The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has made known that contrary to the report of the Senate Ad Hoc Committee on accommodation for Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia, it had refunded N2. 276 billion to pilgrims, being tent security and similar deposits not utilized and poor services in 2015 and 2016.
The commission insisted that it did not over charge pilgrims as fares and that other rates were determined jointly by it and State Pilgrims Welfare Boards.
The agency’s views are contained in an observation note it sent to the Senate in response to the submission of the Red Chambers’ Ad Hoc Committee on Hajj Operations.
It said the Adamu Aliero-led Ad Hoc committee did not visit relevant agencies in Saudi Arabia during its fact-finding tour.
The observation note was signed by the Acting Secretary of NAHCON, Mr. M. Ahmed.
It asked the Senate to revisit the report of the Ad Hoc Committee to ensure fairness.
The commission said: “The 34-page report presented on the floor of the Senate on Thursday 18th October, 2018, in our opinion, was not fair to NAHCON as none of its explanations featured or were considered in the report.
“Secondly, the report contains several ‘findings’ that are based on wrong information and wrong conclusions.”
On alleged imposition of bloated charges on pilgrims, the commission said the Ad Hoc committee should have consulted the appropriate Saudi authorities to verify how the rates were arrived at.
It said it has never at any time extorted or short-changed pilgrims during Hajj.
NAHCON said: “The components of the Hajj fare are classified under Local/onshore and Foreign/offshore charges. The local charges are arrived at by the Commission in consultation with States Pilgrims Welfare Boards. Some of the foreign charges are negotiated by the Commission along with states and the respective service providers (Makkah and Madina Accommodation, Airfare and catering services. While others are fixed by the Saudi Authorities; Local transportation in Saudi Arabia, tent facilities, security deposits, United Agent Fees etc.
The Ad hoc Committee should have consulted the relevant Saudi Authorities to verify NAHCON’s claims or to confirm if there are duplications on these fares that are fixed, or not!
The commission insisted that it has been transparent in its conduct and defending the rights of Nigerian pilgrims.
It said it was able to secure a refund on N2.276billion for pilgrims for tent security and similar deposits not utilized and poor services in 2015 and 2016.
NAHCON said: “The two major components of the Hajj fare have been the same since 2013. They were reduced in 2017.
“All tent security and similar deposits not utilized are refunded to pilgrims annually, once the Ministry of Hajj does so. The Commission in March 2016, refunded the sum of N1.75 billion Naira to Pilgrims Boards of the 36 States of the Country and the FCT for onward refund to pilgrims.
“Similarly, it refunded N526 million in 2017.
“This refund was as a result of services not rendered or poorly rendered during the 2015 and 2016. Although the Commission submitted details of these refunds to the Committee, it was, however, not captured. These refunds were even published in national dailies for public awareness.”
The Hajj commission also accused the Senate Ad Hoc Committee of not visiting relevant agencies in Saudi Arabia before drawing conclusions and writing its report.
It added: “The Committee also embarked on “..fact finding mission to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to verify the veracity or otherwise of all the aggregated information received..”
*The Committee did NOT meet Saudi Government Agencies like the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah which issues all instructions and guidelines for the provision of all pilgrims’ services to ascertain the submissions of NAHCON on organized feeding services. Neither could it verify if NAHCON had failed to follow up on the interest of Nigerians affected by the 2015 stampede.
*Similarly, it did not meet with the Saudi General Authority on Civil Aviation which is the Aeronautical Authority in charge of Hajj flights to determine the veracity or otherwise of the NAHCON’s submission on 50:50 policy on passenger traffic sharing.
*It did not meet the Establishment of Mutawwifs for Pilgrims from African Non-Arab Countries, the custodian and host of Nigerian pilgrims in Makkah to ascertain if NAHCON is overcharging or double charging Nigerian pilgrims on tent facilities in Mina and Arafat.
*It did not meet the General Car Syndicate, the organizer of land transportation in Saudi Arabia to ascertain if NAHCON was responsible for increasing transportation costs in Saudi Arabia from SR 180 to SR360.
*It did not also meet the United Agents Office to ascertain if tent security and other charges mentioned in B(v) were charged by NAHCON, if and how they overlapped and evidence of payment. vi. It also made many allegations that were not discussed during the public hearing neither was the Commission communicated to for fair hearing. This made the findings inconclusive and completely unfair to NAHCON.
“This puts the findings of the Committee into question as none of the Saudi Government Organizations that matter in this regard was consulted before making their findings.”
It accused some corrupt companies, which had been cheating pilgrims in the past as those behind the campaign of calumny against NAHCON and its chairman/ Chief Executive Officer (CEO) Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad.
“The companies affected decided to get back at the Commission by launching a bring-him-down campaign against the Chairman/CEO,” it added.
The Senate on July 20, 2017 resolved to investigate the activities of the commission following the adoption of a motion by Senator Ibrahim Danbaba (Sokoto South).
The motion was titled: ‘Extortion of Monies from Nigerian Pilgrims by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.