By Muhammad Ajah
I was privileged to attend the meeting between the Chairman/CEO of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad and the Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Foreign Affairs and Diaspora Matters, Hon. Abike Dabiri-Erewa where both national personalities examined thoroughly all issues relating to the Nigerian citizens in Saudi Arabia. It was a thing to rejoice about the discovery that many of Nigerian-Saudi residents are excelling in their areas of specialization in the Kingdom. Both offices, therefore, have agreed to partner to uplift the image of Nigeria and for the interest of Nigerian patriots in the Kingdom. It was, indeed, a wonderful meeting whose outcome will be great for Nigeria and the host country as well.
Hon. Dabiri-Erewa visited the commission with his media and administrative team led by her special assistant who is also the national president of Muslim Media Practitioners of Nigeria (MMPN), Alhaji Abdurrahman Balogun. Although the meeting held without special pleasantries, it was clear that the heart worries of both senior Nigerian citizens were paramount. Nigerians in Saudi Arabia was the subject matter. Every year, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) takes the responsibility, a very difficult one, of transporting over 95,000 Nigerian compatriots on Hajj to and from the Holy Land in Makkah. In the past, especially before the birth of the commission, the story was often unpleasant as some of the pilgrims preferred to stay back without returning home. This trend is referred to as abscondment. And from a long time, they constituted the illegal residents referred to as “takaris” in the Kingdom. Unfortunately, their activities have often overshadowed those of the legitimate dwellers, including the students, professionals, tradesmen and women.
Nigerians anywhere in the world form part of the responsibilities of the Presidential aide on Diaspora. The efforts of the current administration of President Buhari to rebuild the image of Nigeria outside are worthy of commendation. If I can remember, this the first time a full office is dedicated to deal with all matters specifically relating on Nigerians outside the shores of the country, with the right Nigerian citizen heading the office. Before, all the very many duties discharged by that office were, unfortunately, lumped up to the functions of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Most unfortunately, the constitutional rights of Nigerian citizens in Diaspora were either never or haphazardly delivered, thus subjecting the citizens to diverse levels of untold hardship. By the way, this will be discussed elaborately in another write-up.
The leaderships of both offices – NAHCON and Diaspora – seemed to have been nursing the same measures. They corroborated themselves when each of the heads took time to analyze the concerns of the Nigerian-Saudi dwellers. The illegal immigrants have caused Nigeria some levels of embarrassment. Many a times, the Saudi security find it difficult to differentiate between Nigerians and other black residents in the Kingdom. That is why many black non-Nigerians had been deported to Nigeria through the Kano International Airport by Saudi Arabia. In those cases, Nigeria rejected the non-Nigerians. In relation to the meeting between Barr. Muhammad and Hon. Abike, the commission has also gone into partnership with some other government agencies in the areas of ensuring pilgrims’ education and orientation, curbing trafficking and abscondment in Hajj, advancing the mandate of President Buhari on fighting corruption in Hajj and ultimately implementing the demands of the Act that established the commission. The summary of the mandate is to ensure effective and efficient service to the Nigerian pilgrims.
In these regards, the commissionand the National Agency for Prohibition of Traffic in Persons (NAPTIP) are cooperating in tackling the menace of human trafficking. NAHCON had visited NAPTIP where the chairman, Barr. Muhammad, urged the office of the National Security Adviser to synchronize all the agencies involved in the business of anti-human trafficking to find a lasting solution to the problem, especially as it concerns the route to Saudi Arabia. He commended the Nigeria Immigration Service (NIS) for the introduction of e-passport into Hajj, a system that has reduced drastically the ugly incident of abscondment of pilgrims during Hajj and Umrah. The Director-General of NAPTIP, Mrs. Julie Okali-Donli expressed readiness for the partnership, as the law establishing the Agency demands prosecution of any person or organization involved in the act. To that effect, the agency has prosecuted a defaulting tour operator company dragged to it by the commission.the company has also been banned by the commission from engaging in Hajj and Umrah operations. There is also cooperation at different levels with the anti-graft agencies, the National Orientation Agency (NOA), the Nigeria Television Authority (NTA) and the Federal Radio Corporation of Nigeria (FRCN), all with the aim of ensuring transparency and accountability in the activities of the commission.
The willingness for partnership by both NAHCON and Diaspora Matters bosses is commendable. The offices have something clear in relation. It is the welfare of Nigerians. Notwithstanding the impression created by the character of the illegal immigrants, there is on record the excellent character exhibited by a lot of Nigerians in the Kingdom. Here comes the partnership to identify those bad eggs and put them on the track of patriotism and fruitful life and also to discover the excelling Nigerians and make proper arrangements so that their wealth of intellect and wisdom in their fields of endeavours can befit Nigerians at home. The partnership will also foreclose the total welfare and yearnings of Nigerians over there. That is what is required of a government that is citizen and development-driven.
Another critical area of collaboration will be on the task of pilgrims’ education, orientation and awareness. Every year, over 90 percent of pilgrims who go to Hajj are usually first timers mostly from the rural areas. A large number are often not read, not exposed to modern facilities, thus are gullible and can easily be manipulated. Besides, investigations have also shown that most of those who refuse to come back home after Hajj include citizens with some level of understanding of the Kingdom either through previous trips or through relations over there.
Barr. Muhammad told her guest that although much is being done in the pilgrims’ awareness through the electronic and in print media, there was still room for improvement. This, he said, is in addition to all other programs aimed at effectively reaching out to the pilgrims in the Nigerian three local languages. He noted that the menace of abscondment in Hajj has led to the introduction of bio-metric data capturing by the Saudi authority for Hajj and Umrah to checkmate activities of over-stayers as well.
The chairman also mentioned how NAHCON has identified Nigerians legitimately living and working in Saudi Arabia and how NAHCON engages them to earn additional income by serving Nigerian pilgrims during Hajj.
In her remarks, Hon. Dabiri-Erewa expressed profundity to NAHCON’s achievements under the present leadership and hoped for the takeoff of the partnership as soon as possible. She described her office as sharing similar concern with NAHCON because Nigerian pilgrims fall under the Diaspora, saying her office was ready to join NAHCON in creating more awareness on the do’s and don’ts in Saudi Arabian Kingdom so as “to rescue some Nigerians from themselves”.
She acknowledged the fact that because the Saudi people respect their laws, Nigerians must not fall victims because of lack of knowledge. She cited instances where some Nigerian pilgrims travel with kolanuts to Saudi Arabia; a commodity the Kingdom regards as drug but which is a consumable in Nigeria. She discussed absconment during Hajj and how Nigerians who are legitimately residing in the Kingdom and doing well can be recognized to contribute in diverse ways to Nigerian nation building.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. Eemail@example.com.