BY EDMOND ODOK – The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs Zainab Ahmed, has thrown her weight behind the Hajj Saving Scheme powered by the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON).
In endorsing the Scheme, Mrs Ahmed however says NAHCON must double efforts at sensitising Muslims on the benefits and need to embrace this new arrangement.
Speaking when the Commission Chairman, Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan, and his team visited the Ministry recently, Mrs Ahmed urged them to adopt digitization processes in their operations given the reality of COVID-19 pandemic globally.
According to her, it has become imperative to adopt processes that will enhance mandate delivery to pilgrims and therefore lauded the stakeholders’ resolve to reach out and consult widely across the country.
Mrs Ahmed said though quite challenging, such significant step would open up the space and contribute to the Commission’s smooth operations
She also urged NAHCON to consider licensing and integrating other banks to aid the savings scheme, noting that Jaiz Bank may be overstressed handling the high volume of prospective pilgrims to Saudi Arabia
Mrs Ahmed, who acknowledged that the Commission needs support, said it must however convey its requests in writing and be specific in their requests.
A statement by Yunusa Tanko Abdullahi, her Special Adviser on Media and Communications, quoted the Minister as promising to liaise with bilateral partners in offering the Commission technical support.
“We cannot offer government’s support now, but our multilateral institutions can offer technical support. So, reach out to them and let us know and we will help you reach out too,” she said.
The Minister said being among agencies that are no longer on government funding platform, the Commission’s efforts at reviving all its dead assets are commendable and the President would be delighted to see that happens.
In his remarks, NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Hassan said; “We at National Hajji Commission are also imbibing digitization so as to minimize face to face interaction and to create more transparency in our processes.”
On laudable strides made by the Commission, Alhaji Hassan stated thus; “We came into office a year ago and before we could settle down to work, COVID-19 had struck. Despite that, we did not close shop, rather, our staff had to work from home.
“We visited all Hajj Stakeholders, including almost half of the governors in Nigeria; we had useful discussions with them regarding the mandate of the new management, and sought their support in fulfilling the mandate.”
Hassan however explained that; “Due to dwindling resources, we at the Hajji Commission frown at government sponsorship of hajji for individuals from government’s purse. Nigeria is the fifth largest contingent to Saudi Arabia for Hajj after India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Malaysia.
“Nigeria has an allocation of over 95,000 and that number has been consistent over the years. But, the capacity to attend has reduced considerably.
“We, therefore, introduced a Hajj Saving Scheme, and all stakeholders have adopted it. Prospective candidates can now save bit by bit to allow them go to hajji at their own convenient time, without stressing anyone. They can save for as long as they can, and it must not be that they go immediately, but when they are able to save enough.”
He said the Commission’s partnership with Jaiz Bank is for effective management of the scheme, adding; “We chose Jaiz Bank because of the obvious fact that it is a non-interest bank. Jaiz is opening various branches to accommodate the number of people in the hinterland to embrace the saving scheme which is an added advantage for Jaiz to expand its operations. So, it is a win-win for all of us.”
Alhaji Hassan said NAHCON is also training and exposing young graduates to understand and appreciate its activities as a way of creating opportunities for them to participate and manage hajj operations and activities in future.
“Another area of interest for us is our assets. We have a lot of hajj camps spread across the country that we can use to raise enough funds and resources. We are therefore looking at our assets in the following states for a start: Kano, Maiduguri, Ilorin and Lagos.
“We are looking at the opportunities of converting them into markets, malls, residential buildings etc. This is in an effort to raise revenue and be independent,” he said.
With the Chairman during the visit were Nura Hassan Yakassai – Commissioner, Policy Personnel Management and Finance; Sheikh Momoh Suleman – Commissioner Planning, Research Statistics Information and Library Services; and Hajiya Rabi Bello Isa – Board Member representing Ministry of Finance, Budget and National Planning