By Ibrahim Muhammed
Anxiety, expectations, rising and falling hopes, prayers and supplications from intending pilgrims and Hajj administrators for Hajj 2021 indicates that we are in a difficult season in the Hajj industry. It is now the time to be active and ready to confront whatever challenges that might come along with Saudi Arabia’s decision on the allocation of the number of pilgrim to Nigeria and other Hajj participating countries.
As of last week, yours sincerely made a personal decision to keep my fingers off my keyboard as far as Hajj 2021 is concerned pending when the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj and Umrah deemed it fit to officially announce what is in for Hajj participating countries.
However, two emerging developments thwarted my earlier resolution: The cancellation of Hajj 2021 by Indonesia and the silent calls by some stakeholders for Nigeria to toe the same path of cancellation due to the limited time available. There are strong indications that more countries will opt out in few days time.
First, Indonesia, India and Pakistan are still among the countries on suspension list from entering the Kingdom due to Covid 19. Though, those marshaling the argument of deferment have a good reason because, no matter the level of efforts the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is expending on the control of Covid 19 and safeguarding the lives of Muslim Ummah during Hajj, they need to acknowledge that the Hajj and Umrah industry revolves around 20 percent Saudi and 80% other Hajj participating countries.
Just like the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Hajj participating countries spending timeless energy, deploying human and material resources all year round in preparing for Hajj. There should be an established communication with other world Hajj Missions to enable them adjust and reconfigure their plans.
More importantly, Covid 19 protocols has come to stay and both the Kingdom and other Hajj countries acknowledge these facts. Nigeria in particular has provided enough arrangement for Covid 19 vaccine for its pilgrims despite the scarcity of vaccine to developing nations.
However, I am not in support of calls for cancellation due to time factor or any other reason unless the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia excludes Nigeria from Hajj 2021 list – and there are cogent factors in our favour. One of the reason is the approaching rise in Hajj fare and I acknowledge that there will be complex challenges on how to distribute the number of Hajj seats that falls below 30,000 to states and modalities to be adopted in doing so in a limited time. Likewise, there are the issues of medical arrangements, consular services, airlift arrangements and mobilization of necessary logistics.
Confronting challenges differentiate leaders from others and the world is not about pleasurable situation all the time. My opinion is that Nigeria should participate in Hajj 2021 on whatever figure or conditions.
When the going gets tough, let’s put one foot in front of the other and just keep going. We should be ready to imprint it in Hajj map that when Hajj operations get tough, Nigeria was among the country that gets going.
As the countdown begins, the announcement may come any moment from now, but we should be prepared to comply with whatever conditions that might be spelled out and the number of pilgrims. If we decide to evade this year’s Hajj due to challenges, can we predict or know-how and what Hajj 2021 will bring forth? If Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj announces Hajj 2021 details by 1pm, Hajj administrators should be ready to kick start operation “destination Saudi Arabia by 2pm”. May Almighty Allah be our guide. Ameen
Hajj administrators in Nigeria need to be in Hajj 2021 to understudy the emerging trends in Hajj administration, to preview the new templates for service delivery, to strategise against Hajj 2022 and to see how the role of Hajj Missions in Hajj operations is being trimmed by the deployment of ICT in pilgrims documentation and services especially the emerging “Smart CARD HAJJ” solution.
Moreover, Nigeria received 90,000 Hajj seats allocation in 2018 and 2019 and only about 55,000 were able to perform Hajj from Nigeria. Sometimes it comes below and other times it can flow above.
Operation Deflation of Hope
NAHCON should direct States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare boards especially those that are currently conducting enlightenment to impress it on their pilgrims that not all those who paid for Hajj will be able to make it this year. Continuous giving hope in a hopeless situation will end up creating an atmosphere of tension whenever the figure is out. The timely and well structured piece (If tomorrow never comes for foreign pilgrims) written by the Head of Public Affairs Unit of NAHCON, Fatima Sanda Usara should serve as a starting point of gradual watering down of expectations from Nigerian pilgrims.
Going further, NAHCON should seeks for the cooperation and support of Hajj stakeholders especially those with relevant experienced in the Hajj industry to brainstorm on the way forward and such an interface should be an immediate task. Even Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah recently convened a meeting of all past and present Hajj managers in the Kingdom in their quest to fashion out the best template for Hajj 2021.
There will be a lot of aftermath puzzle to be sorted out especially from States Pilgrims boards and private Hajj operators if eventually our allocation falls below 20,000. Hajj 2020 and Hajj 2021 should serve as lesson to Hajj administrators to always resist the temptation of promising to give what they don’t have. Hajj policies especially those that have to do with operations are subject to the Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj’s decisions and regulations.
It is a trial time for the Hajj industry, but no matter how crucial the situation becomes, we must always have trust in Allah SWT’s power that He has written what is best for us and when it is best for us.
Ibrahim Muhammed is the National Coordinator, Independent Hajj Reporters.
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