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Opinions of Wednesday, 18 September 2019

Columnist: Alhaji Iddi Muhayu-Deen

Telling the success story of hajj 2019

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If you are unaware that hajj 2019 is over, I do understand. I only have to tell you that it is over. The last batch of Ghanaian pilgrims from Mecca successfully arrived in the county on Friday, September 6, 2019, thus officially bringing to an end, hajj 2019. I do not begrudge you if you are unaware of this fact. I do not begrudge you because with this year's hajj, unlike in previous years, you either have to be a pilgrim like myself, or be an ardent follower of hajj matters before you are able to tell what had happened.

This is because, we, unfortunately, live in a country where good news doesn't sell. The media is simply not interested in such news. Our brothers and sisters of the inky fraternity are only interested in negative news, because that is what sells and so, that is what gives them money. The 2019 hajj has proven to be the most successful in the history of hajj organization in the country. The organizers and for that matter the Ghana Hajj Board had everything right and on point.

As indicated, the hajj narrative, over the years, had been one of gloom and doom occupying front pages of our national dailies for all the wrong reasons. Also worthy of note is the fact that this sad narrative got worse during the era of John Mahama leading to the formation of the Association of Disgruntled Prospective Hajj Pilgrims to champion the cause of disgruntled hajj pilgrims.

For instance, in their statement of September 21, 2016, the Association accused the then Tanko-led national hajj board of deceit and inhumane treatment meted out to them at the hajj village, stating that, “the aged have been left to sleep in the open, when we have toiled to pay our money well in advance in our quest to go and serve Almighty Allah”. In the said statement, which was signed by their Spokespersons, Shehu Alwala Abdi and Mohammed R. Abdul-Rahman, the Association also accused the government of John Mahama of airlifting NDC footsoldiers to Mecca at the expense of their members, who have legitimately paid for the pilgrimage.

It is however gratifying to note that, following the assumption of office of the Nana Addo/Bawumia government, the hajj narrative has seen a sharp departure from the days of gloom to brighter days. Since the change of government in 2017, the story of hajj organization in the country has been improving year after year, with that of a particular year being much better than the preceding year. It is thus not surprising that hajj 2019 is by far, the most successfully organized hajj in the country’s history.

This is in spite of the fact that Ghana’s hajj quota for the year [2019] had been increased significantly to some 7000+ pilgrims, the highest ever. Ordinarily, one would expect that this huge number would come with increased ‘wahala’ but that was not meant to be. Instead, we had the smoothest hajj particularly in terms of organization. The organization, simply put, couldn’t just have been better.

The Ghana hajj board began by ensuring, first of all, that, for the first time in the history of the country’s hajj operations, advance payments of hajj fares and all associated costs by prospective pilgrims were complete even before the start of the month of Ramadan (i.e. three clear months before the pilgrimage), which made it possible for the board to pay upfront for all hajj services to the relevant authorities in Saudi and elsewhere to provide a complete guarantee of these services far ahead of time.

On hajj fares, the Saudi Authorities, at the 2019 hajj conference held in the early part of the year, announced a significant increase in the cost of hajj fares from what was paid last year and the previous years. This increment, according to them, was occasioned by the hikes in the cost of hajj services including cost of feeding, accommodation and camping at Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifa as well as the introduction of Value Added Tax (VAT) on all hajj services.

In the light of this, and with particular reference to Ghana, based on the services that the nation subscribes to, Ghanaian pilgrims were expected to pay a total of $4,250 from the $3,450 which was paid last year. It is however refreshing to note that in view of the timely intervention of the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia government by way of subsidies, each Ghanaian pilgrim enjoyed a subsidy of $500 (an equivalent of GHc2,700 for each pilgrim) and was thus required to pay $3,750 for the 2019 hajj pilgrimage instead of $4,250.

Furthermore, the process of visa acquisition for prospective pilgrims was significantly smoothened and made hassle-free with the introduction of the biometric visa regime. This made it possible for the prospective hajj pilgrims to receive their visas at least two weeks before the date of their departure to Saudi, which again, is unprecedented.

Another positive development that is worthy of note is that, the Ghana hajj board, this year, was able to secure a huge aircraft, Boeing 474, which has a much bigger capacity (taking over 490 passengers) to airlift pilgrims to and fro Saudi Arabia. This large aircraft, as expected, provided the needed comfort and convenience to all pilgrims. Also, in view of the early payment of hajj fares and the hiring of huge aircrafts along with other advance preparations, all flight schedules for hajj 2019 were met with ease.

To add to that, unlike the narrative in the past where paid-up prospective pilgrims were left behind for one reason or another, every prospective pilgrim who duly paid the required fare for hajj 2019, including last year’s backlog, was airlifted Saudi. Not a single person was left behind.

In Saudi, pilgrims were given the best of treat in all the religious towns they visited comprising Madina, Mecca, Mina, Arafat and Muzdalifah. This was manifest not only in the comfortable hotels they were accommodated especially in Mecca, but also in terms of the effective internal transportation system they were provided with free of charge. Pilgrims were also fed throughout their one-month stay in Saudi and they didn’t have to pay for that too. Simply put, everything was just on point and pilgrims were largely satisfied.

What more can we say but to give praise to Almighty Allah, and to also thank the Akufo-Addo/Bawumia government as well as the Sheick I.C Quaye-led Ghana Hajj Board especially notable personalities like Alhaji Farouk Hamza of GRA, Alhaji Sumaila of the Office of the Vice President, Alhaji Manaf of the Saudi Embassy in Ghana and now aspiring parliamentary candidate for the NPP in the Ayawaso North Constituency, Dr. Alhaji Abubakar Saddiq and Dr. Sheikh Amin Bonsu among others? May the hajj narrative continue to be this positive, and may Almighty Allah accept our supplications and grant us hajj mabroor.

Assalamu alaik