Lessons on hitch-free Hajj

By Muhammad Ali

In Nigeria, the most routine and common place rituals require a rocket scientist to perform them. Corruption, incompetence and poor planning, including lack of supervision, have marred Hajj exercises over the years.  Nigerian pilgrims are almost always the last to arrive Jedda, the most unruly in the Holy land and the last to depart Saudi Arabia. Instructively, from time immemorial, Nigerians have been going on pilgrimage but we are still yet to get our acts together. Definitely, something is wrong with either the system or the operators or both.
Normally, Hajj ought to be a solemn religious ritual but in this country the exercise is beset by all manner of national embarrassments. From sale of seats, to the airlift of pilgrims and their accommodation in Saudi Arabia, Hajj exercise is a honey pot for unscrupulous officials. In addition, clerics and touts also collude to short change pilgrims across the states. In the holy land, Hajj officials leave pilgrims to their own devices with costly consequences. Combined, these sharp practices and dereliction of duty have made Hajj a tedious exercise in Nigeria. However, a few states are giving a ray of hope.
Last February, the Saudi authorities announced that, like last year, Nigeria has been given 76,000 slots as the 20% global reduction is still in place.  Significantly, the pilgrimage is only a few months away but like everything Nigerian, most states have not commenced preparation. At the H-hour, their officials will be running from pillar to post, compromising standards, in a desperate bid to meet the deadline. However, Kaduna state Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Board, like the pacesetter that it is, has commenced preparation in full throttle.

Last year, 5, 629 pilgrims performed the Hajj in the state and using that template, the board flagged off the registration on March 18 at the emir of Zazzau, Alhaji Shehu Idris’ palace. There and then, Alhaji Muhammad Kabiru Kasimu, the board’s Overseer, directed all Pilgrim Officers to commence registering intending pilgrims in all the 23 local governments of Kaduna state. In addition, Kasimu has democratized the sale of Hajj seats by using the wards as the points of sales. Specifically, there are 255 wards in the state and all of them, according to reports, were   allotted slots on a pro rata basis. At the wards, intending pilgrims were properly screened and certified by the people as everyone knows everybody in the locality.  In fact, where there is a tie and the number of intending pilgrims surpasses the allocated seats, the officials used a raffle draw to determine the winners. Using this open and transparent system, the Pilgrims board has already sold 75% of the seats to first time intending pilgrims while the rest seats have been reserved for government and Hajj officials as well as officially sponsored pilgrims. So far, this democratic system of selling seats has been hailed by all and sundry.

As an insider, Kasimu has leveraged on his  experience as Pilgrim Officer to sanitise the board, reposition it and reawaken  the workforce when he came on board in August last year. Upon his appointment as Overseer, he flushed out a few bad Pilgrim Officers at the local government and told staff that it’s no longer business as usual. Recently, Kasimu organised a workshop for pilgrim officers in collaboration with the Independent Corrupt Practices Commission (ICPC). To underscore his mission, the workshop was aptly themed ‘’Transparency, Accountability and Integrity: Offences and Punishment and Sincerity in Islam’’. In addition, Kasimu has set up a six man enlightenment committee that is responsible for coordinating practical demonstration of Hajj rituals to intending pilgrims. The committee, according to reports, will go round the 23 local governments of Kaduna state to sensitise intending pilgrims.

Significantly, Kasimu’s knack for excellence is already bearing fruits. Last year, the pilgrims’ board organised the best Hajj ever and every stakeholder gave good testimony of the religious ritual. Specifically, Alhaji Muhammad Isa Muhammad, the emir of Jema’a and Ameerul Hajj said that he has performed pilgrimages on several occasions but last year’s was the most successful. Similarly, the emir had been Ameerul Hajj on two previous occasions but he singled out last year’s Hajj for kudos. In addition, several pilgrims praised the board’s efforts for a hitch free Hajj exercise, including officials of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria(NAHCON).

Significantly, the secret to Kasimu’s success rests on a tripod, comprising early preparation, insider knowledge and adequate planning. In addition, the Overseer’s hands-on leadership style and Governor Muktar Ramalan Yero’s pillar of support contributed immensely to last year’s successful Hajj exercise. For instance, immediately seats were allocated, Kasimu had insisted on orientation sessions for all intending pilgrims. Regularly, he paid unscheduled visits to such sessions and defaulters were given stern warning and sometimes reprimanded. This sensitisation went along way in putting both the intending pilgrims and Hajj officials on a sound footing for the journey to the Holy land.

However, the governor’s support proved more critical in all these as His Excellency was always in constant touch with Kasimu, asking for updates and making useful suggestions. Specifically, the governor was Ameerul Hajj in 2011 and his experience as leader of the state delegation, including his several trips as a private citizen, have enriched his knowledge of Hajj which he readily shared with Kasimu and his team. Above all, Kasimu reportedly said that Governor Yero granted all the board’s requests, including financial supports.

In addition, security agencies like the Nigerian Immigration Service and Customs, the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), as well as officials of Nigerian Airports Authority (NAA) all keyed into Kasimu’s result-oriented leadership style. In summary, Kasimu is not just a square peg in a square hole, but the Overseer is also driven by the need to make Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board better than when he met it. Above all, he wants Hajj exercise to be as hassle-free as possible and that is why Kasimu has never failed to plan ahead because he doesn’t plan to fail on his mandate.

Ali, a public Affairs analyst, wrote from Kaduna

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