The National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) efforts to improve the quality of pilgrims’ accommodation in Saudi Arabia for the 2017 Hajj operation will save the Nigerian Government a total $12.3 million in foreign exchange.
The National chairman of the Commission, Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammed disclosed this on Monday, during an interactive session with journalists in Abuja.
Muhammed said NAHCON was able to reduce accommodation rate in the city of Madinah from 2,313 Saudi Riyals per pilgrimage in 2016 to 1,690 Saudi Riyals in 2017.
Speaking through the Secretary to the Commission, Dr. Bello Muhammad Tambuwal, the chairman said the feat was achieved through direct negotiations with landlords/ owners of the properties instead of agents.
He said:”Before 2015, Nigerian pilgrims were usually accommodated in furnished apartments mostly about 20-30 minutes’ walk from the Haram in Madina. Now, pilgrims are all accommodated in 3, 4, and 5-star hotels that are in the highbrow Markaziya area of Madina which is between 1-5 minutes’ walk from the Haram.
” In Makkah, pilgrims used to be accommodated in 108 small and medium houses mostly of grade B and C standard between 10 and 30 minutes’ walk away from the Haram. Now, they are accommodated in 88 larger buildings mostly of A and B standards.”
“The Commission similarly abolished augmentation on accommodation rates by state governments when it negotiated best rates for pilgrims with landlords.”
Muhammed further spoke on efforts of the Commission to reduce dependence on government for funding of its off-shore operations through prudent management of resources as well as abolishing of Amirul Hall delegation which has been reduced from 69 percent in 2014 to 28 percent in 2016.
“The Federal Government was known for sponsoring many officials to assist pilgrims. This practice of recruiting officials was pruned to essential medical and security personnel as well as institutional representatives”, he added.
He disclosed that the Commission in March 2016 was able to refund the sum of N1.75 billion to Pilgrims Boards of the 36 states and the FCT for onward refund for services not rendered or poorly rendered during the 2015 Hajj services, saying, ”it was a demonstration of commitment to ensure that Nigerian pilgrims got value for money.”
In the aftermath of the unfortunate stampede in 2015 in which 317 Nigerian pilgrims and officials lost their lives, he said the Commission has resolved to establish a DNA bank for Nigerian pilgrims through the collection of buccal swabs from pilgrims.
He said the measure was to enable the Commission “quickly identify and trace pilgrims in the event of death and absence of any form of identity. It will address the challenge of identification that was faced in 2015” adding that the Commission had already taken blood sample of pilgrims and store them in the blood bank for this purpose.
To assist intending pilgrims to pay Hajj fare with ease, the chairman said the Commission has commenced the process of implementing the Hajj Savings Scheme to provide for gradual payment for Hajj and reduce dependence on government for funding through investments.
Also, he disclosed that the Commission has initiated the process of establishing a Hajj Training Institute in collaboration with local and foreign institutions to serve as a professional training centre for all Hajj Managers in Nigeria and neighbouring African countries.