By Bukola Hameed
Given the early release of the 2024 calendar of events by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, the Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR), a civil society organization that monitors Hajj and Umrah activities in Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, has advised the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to begin the registration of intending 2024 Hajj pilgrims immediately.
The organisation advised in a statement signed by its National Coordinator, Malam Ibrahim Mohammed, today in Makkah.
IHR noted that the announcement of the 2024 calendar of events less than a week after the 2023 Hajj period has created a new Hajj operating system for Hajj-participating countries who are desirous of being part of next year’s Hajj.
“With this announcement, the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia has indirectly rendered the usual one-year-at-time registration of pilgrims ineffective because the Ministry of Hajj has now made it operationally mandatory for countries to complete all arrangements for the next Hajj four months after the current Hajj.
IHR said more important is a new policy of allotment of tents in Mina on to “first to ready, first to get” basis – thereby creating the need to fast-forward preparations for the 2024 Hajj.
The statement further advised NAHCON, states Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards, Hajj and Umrah Operators to immediately begin preparations for the services to provide the pilgrims during the 2024 Hajj. The yearly process of preparations for Hajj is anchored on providing memorable services during the 5-days of Hajj – being days when Hajj rites are performed. We must be prepared because the Hajj exercise will not get better by chance.
For example, applying for airline slots, allotment of tents in Mina, provision for pilgrims’ accommodation both in Makkah and Madinah, funding of visa accounts and meeting all other financial obligations, required having a pool of funds that can be easily utilised. The ‘pay-as-you-go’ system of pilgrim registration is operationally obsolete and NAHCON and states Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards should immediately commence the registration for the 2024 Hajj and roll out a plan of action.
The Ministry of Hajj has so far communicated to some Hajj participating countries approving the normal quota for 2024 Hajj – meaning that Nigeria will retain its 95,000-Hajj quota.
For the 2024 Hajj, the Minister of Hajj said preparatory meetings would start on Rabi Al-Awwal 1, 1445AH, corresponding to September 16, during which the electronic track would open for data entry, and the list of licensed companies would be published. More importantly for Nigeria Airlines, the General Authority of Civil Aviation (GACA) will activate the financial portfolio of the electronic track in the same month.
“The preparatory meetings will be completed and service packages will be made available on Rabi Al-Thani 20, 1445AH, corresponding to November 4, 2023, after which the display of Hajj and Umrah services will be launched. The minister said that the allotment process of pilgrims’ accommodation in Makkah and Madinah and the Holy Sites would be finalized by Shaban 15, 1445AH, corresponding to February 25, 2024 – an exercise that is less than 8 months from now.
The issuance of visa will start from Shaban 20, 1445AH, corresponding to March 1, 2024 – which is just eight (8) months away,” the statement read.
“The announcement that the Visas portal will be closed on Shawwal 20, 1445AH, corresponding to April 29, 2024, means that pilgrim’s registration and documentation must be concluded in 10 months in Nigeria.
The first batch of 2024 Hajj pilgrims is expected to arrive in Saudi Arabia on the Dhul Qada 1, 1445AH, corresponding to May 9, 2024, – 10 months away,” IHR stated.
Going by the challenges of service delivery experienced this year, IHR said it is apparent that the one-year Hajj rolling plan being practised in Nigeria is no longer compatible with the operational plan rolled out by the Ministry of Hajj last week. Hence, the need to begin pilgrims’ registration.
Preliminary discussion with Saudi-based service providers on accommodation in both Makkah and Madinah, Transport syndicate services and feeding arrangements need to commence along with the return airlift process.
Nigeria, as the fifth largest global Hajj contingent and highest delegation in Africa, cannot operate “pay today, travel tomorrow” Hajj arrangements, when its counterparts operate five to six years of Hajj rolling plans. There is a need to start here and now, the statement emphasised.
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