Government needs to look into Hajj fares – Plateau pilgrims welfare boss

Barrister Auwal Abdullahi is the executive secretary Plateau State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board. In this exclusive interview with MUHAMMAD TANKO SHITTU, he speaks on how to reduce hajj fare, expectation of the new leadership of NAHCON and sundry issues.

When you assumed office in 2018, you met a pilgrims board marred by rots. what did you do within the short period to instil changes?

In the name of Allah the beneficent, the merciful. I will say all the successes were achieved through many processes. Firstly, it was without any fear of contradiction through the courtesy of Allahu Subhannahu Wata’ala who, in His will, gave us the wisdom and the capacity to carry the board to where it is today. Secondly, his Excellency, Governor Simon Bako Lalong, who is also the chairman of Northern Governors Forum, has been giving us all the necessary supports and level playing ground by providing us with funds whenever the need arises. Honestly, he has been up and doing with the mind of seeing that the board springs up for good. Thirdly, the staff of the board are very cooperative. No one is an island onto himself, so I cannot successfully operate without their support and that is what is helping in bringing the new changes that we have in the board which you see.

Within a few months in 2018, Governor Lalong, has commended you for achieving uncommon feat by refunding huge amount of millions, the first in history of civil service in the state. What informed your decision?

There wasn’t any magic. Just know that in anything you do, you should bear in your mind that you would have to give account of your stewardship before Allahu Subhanahu Wata’ala. If in that context, I return huge sums of money by way of discharging my responsibilities, I am not doing something so special because it is what is expected of me to do. However, the most ironic and strange thing is to be given the money and you choose to convert it to personal use and not doing what is exactly expected of you. By this singular act, we were able to justify to the government the confidence and trust reposed on us to hold the office and Alhamdulillah, we have refunded the money as expected of us.

Recently, Governor Simon Lalong reappointed you in the same capacity. How did you receive the news?

 I was so elated and indeed felt so happy. It was one of the happiest moments in my life. I felt like it was a vote of confidence by his excellency on me. It was very important and instructive for one to be recognised and commended by his employer. As an employee of the governor, he deemed it fit that I should go again, meaning that he is happy with what I am doing. So, it behoves on me now to render more diligent, selfless services to the state under the leadership of my principal and dynamic governor in order to re-justify the confidence he has in me.

What effort is your board doing to relocate to its permanent site?

As stated earlier on, the good things about our governor is that he has given his blessings to the board and in that direction, he has agreed that we should try and move to the permanent site which is bigger and better than the present site we are occupying. His Execellency has graciously approved large sums of money that would be used to develop the place. To that extent, preparations are in top gear to commence work and insha’aAllah, within the shortest time possible, it would be completed. 

You embarked on a journey to the UK to attend Hajj conference, what were the experiences and likely benefits to the board?

Yes, I was privileged to attend the hajj conference and convention hosted by the ‘Hajj People,’ as they call themselves in London. It was a one-week conference and was an eye opener for me, very educative and informative as well. I had cause to discuss with highly experienced persons; the people with the highest number of pilgrims in the world like Indonesia, Pakistan and other Asian countries. We also interacted with those countries with lowest number of pilgrims. In all, we cross-breed ideas in order to see that we improve the hajj preparation and the results were fruitful.

There is a change of leadership at NAHCON. How did state boards and commissions received the news, and what are the expectations?

For every beginning, there must be an end. One should always bear in mind that once you are given any position of authority, you are not the first to have occupied that seat and certainly not the last. The previous administration of Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar tried their own best and President Muhammadu Buhari, in his wisdom, decided to change the mantle of leadership. Now, we pray and hope that the new administration would fare better than the previous ones because that is what we are expecting.

What do you think must be done to give better welfare to the pilgrims?

 It is expected that the amount payable, that is the hajj fare should be looked at. I expect the National Hajj Commission to liaise with state boards and commissions to chart a new map that would see to the reduction of the fare, even though it isn’t under the control of an individual or group, but it also goes down to the issue of foreign exchange which is the dollar in the pararel market. The government should also come in through diplomatic shuttling, for instance, Nigeria and Saudi Arabian authority should discuss and play vital role in order to see that the fare is reduced. Secondly, the days being spent before, during and after the hajj rites should also be reduced. Staying for up to 30 or 40 days need to be reviewed. I think if this is done, it would also help in reducing the amount being paid for hajj fare. In the overall interest, if these are achieved, it would give a better welfare to the pilgrims.

Lastly, NAHCON has approved refund and disbursement to those that paid in excess of more than N51,000. How has the board faired in those disbursements?

  We have finished refunding N51,000 to all pilgrims that have paid before the reduction in 2019. What remains now is the issue of Zamzam water which is not within our purview to provide, but that of NAHCON. They have failed in bringing it to about seven states with Plateau inclusive. Out of 1,198 pilgrims, only 332 bottles were brought and  we are pursuing it vigorously to see to it that the Hajj Commission either bring the Zamzam or make monetary refunds because it is the right of the pilgrims and it is included in their hajj package.

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