2020 will be remembered in history as the year COVID-19 upturned global economic, social and customary routines.
Though certain modes of religious worship were also affected by the corona pandemic, timing of religious events auspiciously remained constant. So was the case with 2020 Hajj, which nevertheless took place at the appointed time despite all odds.
Apprehension from the lethality of the virus was discernable from the regimental manner in which the Hajj was conducted. The COVID-19 upset had crushed many worshippers yearnings on Hajj, yet many had remained undaunted until the last minute.
The anxiety that accompanied Saudi Arabia’s much-awaited decision on the 2020 pilgrimage was disturbing to Hajj organisers all over the world. But when it finally came, the Muslim world, and health experts too, commended the Kingdom’s decision.
Health concerns arising from the current pandemic had crippled activities of many institutions. The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) was not left out though it remained resolute on its calculated goals for the year 2020.
This focus yielded fruits. NAHCON’s management under the Zikrullah Kunle Hassan’s leadership was able to make a significant number of headways on its plans despite the pervasive condition.
Most significant among these foci is chasing the Hajj Savings Scheme (HSS) commencement with unalloyed fervour. Already, its birth is on the horizon, to be delivered on the fixed day.
Actualising the dawn of Hajj Savings Scheme in Nigeria has been the goal of successive Hajj administrators. Its significance is not only for the financial stability that will permeate Hajj management in Nigeria but also for the chances it provides intending pilgrims to enrich their pockets as well as to be better schooled in civic and religious acts of Hajj.
Among the immediate upshots of the HSS is improved international image from an orderly Hajj contingent; job creation as a result of the extended time frame for the training of pilgrims; increased gross domestic earnings to depositors, federal and state governments; long term Hajj preparations that will eliminate last-minute rush, to mention only a few.
One accomplishment that would have thrilled 2020 potential pilgrims in Nigeria was the prospective reduction in the cost of Hajj services that in turn would have translated into a reduction in the cost of 2020 Hajj fare.
The bargain was a done deal before the international Hajj suspension. The Zikrullah led board was able to negotiate a reduction of states Hajj accommodation costs; negotiated the reduced cost of air ticket, lobbied a discount for some services rendered in Saudi Arabia and it was granted. Cumulatively, the reduction had reached the tune of about three billion Naira and counting.
For work on Hajj Development Levy project to accelerate, Alhaji Kunle Hassa remained undeterred by the COVID-19 palaver. The NAHCON Chairman invited all contractors handling the Hajj Development Levy projects for assessment of job carried out.
Recently, the Chairman followed up this meeting with an on-the-spot assessment of structures. It is the hope of NAHCON that the buildings will ease the transition of pilgrims during Hajj operations and at the same time, be a source of revenue generation for an autonomous Hajj industry.
Similarly, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan has already set the Commission for a digital transformation of Hajj affairs in response to 21st-century technological realities. The phenomenal change will automate service provision for Hajj starting from the time of registration to flight allocation, room allocation and other services. The end result is for better Hajj organization, prudent management of resources and ease of performing pilgrimage from Nigeria.
Though COVID-19 might have been a setback to the Commission’s plans, however, the NAHCON leadership is determined to accomplish all the goals it has set insight as to its 2020 milestone.
Usara writes from NAHCON’s Public Affairs.