A paper presented by the chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Zikrullah Hassan, at the International Hajj Conference and Indonesian Shariah Economic Festival (ISEF) 2020, on Wednesday.
I welcome us all once again to this important conference to continue our discourse on issues of mutual benefit to all under the umbrella of Hajj.
This collaboration is significant as it has the potential to break new grounds and yield tangible and intangible dividends we are yet to grasp in these early stages of this drive. It is not out of place to say that this effort is in line with the saying of Allah SWT in Quran 2:198.
This conference seeks to discuss best practices, identify challenges and highlight opportunities in global Hajj fund management. You will all agree with me that in terms of Hajj Fund Management and in view of the composition of speakers in this conference, a one-month-old baby is by no means a match for 20 or 50-year-olds.
Therefore, while discussing best practices of Hajj funds management is way above our heads in Nigeria, I will attempt to dwell on the opportunities we see, the challenges we foresee and make recommendations we may see to.
I find it interesting that the participating countries in this conference collectively accounted for 19 per cent (almost one-fifth) of the total international pilgrims that performed Hajj in 2019, according to statistics released by the Saudi General Authority for Statistics. In my layman’s estimation, the combined funds invested by these countries in the Hajj economy of Saudi Arabia in 2019 is in the region of $1.3 billion in 2019 alone. To put this in a little perspective, this amount equals the combined budget of two States in Nigeria that have a total population of about 21 million people. While the total Hajj funds managed by these countries stand in the region of $25 billion in 2019, the potential to hit $50 billion before the end of the decade is high.
My brothers and sisters, a cursory look at the potentials and comparative advantages these four countries alone have is enough reason for us to explore the possibilities abound in trade and investments within and outside the Hajj family. For instance, while Brunei has the highest GDP per capita of $78,900 compared to Nigeria’s $5,900. By contrast, Nigeria is blessed with a large landmass of 923,000 Sq km with 78 per cent of it fit for agriculture compared to Brunei’s 5,765 Sq km with only 2.5 per cent used for agriculture. Similarly, while Malaysia has enormous potential in terms of ICT capabilities and Islamic finance, Indonesia’s BPKH seems poised to be largest Hajj fund on the globe with abundant natural resources and a vibrant human capital to match in the near future.
With these facts and more, and at the risk of sounding like a trade and investment minister, I make bold to say that Global Hajj Fund Management is assuming an interesting trajectory in the world today. We see the likes of Malaysia’s Theta Edge Berhard, a bona fide child of Hajj funds making inroads in the ICT services sector within and outside Malaysia with the posting of an annual revenue of between 19 and 21 million USD in the last two years. However, as far as Hajj is concerned, our two Hajj fund giants, Tabung Haji and BPKH, have a lot to offer in the real estate sector in Saudi Arabia and financial services sector, especially bridge financing which countries like Nigeria might require.
As mouth-watering as these opportunities may seem, they are not without their fair share of challenges. For instance, certain regulations might not allow Hajj-related transactions between our organisations except with special arrangements that would require lengthy diplomatic discourse. The nature and mode of operations by Hajj missions vary from country to country bringing with it, attendant challenges of authority, procedure and in some instances, bureaucratic bottlenecks. This is in addition to the varying lifecycles of leadership in our organisations which usually result in arrangements/discussions commencing with an entity which gets affected once a change of leadership baton occurs.
Ladies and gentlemen, permit me to re-echo a call the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria has been making since 2018. It is time for the global Hajj and Umrah Community to truly professionalise the management of Hajj and Umrah by having a global body in the like of International Air Transport Association (IATA), International Standards Organisation (ISO) and Project Management Institute (PMI) that will set industry-specific standards, processes, accreditation, training and related issues. This will ensure that pilgrims from any part of the globe enjoy similar standards of services from their individual home countries as is obtainable with air travel, hotel or banking services.
Secondly, these discussions should result in tangible action. Countries should explore the opportunities presented in this conference/festival and agree for follow-up actions aimed at concretising relationships and possible signing of MoUs or agreements.