Mukhtar’s legacies in hajj operations




One of the qualities of a good leader is the ability to transform their people or institutions positively. This, among several others, is one of the leadership virtues of Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, the outgoing chairman of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).

Appointed as Chairman/CEO on May 25, 2015, Muhammad upon assumption of his responsibility met a quite challenging task of transforming the nation’s commission, hitherto characterised by haphazard scheduling and visa racketeering to intending pilgrims among other problems, but, his strong determination mixed with commitment to work led him to transforming of what NAHCON is today.

Although, pilgrimage, otherwise known as hajj, is one of the five fundamental pillars of Islam, and its performance is obligatory on all those who can afford it among other prerequisites, the way it can be conducted with limited challenges has always been the nightmare of Nigeria’s intending Muslim pilgrims.

It is on record that the conduct of hajj operations in Nigeria for many years has brought tears to the faces of these intending pilgrims. This was due to haphazard flight scheduling, criminal racketeering of Hajj application forms, swindling pilgrims of their basic travel allowances, provision of pathetic accommodation in the holy land, pervasiveness of fraudulent private tour operators who scam pilgrims on Hajj visas, general operational inefficiency, and even in some instances false agents who often disappear after collecting huge sum of money from pilgrims among others.

It is still fresh in our memories about a decade ago, the sad national opprobrium and international disgrace when Nigeria failed to meet the Saudi global deadline for closure of Jeddah airport. In fact, some pilgrims had to return after their take-off as their flights won’t be allowed to land when they get there. The pilgrims too are not left out as they had their own portion of the problem. From disappearance after the pilgrimage to other attitudes capable of subjecting Nigeria to global disgrace from other countries’ pilgrims, it has never been an easy ride for sudden change to occur miraculously.

However, when Abdullahi emerged as NAHCON chairman, the story gradually begin to change to the better. He set up policies that succeeded in enforcing discipline and standards by imposing strict sanctions for breach of pilgrims’ rights by Hajj operators at all levels, either committed at home or abroad.

As a technocrat who began his early carrier in Hajj industry as far back as 1994 at Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Mukhtar held various positions that qualify him to achieve what he did. From Director Operations, consultant to Chanchangi Airlines, Executive Secretary of Kaduna State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, NAHCON Commissioner Operations, and later NAHCON Chairman in 2015. These are enough for him to know all the issues affecting Hajj operations in Nigeria.

Little wonder, when he came on board, his team usually begins preparations right from Nigeria, by ensuring that only properly registered Hajj Tour Operators were licensed to move pilgrims to the holy land. Similarly, in Saudi Arabia, the NAHCON team would inspect hotels to ensure the pilgrims were offered the right welfare as promised as well as attending to their problems.

Still in the area of pilgrims’ welfare, the Muhammad-led NAHCON initiated the Hajj Development Levy Projects across the country’s hajj transit camps. The project offered services that include the construction of hotel-like accommodation for pilgrims, construction of clinics to be used by the pilgrims free-of-charge during Hajj airlift and by the community at a subsidized rates.

Also, the measures taken by him corrected the previously common scam where five or six pilgrims were crammed into an accommodation meant for four or three people, despite paying for it. Nigerian pilgrims now are not only offered convenient accommodations, but also very close to the holy sites where most Hajj activities take place in Saudi Arabia.

His tenure as NAHCON chairman embraced a practical approach to management. Courtesy of his commitment, the time spent by the pilgrims in Saudi Arabia during Hajj has now been reduced only to its stipulated time. He ensured that promises made by states’ Pilgrims Welfare Boards and private operators were kept in such areas of feeding, accommodation and transportation. In fact, pilgrims now hardly spend more than six weeks in the holy land for their Hajj.

Similarly, history will remember Mukhtar as the hero that led NAHCON as its chairman to secure a gigantic structure in the heart of Nigeria’s capital, Abuja. The NAHCON secretariat in the Central Business District no doubt will be one of his most enduring legacies. This could only be possible due to prudence and accountability in management of financial resources, especially in the commission that was not statutorily set up to generate revenue.

Recall that some years back, Nigeria hardly airlifts all its intending pilgrims within the Saudi stipulated deadline. There has never been recurrence of this problem, at least from after Muhammad’s  emergence in 2015.

Furthermore, the commission under his watch has been able to constitute a strong Hajj media team annually. This team, a group of journalists drawn from different media organisations across the country has always gave Nigeria’s Hajj operations in Saudi Arabia enough positive coverage like never before.

These, among several other achievements too numerous to mention, made Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed undoubtedly the best chairman NAHCON ever had since its inception in 2006. Little wonder, his achievements in Nigeria’s Hajj operations qualified him for national recognition when late President Yar’Adua conferred on him the national honour of Member of the Order of the Niger (MON) in 2010. There are also numerous other awards and honours both locally and internationally.

Paki writes from PRNigeria Centre, Kano via [email protected]

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