//Godwin Ekosin, Abuja, Nigeria Capital City//
Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed has revealed how the commission under his leadership was able to saved $12.3 million and N2 billion been inflated amount by middlemen on accommodation alone in Medinna and Mecca at the end of monitoring and evaluation of hajj services.
According to him, the amount of monies, which were saved after close monitoring exercise recently have been inflated by service providers and middlemen with integrity issue who according to him before now, have been swindling Nigerian pilgrims and government of their hard earned resources.
Speaking in Abuja yesterday while playing host to Executive members of Nigerian Union of Journalists (NUJ) Kaduna State Council led by its Chairman, Comrade Adamu Yusuf, NAHCON boss hinged the success of his commission recently to directive by President Mohammadu Buhari who had earlier tasked the commission on transparency and trust as a religion service provider.
Giving account of his achievement under the current administration and leadership NAHCON, Barr Muhammed said, the place of media in nation’s building hence the readiness of the commission to partner with Kaduna council to project the country in good light before the international community.
He said, ‘Hajj is an important part in our nation’s affairs that wrong reportage can affect the entire success of the exercise and it can even lead to very diplomatic problem between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia”.
He further confirmed that, Nigeria pilgrims cannot shortchange in terms of services delivery anymore saying “we have seen what happened in 2015 when President Mohammadu Buhari came on board and tasked the commission that its monitoring and evaluation should no longer be business as usual. He told us then that we have the responsibility and trust to ensure the pilgrims have value for their money.
“By the end of that hajj, we were able not to pay about N1.2 billion to various service providers who did not provide the right services to the pilgrims apart from about N500 million for those who could not travel for that year’s hajj. Deduction of that N1.2 billion served as deterrent to others during the 2016 hajj.
“That is why glaringly, one can see and hear testimonies of improved services in 2016. Had it been we allowed it to be business as usual whether they rendered the services or not we would not have bothered to monitor and deduct the money to be refunded to owners so far we have collected money from people. So, Nigeria pilgrims were refunded about N1.7 billion in 2016.
“But the most recent one less than a week now, we just mentioned how much we have been able to save on accommodation. That $12.3 million is only in medina. Now in Mecca the rough estimate which the commission has been able to save is roughly N2billion. This includes the money the state governors were made to pay as augmentation for accommodation in Mecca. But by the grace of almighty Allah, this year the era of state governors bringing out money from their own resources to augment accommodation in Mecca is gone forever.
“Of course we have cases of state that governors have to augment the pilgrimage accommodation with N400 million some state N200 million while some N300 million. So I am not surprise when the team working on the calculation say its almost getting to N2 billion because if you take the augmentation alone from these various states, you are talking of about N1 billion naira.
“And now the accommodation secured in Mecca, houses that last year we paid 4, 000 riyal now we are paying between 3, 500 and 3, 100 riyal. We are able to achieve that through elimination of all accommodation providers with integrity issue which is working now. If eliminating accommodation provider with integrity issue will make us to save Nigerians from paying $12.3 million in Medina and almost N2 billion in Mecca, that shows that those agents and middlemen with integrity issues as regarding accommodation in Saudi Arabia before now were milking us dry”, he surmised.
On allegations coming up against the commission he said, “we know that, the group of persons who used to benefit from this can never be happy to see you overnight blocking the loophole and you should know they will definitely fight you to any extent their might could reach. So we are not surprise when we saw baseless allegations coming up against the commission and its leadership. We expect it will come because the monies I mentioned certainly will not go to dust bin just like that because those that were benefitting will not be happy.
“But we have a duty and that duty is to protect and support the pilgrims. That is why we can now work with our head high and see to it that the commission is succeeded in crashing accommodation in both Mecca and Medina and of course, without compromising the quality of the houses. These houses are even better than what it used to be”.
Earlier, Comrade Yusuf commended the commission on its achievements in recent times especially on the monies recouped and efforts to project Nigeria in good light before Saudi Authority, informing the commission of Council’s plan to engage independent hajj reporters on monthly basis to equip them with prerequisite skills they need to have for effective and accurate hajj reporting both within and outtside Nigerian shores.