Chris Steven, Abuja
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has disclosed that it was able to recover a sum of N1.5bn for Nigerian pilgrims after the 2015 hajj exercise from tour operators for services not rendered.
This as the Commission reiterated its resolve to ensure service delivery to Nigerian pilgrims insisting that for every service not rendered by the state pilgrims board or any tour operator refund will be made.
NAHCON Chairman, Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad who made this disclosure in Abuja on Thursday , further revealed that, the activities of the tour operators would be closely monitored and evaluated to ensure quality service delivery to the pilgrims.
“2016 hajj will be closely monitored from beginning to the end. We will have auditor who monitors your services rendered. Any of you who gives poor services, we are going to recover the money from you and refund back to the pilgrims”
He spoke at the National Hajj conference organized by the Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON) on the theme titled: ‘Towards a Better Hajj Operation and Services Delivery in the 21th Century’ held at the National Mosque Abuja.
According to him, the period of Ramadan is a time when the illegal operators thrive, he therefore reiterated that they would not go unpunished as NAHCON is already partnering with relevant anti-graft and security agencies.
“This is the period when illegal operators are targeting their victims. At appropriate time we will hold press conference on those that have been apprehended and we will make sure that they are prosecuted to ensure that graft in any form is eliminated from Hajj and Umrah activities”
He added that, “ours is to set standard but improving on those standard is the responsibility of the individual operator” He further urged the operators to honour the PENCON regulations, while warning that, “no tour operator company will be licensed without compliance to the PENCON regulation in 2017”
Chairman of the occasion, the Sultan of Sokoto, Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, who was represented by the Sarki Jiwa, Alh. Idris Musa, appeals to the operators to weed out the bad eggs among them who have constituted disgrace to the country and the Muslim Ummah.
“There are some bad elements among you people that are taking money from people without taking them anywhere. It is a disgrace to Nigeria and Islam in general. Scrutinize yourself so that there will be sanity in your association,” he said.
In his speech, AHOUN, National president, Alh. Abdulfattah Abdulmajeed, said the aim of the conference is to have a critical look at the industry and change future approach and attitude with the hope that will impact positively on subsequent operations.
He however laments the manner in which its members are harassed at the airport for moving physical hard currency across border.
He noted that the lack of bilateral trade agreements between Nigeria and the kingdom of Saudi Arabia has also put the tour operators from Nigeria at the mercy of the Saudi Agents.
“Meanwhile, umrah tour operators usually source foreign exchange from the parallel market at very high rates, which is ferried across to Saudi through various means including taking it as carry on luggages. this is highly risky and not good for the image of our country.
This becomes imperative because private Hajj and umrah tour operators are not allowed to open bank accounts in the kingdom of Saudi Arabia”
“As a result of the above, we seek the understanding of the various agencies especially at the airport as to the peculiarities of the hajj and umrah industry and why we have to carry huge sums of money along with us when traveling to process the umrah or hajj visas as the case may be”.
“We appeal for their understanding and cooperation not to continue with the undue harassment of Hajj and umrah private operators”
“Government intervention is therefore required to enable tour operators be allowed by the Saudi authority to open and operate bank accounts in the kingdom…associated with this is the risk of contravening the regulations relating to money laundering and currency trafficking” he said
The Guest Speaker, Prof. Badmas Lanre Yusuf, further tasked the operator to ensure excellent service delivery”