By Mousa Ubandawaki
It is no hanger news that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) recently made some hefty refund of over #400 million to some select State Pilgrims Welfare Boards in the country for some services not rendered by service provides in Saudi Arabia.
This ethical behavior though predates the current administration of the Hajj Commission, however, since its coming on board in 2015, this aspect has grown in leaps and bound.Nigerian pilgrims leave the arrival hall of Mallam Aminu Kano International Airport shortly after their arrival from the muslim holy city of Madina recently. AFP PHOTO
This may sound strange to some people, as the teaming pilgrims and administrators may attest that- Hajj is never a roller-coaster ride – bumpy, tupsy – turvy. It is for these reasons that the Saudi Authorities are sometimes overwhelmed in the pursuit of making adequate arrangement and providing facilities for the Muslims that perform the annual Holy Pilgrimage to Makkah.
The 2017 Hajj like other previous Hajj has despite the effort and determination of the Saudi government to provide modern and improved facilities during the Hajj, fell short of expectations as some facilities were neither provided nor measured up to the required standard and quality that left a sour taste in the palates of most Nations, Nigeria inclusive in terms of either inadequate facilities or services.
Therefore, immediately after the conclusion of the 2017 Hajj, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in its tradition of openness which has been key to the improvement in Hajj process was left fighting for the rights of Nigerian Pilgrims by demanding for the refunds for some services not provided by the Saudi service providers.
It has been a long road for the Commission in securing and achieving the feat of getting the refunds for the Nigerian Pilgrims. Many times, the Commission faced both internal as well as external obstacles in the form of states not reporting the inadequacies they might have noticed or out night refusal to make claims against the providers thereby compromising the standard set by the Commission.
The Commission continually drum it in the ear of the states to report and take notes of services or facilities provided to the Pilgrims, through the Performance Service (evaluation) Record (PSR) form to enable the Commission file claims against non-performing provides.
Before now, services not rendered by the providers are disputed or out nightly denied by these providers due to non-valid written document. I remember, an episode in 2008 when one of the Tour operator, Al- Hujjaj Travels Tours Limited-a Lagos-based company paid about N80 million naira (Eighty million naira) for its Pilgrims accommodation in Makkah However, the building provided was not licensed by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and therefore cannot be used.
Rather than the providers to refund the money or provide alternative accommodation for the operator, he blatantly refused to do either not ever the threat of a litigation could persuade him to shift ground. It was after so much pleas by the Commissions heirachy and the Nigeria Consulate that the provide agreed to defer the money to provide accommodation for the operator the following year-2009;
But there is now light at the end of the tunnel with the Commission making successful refund claims for State Pilgrims Welfare Board as well as private travel tour operator who has valid and genuine claims against any service providers.
At this point it is imperative to shed more lights on the component of 2017 Hajj refund made by NAHCON to States and why only 11 (Eleven) States were covered out of the 36 States, the F C T and the Armed forces and whether there may still be further payments to the States.
First and foremost, some of the components of the refunds includes ; refunds of tickets for Pilgrims/official who could not perform Hajj, (756,860.285R) Ministry of Hajj refundable deposit, (1,197,709.76SR), Tent security refundable deposit, (119,366.04SR), Refunds of feeding not served (306,564.05.SR),Refunds of Muna Tent C service not served or provided, (429,583.77SR), Refunds of Arafat cooling system that had not worked optimally (SR,1,226,621.30), Refunds of Zam-Zam not served, (SR14,334.86),Refunds of Arafat P V C Tent services not served, (SR,51,898.26).
In the same vein, it is also important to state that all the 36 States Pilgrims Welfare Boards/Agencies/ Commissions are entitled to the refund benefit. The reason why only 11 States were paid on this first tranch was because all the other States have refused to come for account reconciliation with NAHCON.
Aside this fact was the reason that some of these States were indebted to the Commission for non-refund of payment of their obligation. But as soon as the reconciliation transaction has been concluded the remaining States would have the money accrued to them refunded accordingly.
It would also be mentioned at this junction, without prejudice to the ongoing negotiation between the Commission and the Car syndicate in Saudi Arabia that a further sum of money would come the way of Nigerian Pilgrims at the end of the talk between the two parties.
For the purpose of clarity, the talk between the Commission and the car syndicate centered on the additional SR180 charged by the syndicate on the premise that the transportation services of tradudiyah would be expanded to cover movement to the Haram from Mina and back which unfortunately was not rendered throughout the Mashair period. If this aspect is concluded to the benefit of Nigeria, it would be another impressive return to the success path for the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), whose leadership have continued to build on the momentum set by the first Board of the Commission led by Mallam Muhammed Musa Bello, now Minister of Federal Capital Territory (FCT).
Ubandawaki is of the Media Unit of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Abuja.