REMARKS BY THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA, HIS EXCELLENCY, SENATOR (DR.) ABUBAKAR BUKOLA SARAKI, MBBS, CON, AT A TWO-DAY PUBLIC HEARING ON ACCOMMODATION, LOGISTIC, FEEDING, OFFSHORE AND ONSHORE OF NIGERIAN PILGRIMS, WHICH OPENED ON WEDNESDAY JANUARY 17, 2018.
1.I have the distinct pleasure of welcoming you all to this two-day Public Hearing organised for us by the Ad Hoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics, Feeding Etc. Onshore and Offshore of Nigerian Pilgrims. The purpose of this Public Hearing is to deliberate and take a wide range of views on the Accommodation, Logistic, Feeding Offshore and Onshore of our Pilgrims to the holy land.
2.As we have just entered a new year and as a religious country, many Nigerians will be turning their minds to matters of faith. For many, new year resolutions will take the form of renewing the pact with God; and invariably, for many Nigerians, this involves the fulfillment of one of the tenets of faith – the religious pilgrimage. For the Muslim Ummah, the Hajj (pilgrimage) is the fifth pillar of Islam, to be fulfilled by the faithful at least once in a lifetime, for those who are able.
3.As Nigerians, we like to put God first in all that we do. We are very strong in faith and we take religion very seriously indeed – not only because we believe that God orders our steps and the course of the nation – but because we also know that this way, we can be better people, and a better country under God.
4.It is perfectly understandable, therefore, that many of our people strive to go on pilgrimage to the holy land. No fewer than 81,000 Nigerians performed the Hajj (pilgrimage) in 2017, and I understand that we have about 95,000 slots for this year. Little wonder our country contributes the fifth highest number of pilgrims to Mecca each year.
5.As you will all agree with me, the high participation of Nigerians on the annual religious pilgrimage places a higher burden on us as a nation, to get all the elements right pertaining to the holy exercise.
6.The set of circumstances that have led to the convening of this Public Hearing for which we are gathered today, kicked off about six months ago – with a motion sponsored by Distinguished Senator Ibrahim Danbaba, which focused on the ‘Extortion of Pilgrims’ on annual pilgrimage. A number of issues had been raised around the conduct of the annual religious exercise as overseen by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON).
7.As a result of our deliberations, we inaugurated the Ad Hoc Committee to look into allegations of extortion and exorbitant pricing meted on Nigerian pilgrims on annual pilgrimage. I must commend the work that has been done so far by the Ad Hoc Committee to unravel some of the issues surrounding the pilgrimage process.
8.Some of these include matters such as: the apparent discrepancy between fares charged by the Commission and independent tour operators; exorbitant and unsustainable charges; the suspicion that some service providers are ‘cutting corners’; mixed quality in terms of service delivery; the exchange rate that should apply to pilgrims; the rate of the Basic Travel Allowance (BTA) and so on. These are just a sample of the issues.
9.This Public Hearing has therefore been convened to enable the Committee hear a wide range of experiences, opinions and expertise on the Accommodation, Logistic, Feeding Offshore and Onshore for our people who embark on the holy pilgrimage.
10.The act of pilgrimage should be a peaceful, serene and meaningful exercise in rededicating oneself to God. It should be dignified and respectful. It should be problem free. I therefore urge all stakeholders and interested parties here present to make their submissions without let or hindrance, so that we can truly have a problem-free pilgrimage exercise in this country.
11.Accordingly, I thank you all for being here, as I now formally declare this Public Hearing open – to the glory of God.
THE PRESIDENT OF THE SENATE.