By IBRAHIM MUHAMMED
An editorial published on Wednesday by Tribune Newspaper online invokes an important topic in the hajj administration in Nigeria. As one of the most respectable print media in Nigeria, the medium chronicled the honest action aken by the Mutawiff for Pilgrims from Africa Non-Arabs in refunding the sum of 542,033 Saudi Riyals (about N107 million) to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) – being a refund for services not rendered. The standpoint raised by the paper is a universal moral compass used to gauge the level of transparency practised by body corporate or individuals – for the interest of the common man.
The moral issue raised by the medium is: How do you treat your customers or clients?
Agreeably, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah has cemented a long-standing principle of making refunds for services not rendered. This is what Islam teaches.
As a Hajj affairs analyst, I owe the public a responsibility to shed light on the germane questions raised therein.
“Interrogating the issue, it said “To fully appreciate what the Saudi authorities have just done, one could imagine a hypothetical situation in which roles were reversed between them and NAHCON. Would NAHCON have accepted responsibility and taken the additional step of offering financial compensation? We have our doubts. The problem we are flagging here goes beyond NAHCON; the painful truth is that in Nigeria, customers typically hold the short end of the stick in everyday transactions with corporate and governmental bodies…..”
This is where I need to offer more explanation- on behalf of Nigeria’s Hajj Industry – at least for the benefit of reading public records.
In an increasingly fractionalized environment, it can sometimes feel that the easy way out is to remain neutral, to remain ‘outside’ of the debate in order to stay safe. After all, if one is personally not pounced, why risk anything or everything for those who are being attacked? Yes, it is the usual step of fending off issues in order to keep oneself safe and secure – which will eventually harm us in the end.
Apart from sunnah and examples from Islamic history, let us look towards the Holy Quran for why, as representatives of Allah’s justice and mercy here on earth, we must stand for truth and justice.
“O you who believe, be upright for God, and be bearers of witness with justice!” [Quran, 5:8]
“God commands justice and fair dealing…” [Quran, 16:90]
……The meat of the matter
First, the culture of refunding an equivalent sum of money paid by pilgrims for services not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily in the Hajj Industry is an idea that reflects the Islamic principle of fairness and honesty in dealing with public funds; especially when one is transacting with the Guest of Al Rahma.
This approach has bridged the gap of trust, boosted the confidence in pilgrims and made the Nigerian Hajj Industry one of the few institutions that make refunds to its clients for services not rendered in Nigeria.
The Pioneer NAHCON Chairman and the current FCT Minister, Muhammed Musa Bello started it. Barr Abdullahi Muhammed Mukhtar, MON, consolidated and added more public oriented enthusiasm while the current leadership of Barr Zikrullah Kunle Hassan has so far maintained this noble practice.
After every Hajj exercise, NAHCON as a regulatory body always requests for complaints from pilgrims on services rendered to them. Reproduced below is the content of the advertorial calling for pilgrims to submit their complaints as published in the national newspapers and daily trust of September 25, 2019.
“INVITATION TO REGISTER COMPLAINTS AND SUGGESTIONS ON SERVICES RENDERED DURING THE 2019 HAJJ AND UMRAH OPERATIONS
In furtherance of its statutory functions to regulate, supervise and perform oversight functions over organizations, associations or similar bodies engaged in organizing and coordinating the movement of pilgrims to perform Hajj or Umrah, as outlined in section 4(1)(a) of NAHCON (Establishment Act) 2016; the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), wishes to inform members of the general public that the Commission has commenced its post-2019 Hajj and Umrah activities review exercise.
“The Commission, therefore, requests Pilgrims under (States Pilgrim’s Welfare Boards/Agencies/Commissions or Travel Agencies quota) who participated or had intended to participate in Hajj or Umrah in 2019 and who have a complaint(s) or comment(s) against any company(ies), person(s), or institutions that rendered services (such as Hajj/Umrah payment, registration, airlift, accommodation, transportation, luggage, feeding, tent services in Mina and Arafat, e.tc. rendered in either Nigeria or in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia or any other services rendered by the States Pilgrim’s Welfare Boards/Agencies/Commissions, Travel Agencies, Airlines or any other service provider and or felt aggrieved or shortchanged should forward same with cogent evidence in support of the complaint(s) or comment(s) for appropriate action by the Commission.”
It further stated that “The complaint(s), comment(s) or suggestion(s) should include the full details of the author and should be addressed and delivered by post or hand to The A.g Chairman/CEO, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) or forwarded to email@example.com, or call Head of Inspectorate & Compliance Division or call Head, Public Affairs Division 08129143659.
In 2016, NAHCON refunded the sum of N1.7 billion naira to 2015 Hajj pilgrims for services not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily in what many believed to be the biggest refund ever to Hajj pilgrims in Nigeria. So, it is a welcome development that the current NAHCON board is keeping this cherished policy. Before the disbursement of the refund, NAHCON issued a public statement announcing the amount received from Saudi Arabia’s Hajj service providers for services not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily.
A comprehensive details of how much was paid to each state Muslim pilgrims’ welfare board and the amount to be disbursed to each pilgrim was published in national dailies – a public record.
It is noteworthy that the refunds to 2015 Hajj pilgrims happened after a twin devastating tragedy that occurred during the Hajj rituals: the crane crash of September 11 in the Grand Mosque and the Mina stampede of September 24 – a day after Arafat. Despite these energy-sapping tragedies, NAHCON was able to surmount the challenge and facilitated the refunds.
Indeed, NAHCON began payment of refunds since its inception in 2006. The commission made a refund in its first operation in 2007, but the 2015 Hajj recorded the highest refunds ever. It is a demonstration of fiscal frugality and transparency.
More importantly, it should be recorded and acknowledged that the refund of 542,033 Saudi Riyals (about N107 million) to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) is not the only refund that has been made so far by NAHCON after the 2022 Hajj exercise. NAHCON has paid some Pilgrims who were unable to perform 2022 Hajj through the state pilgrims’ boards. – There are still outstanding numbers yet to be settled.
A document on transit seen by this writer indicates that about N3.8 billion naira has so far been refunded or sent to 24 States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board for onward disbursement to 2022 hajj pilgrims for services not rendered – the money was sent by NAHCON. Kano got the highest of N1,789 million (One billion, seven hundred and eighty-nine million) and the lowest being Enugu with N462,000 (four hundred and sixty thousand naira only).
So far, Kano, Lagos, Ogun, Kaduna, and Katsina have paid the refunds in parts to 2022 hajj pilgrims.
Hajj was suspended in 2020 and 2021 and I still remember that NAHCON refunded State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards an equivalent sum of money paid by intending pilgrims who were willing to get their money back.
So, the question again comes up, Would NAHCON have accepted responsibility and taken the additional step of offering financial compensation?
Yes, because NAHCON, States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards has been making refunds for services not rendered or rendered unsatisfactorily. The process might not be as transparent as it ought to be but Nigeria Hajj Industry has set a record in refund.