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Hajj Airlift: The Lies of a Journalist

By Abdulfattah Abdussalam

One of the ethics of journalism, as taught in schools of journalism, is for a writer to give equal space to all parties involved in a storyline before its broadcast or publication and when a journalist, perhaps for a deliberate act, becomes a prosecutor and a judge in its case, ignoring ethics of its profession, one is free to question his certification and his mindset when his write-up brims with hatred, vengeance, character assassination and names calling. One is left to say he has a devilish intention and a premeditated action to discredit a perceived enemy, who in this case is the Management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON.

Islam upholds the canons of journalism ethics. There is no reward for a Muslim media practitioner who goes against these canons under the guise of News, Features and Opinion writings. The manner one Ibrahim Ramalan weaved together lies in a features writing on an online platform over the recently concluded Hajj operations of 2023 as superintend by the Board, Management and Staff of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria NAHCON, says a lot of his sinister intentions and exposed his score card on the subject of ethics at the school he attended.   On his page, he was happy to have introduced himself as once a pub writer, which tells us he relied on beer parlour gist for the hatchet job.

This is against the laws of Allah where in the Glorious Quran, He admonishes man to investigate and establish the truth before publication or broadcast any matter in whatever means and when in doubt, one should leave off such issue:  “O you who have believed, if there comes to you a disobedient one with information, investigate, lest you harm a people out of ignorance and become, over what you have done, regretful. (Q 49, vs 6). “O you who have believed, avoid much (negative) assumption. Indeed some assumption is sin.” (Q 49, vs 12). The Prophet buttressed: Leave what you doubt to what you do not doubt, And a Qattat will not enter paradise; A Qattat is a person who conveys false information from one person to another to cause harm and enmity between them. Hadith.

He wrote: 2023 HAJJ: NAHCON YET TO PAY AIRLINES WEEKS AFTER CONCLUSION OF AIRLIFT ‘The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, is yet to pay airlines that airlifted Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for the 2023 Hajj, two weeks after the end of the holy pilgrimage…But investigations by DAILY NIGERIAN revealed that two weeks after the end of the hajj operations, the majority of the approved airlines are still being owed by NAHCON, a clear breach of the 2023 Hajj Airlift Agreement’.

He made sweeping allegations and conclusions that tautened in hatred, whereas a sincere journalist would have considered a visit or chat with the players. Ibrahim Ramalan quoted “Article 4.2 of the 2023 Hajj Airlift Agreement that:  NAHCON shall pay the air carriers 50% of the total agreed sum after signing the airlift agreement and presentation of a bank guarantee. The commission would settle another 35% upon completion of the outbound airlifts to Saudi Arabia. The article also provides that air carriers would be paid 10% after the evacuation of 50% of inbound pilgrims back to Nigeria, and the balance of 5% would be paid to the airlines after reconciliation.”

In contradiction, he quoted an unverified source he purported contacted thus: “One of the airlines’ officials who spoke to our reporter in confidence said his company got its second tranche of 35% a day after the commencement of the outbound journey in the first week of July.” This contradicts his conclusion using the banner headline and inconsistencies portraying NAHCON in a bad light.

Contrary to his submission, the PEACE Magazine investigated the circumstances around the payments and found out that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria has no blame but to be praised for its diligence and protection of the sanctity of the agreements signed with the air carriers. It is a known fact, even for an average watcher of development in Nigeria’s money matters: that since the start of the new administration of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu, there have been efforts to stabilize the dollar exchange rate against the Naira. One such effort was the collapse of the official rate window with the parallel market rate. At the peak of the Hajj operation, the government announced a merger, and the hitherto rate of 462 Naira to one dollar became 711 Naira, whereas the agreement with the air carriers, as approved by the then president, was at the official rate of N462.

In following the articles of the agreement, the Central Bank of Nigeria has in its custody the Naira value for the dollars for the Air carriers in line with the agreement between NAHCON and them. But at the point of payment, the Central Bank of Nigeria wants and insists on paying the airlines with new rates, which would have made nonsense of the transactions. The new rates would virtually wipe out the money meant for all the airlines and perhaps can only pay a few airlines.

It was at this juncture that the Management of the National Hajj Commission under the leadership of Alh. Zikirullah Kunle Hassan objected and protested to appropriate authorities, including the office of the Vice President of Nigeria, Alh Kashim Shettima, that CBN could not change the rules when the match was over.  

The Management of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria submitted since the naira value had been with the CBN long before the new exchange rate and the bank was only to follow the agreed payment plans for the airlines, it has to disburse accordingly. Also, since the Hajj was over and the pilgrims were back to their homes, there was no way they could ask them to pay the difference. The insistence by NAHCON for the CBN to abide by the rules is the reason for the seeming delay in the payment. The PEACE Magazine finding is collaborated by the statement of a principal actor in the matter, Malam Usman Liman, of the Aero Contractor, and by the head of the Media department of the National Hajj Commission Alh. Mousa Ubandawaki. They agreed that “NAHCON was only being diligent and on a just course”. From the duo submission on the matter, it is clear that the writer Ibrahim Ramalan had other vested interests. NAHCON deserves commendation rather than disparaging.

In the same write-up, he raised issues that NAHCON, without much ado, had resolved even though they were not in its purview but as rescue missions to help the pilgrims. It successfully flew 95,000 pilgrims to and from Saudi Arabia, which is unprecedented in its history in the last ten years. He chose to malign the Management of the Commission, particularly its chairman, for reasons known to him. He alleged that the chairman blamed President Tinubu for the airlift delay and twisted the reactions of NAHCON Media officials like Mousa Ubandawaki and Fatima Sanda Usara to suit its sinister purposes. 

His twisted facts and figures in the write-up strongly suggest he has an axe to grind with the Management as led, by Allah’s permission, by Alh Zikirullah Hassan, a Barrister at Law, a Bilingual and a passionate individual about pilgrims’ welfare. 

May the Will Allah prevail in the coming months in the affairs of the National Hajj Commission. But If Nigerian journalists, especially Muslim practitioners, regardless of regional/ethnic differences, observe the teachings of Islam as relevant to our profession, we would be fulfilling our SOCIAL RESPONSIBILITY to humanity and OBLIGATION to our creator.

Abdulfattah Abdussalam is the Managing Editor of the PEACE (AS-SALAAM) MAGAZINE, an Independent Islamic News Magazine, Abuja