That the Sultan congratulates NAHCON on successful airlift of pilgrims

By Muhammad Ajah
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That the Sultan of Sokoto and the Sarkin Musulimi, Alhaji Muhammad Sa'ad Abubakar 111 has congratulated the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), the Amirul Hajj for 2009, Distinguished Senator Kanti Bello, for the successful airlift of the Nigerian pilgrims to the holy land very much earlier before the closure of the Jeddah International Airport for Hajj Operations is heart-warming and encouraging.

This applause from the highest Islamic authority in the country, in my candid view, should be a great source of inspiration for all hajj interest groups the nation has, for more successes in the future. The timely airlift of the pilgrims, I am sure, has once again justified one of the aims and objectives for which the NAHCON was established.

As the Sultan has wished, the same spirit of commitment and dedication should guide all those concerned, including the Airliners, for timely home-bound journeys. This is a dear wish and prayer which all of us must support with a big amen.

Before the commencement of this year's operation, there is no doubt that the question on how prepared the NAHCON was for the 2009 exercise was hovering in the minds of the curious intending pilgrims as well as the Nigeria Muslim Ummah despite the improvements the Commission has recorded in the last two years of its existence.

For those who have kept records of hajj events in the country, the 2009 pilgrims' airlift to the Kingdom could well be described as one of the best – if not the best – the country has witnessed in recent times. There is no gainsaying the fact that this success has not only justified the confidence of the Federal Government in establishing the Commission, but also vindicated the architects of the 2006 Act that the Commission would signal a new dawn of hope and possibilities for hajj administration in the country.

The road to this success has been moderately rough. Several fruitful meetings were held with all the stakeholders in hajj affairs. The trio of NAHCON, the Airliners and State Muslim Pilgrims' Welfare Boards have cooperated for the successful airlift. On the part of NAHCON under the leadership of a chairman, three permanent commissioners and fourteen board members, the guiding principle has been timeliness and dedication. The commission has continued to make concerted efforts to ensure that the history of hajj with tears was completely replaced with hajj with joy in the country.

The primary secrets of the successes achieved by and expected from NAHCON can be summed up as follows: First, the Commission is an autonomous corporate establishment. This means that it has the whole time of the year to itself to plan, strategize and carry out the activities which used to be discharged within two to three months by ad-hoc committees formerly constituted every year during hajj operations.

Secondly, it is becoming clear that the right citizens were selected to man this important agency, giving the insight that things can change in this country when the right persons are used to man certain strategic positions. The Commission has displayed the highest level of responsibility and patriotism in the service of the Nigerian pilgrim. This reveals the fact that the relationship among the board members and management staff is cordial and encouraging.

Thirdly, there has been tremendous support from the Presidency under which the agency operates. The Secretary to the Government of the Federation has ensured that the Commission operates without hiccups within the provisions of the Act that established it. Also, all the relevant Ministries and government agencies have given the Commission the necessary support that has begun to tell the Nigerian people that things can change for good in the country.

Fourthly, the support of both chambers of the National Assembly (the Senate and House Committees on Foreign Affairs) has added weight to the balance the Commission needs to push forward.

However, it is pertinent to mention that the NAHCON made all arrangements for this year's hajj earlier enough. This year's activities started with a preparatory meeting with all the State Muslim Pilgrims' Boards/Agencies. This was followed by the first and second pre-hajj visits to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to secure accommodations for the pilgrims and to conclude other contractual agreements with the Saudi Authorities. All issues concerning accommodations and airlift of pilgrims (this year being carried out by Kabo Air Limited, Max Air Limited (formerly Mangal), Medview Air Limited, Meridian Airlines, Trade Crafts Nigeria Limited (for international pilgrims)] and other logistics arrangements were concluded in good times.

The NAHCON distributed the 85,000 hajj slots to 36 States, the FCT and the Armed Forces as well as the 10,000 slots to tour operators, announced the hajj fares and made adequate arrangements with the Nigerian Immigration Service and the State Pilgrims' Welfare Boards and Agencies across the nation for the e-passport which is being used for the first time, and processed the issuance of hajj visas to the intending pilgrims.

The printing and distribution of passport appendices used in conjunction with the e-passports to the State Pilgrims' Boards and Agencies were done, vaccines against CSM, yellow fever and precautionary measures against the new H1N1 pandemic (popularly called Swine-flu) were carried out in conjunction with the Federal Ministry of Health.

Aggressive pilgrims' enlightenment were equally undertaken with all seriousness. The Commission jointly with the States developed an enlightenment manual designed, printed and distributed to the States to achieve this objective.

Also the Federal Medical Team (FMT) and a committee on Hajj women matters, among others, were constituted comprising Nigerian Muslims of proven integrity, piety and scholarship to assist the Commission in handling related issues in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

All these efforts and visionary steps have been yielding positive results in all aspects. Nigerian pilgrims in the holy lands, in the exception of minor unavoidable cases, have shown cooperation and many sectors in hajj affairs in the Kingdom have also displayed the highest sense of commitment and responsibility towards the Nigerian pilgrims. Some of them have already begun to commend the tremendous changes going on in hajj affairs in Nigeria, one of which is the timely airlift of the pilgrims as against the past when Nigeria often sought for extension to the closure date of Jeddah's pilgrim arrival Airport.

The inaugural flight for this year commenced on 24th October, 2009 and ended on 17th November, 2009, two days before closure of Jeddah Airport. The Airliners kept to the flight schedules and delivered. The home-bound journeys are expected to be between 1st and 26th December, 2009. We pray and hope that Allah brings all of us back to our dear country in good time after the most rewarding one-time-in-life holy journey.

Muhammad Ajah is the special assistant in the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Abuja Headquarters. (08055247005, [email protected])

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