The chairman of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Abdullahi Mohammed, says the commission decided to introduce a Hajj saving scheme in order to ensure proper planning for both Nigeria and the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
Mr Mohammed, speaking with journalists on the sidelines of a pre-Hajj conference taking place at the National Mosque Abuja, said the conference had agreed for the commission to start the scheme for the next five years.
To this end, he said all state Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board had been directed to register intending pilgrims who wish to perform Hajj in the next five years.
He said Nigerians are free to “start with any amount, no matter how small”.
He said interested citizens should just approach the states and make a deposit after which the state officials “ should acknowledge, give him receipt and indicate the year that he wants to participate in the Hajj.”
Mr Mohammed said already, at the federal level, appropriate submissions had been made to the government and “it is under consideration to approve the legal framework and the composition of the board of trustees that will manage that savings scheme”.
The NAHCON chairman said all the deposits will be put into the Nigerian economy and the pilgrims will get a portion of the profit as well as the government which regulates the activities of the Hajj.
He said the commission adopted the measure with a view to bringing to an end, “the annual payment of Hajj “where we are not certain of the number and we cannot give Saudi Arabia the accurate number of people that will be performing Hajj well ahead of time”.
He also said the decision was based on the policy of Saudi Arabia government which now plans to round up all Hajj preparations at least one month before the commencement of airlift.
He said Saudi took the decision to enable them plan properly since they would know who is coming into their country and to be in a position to make adequate preparations for all the pilgrims from all over the world.
“The best way for Nigeria to address that challenge of annual registration is to allow a window for a long term Hajj saving scheme and this, Insha Allah, will commence immediately
“ So I am pleased to inform members of the public that anybody who is interested in performing Hajj in the next five years should approach any state pilgrims welfare board, agency or commission and deposit his money and he can chose the timeline that he will continue to contribute until such a time that his year of intention has reached and he will top up if there is any difference and if in the process, his money that has been invested has yielded enough profit for him not to augment anything, then his profit will be used to balance up whatever is needed for him to go to the Hajj,” he said.
Part of the reforms introduced by Saudi Arabia is for pilgrims biometric data to be captured in their home countries. In the past, biometrics are captured on arrival in Saudi Arabia which normally takes a long time.
However, intending pilgrims from Nigeria have complained of the limited number of centres set up by for the exercise as many are expected to travel long distances to get captured.
Mr Mohammed on Thursday said the meeting has also addressed the issue of biometrics exercise.
He said the Consul General in Kano, where visas from some states within the zone are to be issued has assured that the biometric equipment will be deployed to all the states.
He said as for pilgrims who will process their visa in Abuja, “we are yet to finalise with the embassy on the modalities, but I want to believe it will not be far from that of Kano Consulate”.
NAHCON chairman also sad another highlight of the meeting is consolidating the concept of a National Medical Team. He said all medical personnel, drugs and equipment will operate under one umbrella.
“ No state is allowed to operate any clinic without authorisation of the commission as well as the Saudi government.
“During our movement to Muna and Arafat, the medical personnel will be distributed to all the states of the federation, where they speak the major language of that state, so that they will attend to the need of the pilgrims,” he said.
Mr Mohammed also said as part of the preparations for Hajj 2018, all the various committees that have to do with the Hajj activities will have a “robust training” on Saturday.
“Our target and goal is to make sure that pilgrims get value for their money. We have emphasised that, by ensuring that the states pilgrims welfare boards, agencies and commissions as well as the licensed tour operators fill the evaluation template for services being developed by the commission as at when due, so that we will be able to monitor and ensure that where services are not rendered, payment is not affected, and where services are poorly rendered, then commensurate payment should be made and appropriate refund will continue to be made to the pilgrims who are shortchanged.”
The NAHCON chairman also announced that “God willing on the 21st of this month, the airlift will commence, and our target is to commence the airlift with pilgrims from Kogi State, who will be departing from Abuja and MAX Air will be the one to operate that flight Insha Allah”.
He said all agencies involved in Hajj are attending the meeting. He said the meeting reviewed Hajj 2017 operations, which he said “ was generally applauded” in terms of the quality of service and the behaviour of the pilgrims.
He assured that “the 2018 Hajj will be an improved version of 2017”.