Against the backdrop of complaints trailing the 2023 Hajj excercise, an Islamic human rights organization, the Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has absolved the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) of any blame over a few hiccups in the process.
Rather, the group wants the blame laid squarely at the doorsteps of the host organisers of hajj, Saudi Arabia. MURIC argued that Saudi Arabia failed to decentralise operations and made every country rely on its arrangements for feeding and accommodation.
Akintola said :
“In spite of the expertise and tireless efforts put into preparations for the 2023 Hajj excercise, there have been hues and cries in certain quarters. In particular, complaints have been lodged over accomodation in Muna and poor feeding.
“Our investigations have revealed that these are not areas of the operation controlled by NAHCON itself. We also found incontrovertible evidence that NAHCON officials also complained to Saudi authorities about these two major areas.
“Firstly, NAHCON complained when just 43,000 capacity tents were provided to cater for 95,000 pilgrims from Nigeria, thereby leaving more than 50,000 pilgrims without adequate shelter during their five-day sojourn in Mina.
“Secondly, the food provided by food vendors contracted by Saudi authorities was not satisfactory and NAHCON officials complained to Saudi Arabia authorities. We recall vividly how the NAHCON chairman, Dhikrullah Hassan, complained bitterly to the Saudi authorities.
“He said, ‘Time has come for you to hand off our food. We have argued repeatedly that we can handle catering by ourselves and you can regulate. This is because no matter how much money you spend on food, if you don’t do it the Nigerian way, it will not be eaten and the money is wasted. I am making this demand on behalf of Nigerian pilgrims and stakeholders’.
“He also added, ‘Return feeding to us. We can manage that ourselves. We can screen the caterer and ensure they have Nigerian touch. The foods you have been giving us have no Nigerian touch at all. Return the food to us and you can regulate it. We are controlling and regulating feeding in Makkah and Madinah’. NAHCON also demanded a refund for the food that was not supplied by the Saudi agents but was part of the agreement.
“What else do we want NAHCON officials to do? They are also guests in the holy land, not residents. They can only set certain standards. Implementation is in the hands of the Saudis.
“How can these limitations be blamed on Nigerian hajj officials? It is therefore not fair to blame them at all. They can only be held accountable if they had kept mute while the shortcomings lasted but they did not. It is noteworthy that the Saudi official in charge of the Nigerian section of the hajj operation, Badr Bakaakeek, admitted that his company failed to deliver.
“It is also on record that Saudi authorities eventually apologized to NAHCON officials for their poor handling of feeding, accommodation and similar logistic shortcomings.
“What other evidence do we still need that NAHCON officials are not to blame for any of the issues that arose during the 2023 hajj? These are men and women with years of experience in hajj operations and the chairman himself has led nothing less than eleven hajj exercises back-to-back.
“Members of MURIC were also physically on ground in Saudi Arabia and we can emphatically give testimony as to the commitment and diligence of NAHCON officials during the exercise.
“In view of the above facts, we must lay the blame squarely at the doorsteps of the host organisers of hajj, Saudi Arabia particularly for failing to decentralize operations thereby making every country involved in hajj to rely on its arrangements for feeding and accomodation.
“MURIC, therefore, absolves NAHCON and its officials of any kind of blame over shortcomings in the 2023 hajj operation. Unfortunately, the Nigerian victims of the Saudi company’s ineptitude are not seeing this big picture. All they know is that NAHCON took them to Saudi Arabia and NAHCON must be blamed for every mishap that befalls them there. But things do not work like that anyway.
“The admission of responsibility and the attendant apology tendered by Saudi authorities are interesting angles for those clamouring for investigation to look at, especially the House of Representatives. MURIC intends to keenly follow the procedure with a view to ascertaining that the panel will not be looking for a needle in a whole collection of haystacks.”