Rethinking hajj obligations: Tasks for govt (2)
Continued from yesterday
THAT explains why the top echelon of Nigeria is almost always heavily represented on the list of beneficiaries of the free Hajj slots or government sponsorship of Hajj at various levels in the country.
However, those whose official job revolves around the performance of Hajj are classified as “Islamic workers” in Islamic jurisprudence and, therefore, have an understandable case even though the Islamic legislation of Hajj did not envisage a situation where an eligible Muslim will not once in his lifetime commit his own resources or means to any of the pilgrimages performed by him.
Closely related to this is the idea of classifying thousands of pilgrims into groups by various levels of the Hajj Mission namely national, state and even local governments where pilgrim assistants, Hajj guides or Hajj officials may be drawn from the upper class of the society such as high court judges, university professors or captains of industry and the lower cadre of the society such as artisans, petty traders or even the unemployed. Some may be first timers and totally bereft of Hajj experience. Hence the question: what kind of guidance can such novice pilgrims provide to other pilgrims? This characterization is a reflection of the Nigerian state with regard to allocation of resources.
The disregard for the central concept of istita’ah among Nigerians came to the fore in the holy lands in 2014 where several pilgrims went begging among themselves, and others, borrowing simply as a result of the slight delay in the payment of the allowances arranged for them by the government owing to logistics. This precipitated the question: do these people have the financial means for Hajj, at all, if they could not afford to feed themselves pending the payment of such allowances? This experience speaks volumes about the conditions in which some of such individuals may have left their dependants and also put to question the fashionableness or otherwise of the government’s resolve and purposes for such an arrangement whose liability on the economy of the country is incredibly enormous. However, a section of the government-sponsored pilgrims enrich the quality of services provided to pilgrims and should therefore never be classified as irrelevant. They include such professionals as members of the medical team, immigration, security, aviation, and others who discharge various support obligations.
The idea of Hajj subsidies shall be controverted by some highly opinionated critics and Muslim scholars. A debate on the subject, in the Nigerian context, can be worthwhile, more so that it had been recommended for discontinuation even by the Indian Government which is a leading provider of subsidies to Muslim pilgrims. However, the aged, the under-aged, the expectant mother, the unhealthy, the unqualified, and others in related categories may have their eligibility for Hajj performance thoroughly reviewed in the interest of safety, especially at possibly or normally crowded sites where some kind of stamina, masculinity, strength or, at least, very sound health are required. The common cases where people already classified as unfit health-wise by their various state hajj medical teams, are later cleared through the back door a la Nigerian fashion, should not be allowed to flourish.
An unrepentant critic of the current National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) will attest to the fact that the leadership of the body is substantially peopled by individuals who, to a large extent, are characterized by competence, integrity, commitment to service, and wander-lust for high quality, even though there are few failings. However, unless the high tempo of their impressive performance as recorded in recent times is sustained and even improved upon through objective assessment of their strengths and pitfalls especially with regard to the recent Hajj experience, for possible capacity enhancement, there may not be another interesting success story for it to tell Nigerians in its subsequent operations. That they are doing well cannot be gainsaid. And that their performance leaves much to be desired is just a bitter truth!
• Dr. Rufai is the Ag. Dean, Faculty of Education, Sokoto State University.