Hajj-friendly: Like Ambode like Odili

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The awards of excellence gathered by the Lagos state governor, Mr. Akinwunmi Ambode reminds me of the two-term governor of Rivers state, Dr. Peter Odili. Those were the days when Nigeria, though with minor differences, were united in true brotherhood, patriotism and love. Odili made prints in the sands, nay the mountains of Nigeria. And Ambode, as a Christian, is taking that footstep of caring for Muslims as he cares for his brethren Christians. We must put at the back of our minds that Lagos state is known as the center of excellence.

Yes, Lagos state under Governor Ambode made Nigeria proud by bagging the prestigious award for the best performing state in the 2016 Hajj operations in Nigeria, beating all other 37 Hajj Boards/Agencies/Commissions that organize the annual Hajj under the supervision of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). The award was one out of the seven which the state gathered for its excellent performance throughout the 2016 Hajj exercise. Other awards won by the state included: Best state in coordination of pilgrims’ airlift; best state in E-Track management; second best state in pilgrims’ education and enlightenment programme; second best state in Taradudiyyah exercise; third best state in provision of pilgrims’ accommodation and third best state in coordination of pilgrims’ feeding.

To celebrate this achievement by the governor within two years in office, prominent citizens of the state and the zone gathered at the Banquet Hall, Lagos House in Ikeja,to formally hand them over to the governor. South West Commissioner of the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) and chief missioner of Al-Habibiyyah Islamic Society of Nigeria, Imam Fuad Adeyemi who presented the awards to the governor observed that out of the eight categories of awards instituted by NAHCON, Lagos won in seven. The governor was praised for supporting Hajj affairs and specifically for providing the necessary logistics that made the holy exercise not only worthwhile, but one that stood the state out from the crowd and made Nigeria proud. The governor was also lauded the positive impact his administration has on the people of the state. “You did not only make us proud, personally you have made me proud,” Adeyemi said.

Governor Ambode was full of thanks to NAHCON for finding Lagos worthy of the awards which he assured would spur the state to do more subsequent exercises. “For us in Lagos, we do not just see the awards, we focus on making the people comfortable. We thank the Hajj Commission, not because they recognized us, but because it’s only out of fairness that when you see a good thing you recognize it.” According to him, government must commit itself to making life more comfortable for the people. He said the award was not only an inspiration, but a challenge to maintain same excellence in 2017 Hajj operations.

He also expressed the determination of the government to ensure harmonious co-existence among the various religious groups in the state. Represented by his deputy, Dr. Mrs. Idiat Adebule, the state thanked other partners of the government that worked towards the success and urged them to sustain the good works. “On our part as government, we pledge our commitment to ensure the best of facilities, the best of enabling environment is provided for our pilgrims,” he said.

With others at the ceremony such as the special adviser to the Governor on Housing, Mrs. Aramide Giwanson, the Chef Executive Officer of Medview Airline Plc., Alhaji Muneer Bankole and Managing Director, Africana Home Restaurant Dubai, Mrs. Khadijat Ebon Bakare, Home Affairs Commissioner, Hon. Abdulateef Abdulhakeem’s words that the pilgrims’ board would work harder to replicate the same feat during the 2017 Hajj exercise were encouraging, though the awards, he added, were more to the awards already won by the governor in all sectors. He expressed profound gratitude to the staff, Nigerian Aid Group and the Islamic clerics for their voluntary services to educate and enlighten the intending pilgrims and for being part of the success story. “We thank the Federal Government for identifying with us and we promise that we would not allow these medals to go without maintaining them”, he noted.

As for Dr. Peter Odili who was the governor of Rivers State from 1999 to 2007, Muslims and Christians were brethren. Odili was known to have been a truly detribalized leader. He proved to be a liberal-minded governor who encouraged all Nigerians, including the writer who was a journalist then in the state, to pursue their religious and vocational endeavours without discrimination. He is known to have supported uncountable numbers of Islamic activities and donated generously towards many Islamic causes such as the renovation of the National Mosque. According to Alhaji Ahmad Usman of the Petroleum Training Institute (PTI), Efurum in Warri. Delta state, during the launching of the appeal fund, Odili showed physical presence in Abuja and initiated the N10million-per-governor action, an action some of the governors were unhappy with. Muslims too helped when it was the turn of the Christian Ecumenical Cathedral Abuja.

Nigerian history has on record that Odili’s administration sponsored the highest number of Muslim pilgrims to Hajj on yearly basis throughout his tenure. The total numbers of Muslim pilgrims from Rivers state used to be more than all the Southeast and South-south put together. Odili built Mosques and other structures for the pilgrims at the Port Harcourt Hajj camp and within the city of Port Harcourt. Because of all these, all the Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards of the region in 2005 conferred on him the award of Most Muslim-Friendly Christian Governor in Nigeria, a record no Nigerian has broken till date. The entire Muslim community of Rivers state was Odili’s constituency which was quite unprecedented. Former Abia state governor, Orji Uzor Kalu, tried for Muslims of his state but it was not a quarter of Odili’s.

So, one is put to confusion the chameleonic friendly dispositions for Muslims by the likes of the current governors of Rivers, Bayelsa and Imo states, to mention but a few. Governor Nyesom Wike of Rivers state, despite all the wealth his state can boast of, though not actually like Lagos state, has left Muslims of the state to their fate. Particularly, there is no Hajj board in place just three weeks to the commencement of airlift of Nigerian pilgrims to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for the annual pilgrimage. It is quite sad and unbecoming of Rivers state. I have never imagined that this can happen in Rivers state that used to pride over full participation and even perfection in Hajj affairs in Nigeria. Come to think of it. Does it mean that Rivers state will not participate in the 2017 Hajj? But I have seen Governor Wike preaching religious tolerance and Nigeria’s unity, visiting Sokoto to have good pictures with the Sultan of Sokoto and his counterpart governor, Aminu Waziri Tambuwal. However, it is a food for thought.

In the same lane, Bayelsa state has no record of Hajj for a long time, at least, since the death of the secretary to the Muslim Pilgrims’ Board which has been totally operating under Christian-led joint board. I was in a delegation that visited the state governor and secretary to the state government, seeking a separate board for the Muslims as required by NAHCON’s Act 2006 as part of the prerequisites for licensing the board. And with enough information gathered, one of the strongest Niger Delta agitators, Alhaji Asari Dokubo, was strategically instrumental to the election and reelection of Governor Henry Seriake Dickson. What is really wrong? They do not appoint Muslims into their cabinets. And the little thing their predecessors used to do by gathering all their Muslim politicians and electorate under their state Hajj boards is gradually being ignored. Even Enugu state that started well after 2015 governorship elections has started to dillydally over Hajj issues.

For the man whose wish has always been to be the first Igbo President of Nigeria after the Nigerian civil war, Chief Rochas Okorocha, Hajj affairs and by extension Islamic activities and Muslims matters are comatose in his domain. There is no reason to deny the fact that these governors gather Muslims at their government houses every sallah to celebrate with tokens and press coverages. It is pathetic, indeed. Some other governors do nothing until they actually see Hajj aircrafts flying pilgrims of other states to Saudi Arabia before they rush to pay for their pilgrims.

By Muhammad Ajah
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail [email protected]

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