Juliana Taiwo-Obalonye, Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari has said the priority of his administration right now is to protect Nigerians against the deadly virus, coronavirus (COVID-19).
He said this in an audience with the management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) in State House, Abuja.
President Buhari said: “I am pleased that you are working with the Ministry of Health on protecting our citizens from Covid-19 virus.
“You must work to guarantee the safety and security of our pilgrims. As a government, this is now a key priority for us. I therefore enjoin you to ensure that adequate medical provisions and other welfare requirements are afforded our pilgrims,” he added.
The President expressed his delight with the operations of the Commission so far especially, the 15 percent reduction in Hajj fares.
“I am pleased to hear of the progress you have made thus far especially in reducing Hajj fares by up to 15 per cent. I am also impressed that you are still working to further bring down the cost next year. This is commendable now especially with the recent global events that have impacted on the economy. Such savings will be timely and most welcome to the pilgrims as well as to Nigeria’s economy,” he said.
The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Publicity, Garba Shehu, said Buhari cautioned the commission against sacrificing quality for safety and comfort of pilgrims.
“However, as you assess and reduce these costs, you must ensure that quality service and comfort are provided for our pilgrims as these are the core mandates of your Commission and must remain your primary goal,” he said.
The Chairman of the Commission, Zikrullah Kunle Hassan had informed the President of the efforts of the commission to make life better for Nigerians on pilgrimage. He said that the Saudi government had given some concessions to Nigerians especially in the way of accommodation and tents, assuring the President of even better deals next year when his Board fully takes over negotiations.
“With your kind approval this year, we are working to take full charge of Makhan accommodation because hitherto, the states have been in charge. The idea is that when we take full charge, we will be able to reduce further the cost and to do this, we need to engage the accommodation agents and owners in a possible two to three-year lease with a view to having a reduction in price,” he said.
Alhaji Hassan also appealed to the President to constitute the Board of Trustees of the Hajj Savings Scheme to make it easier for pilgrims to perform their religious obligation.
He further assured that he was in discussions with the Federal Ministry of Health on the Covid-19 pandemic as the Commission aligns itself with government positions in tackling the scourge.
Hassan, later told State House Correspondents that the commission was optimistic that the 2020 Hajj exercise will hold.
He said the commission would, however, not be reckless in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The NAHCON boss, while reacting to the question to know the plans of the commission to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 pandemic if it refused to subside before the Hajj exercise, said: “As to the issue of COVID-19, as people of faith, we are always optimistic but we are not reckless. I can assure you that we are in tandem with the Federal Ministry of Health to actualize the Federal Government position on the matter.
“We have a member on the board who is with the Federal Ministry of Health. On daily basis, we interface to know the exact position. I can assure you, we are not going against any of federal government’s directives to ensure that Nigerians, either within or outside the country, are healthy and safe. So, we won’t be reckless. By Allah’s will, this year’s Hajj will come to be.”