause. Though they have some challenges, the airliners also deserve a pat on the back for their flexibility in discharging their contractual obligation to pilgrims. It is my hope that by next year, most of the observations made will be addressed so that Hajj operations in Nigeria will be stress free exercises for Nigerian Muslims.

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