A dozen projects awarded by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and funded through the Hajj Development Levy (HDL) are abandoned or not executed at all despite gulping over two billion naira, investigations by this newspaper have shown.
These multi-billion naira projects are lying in ruins in Kano, Abuja, Kaduna, Gombe, Adamawa, Lagos, Jigawa, and Borno states. They were awarded by the commission in 2018, and substantial mobilization fees were paid to contractors, but five years down the line, these projects were abandoned and the funds earmarked for them were unaccounted for.
Official records cited by this newspaper show that as of February 2020, the commission had N2.4 billion as the balance for the awarded projects.
— A golden legacy squandered —
Hajj Development Levy (HDL) was introduced to fund infrastructure, education and support health services to Nigerian pilgrims going on hajj.
Findings by 21st CENTURY CHRONICLE revealed that the HDL was first introduced during the defunct Directorate for Pilgrims Affairs (DPA) under retired Brig-General Ahmad Muhammad Daku. It was initiated as an alternative source of funding for capital expenditure for Hajj.
Funds generated were used to purchase medical equipment for DPA’s medical activities in Saudi Arabia. “It was the same fund that was also used to buy the Pilgrims Affairs temporary office located at Garki, Abuja,” a former staff of the directorate, Isa Muhammad, told this newspaper in Kano.
After NAHCON came on board, in 2012 the second board of the commission under Malam Muhammad Musa Bello resuscitated the HDL to serve as an alternative source of funding for hajj infrastructure across the country.
The hajj commission and the State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards, in a meeting held on May 9, 2012, adopted N5,000 as the HDL per pilgrim. This decision was later ratified by the NAHCON board. However, the levy was slashed to N3,000 per pilgrim in 2019.
After presidential approval was granted, national and zonal committees were set up to manage the hajj levy fund.
In 2015, the hajj commission under the leadership of Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Muhammad, set up a Special Division to coordinate the activities of the fund.
In 2018, the HDL Special Division in NAHCON awarded contracts across various Hajj Departure Centres across the country.
The commission, it was learnt, had involved all the state pilgrims agencies in deciding the nature and location of the project for each departure centre.
Official records have shown that before Mr Mukhtar left in December 2019, he completed 16 of the HDL projects, while 15 other projects were ongoing at various stages, and another set of 15 projects were earmarked for re-advertisement by the commission.
All the hajj levy projects were being supervised by the Federal Ministry of Works and Housing, after vetting and approval by all the relevant federal agencies that include BPP and ICRC.
—The missing billions —
Findings by this newspaper revealed that from 2012 to 2018, the fund generated over N2 billion.
Official records have shown that the Zikirullah Kunle Hassan current board of the commission inherited a total of N2.4 billion “as the balance for the projects awarded under the Hajj Development Levy.”
“The money was meant to pay the balance of all the ongoing contracts awarded across the states,” a staff of the commission told this newspaper in confidence for fear of backlash.
Official records cited by our reporters revealed that aside the N2.4 billion the current NAHCON leadership inherited when it came on board in January 2020, the Zikirullah-led leadership had generated an additional N465 million for the 2022 and 2023 hajj operations. This brings the total HDL fund to N2.865 billion, it was learned.
The breakdown of the funds collection shows that N101 million was generated in the 2022 hajj when Nigerian state pilgrims were 33,973. Tour operators, with 9,000 pilgrims, generated N45 million for the same year. (Note that private tour operators’ pilgrims pay N5,000, while state pilgrims pay N3,000).
In the 2023 hajj, NAHCON generated N222 million with 73,000 pilgrims, while tour operators generated N99 million with 19,000 pilgrims. There was no hajj in 2020 and 2021 because of COVID-19 pandemic.
However, other official records show that after the 2023 hajj operation, NAHCON only declared a balance of N664 million in the Hajj levy account.
“We are still perplexed by this. Nobody can tell you what happened to the remaining N2.2 billion,” a top official in the commission who sought anonymity for fear of victimization told this newspaper.
—Abandoned and forgotten —
It was not clear what NAHCON did with the billions. Our correspondents have visited the project sites in Abuja, Kano, Yola, Kaduna and Lagos. Their findings are similar: abandoned projects or non-existent ones at all.
For instance, NAHCON had awarded contracts for the “Construction of Hotel –like Accommodation” at the cost of N288.75 million in Abuja. Similar 3-star hotel projects were awarded in Sokoto (N308.76 million), Kano (N297.98 million), Kaduna (N389.34 million), Yola (N245.17 million), among others.
The commission had also awarded contracts for the construction of multipurpose event halls, clinics, mosques, fences, boreholes, among others. Despite paying mobilization fees to the contractors, the projects are still abandoned or never executed at all.
Despite repeated assurances by Mr Zikirullah in September 2020 during a nationwide tour of the ongoing HDL projects, the projects are still abandoned.
Our reporter had visited the Mando Hajj Camp in Kaduna, the project site for the 3-star pilgrims’ hotel and a multi-purpose hall, he observed that the place was abandoned with only an uncompleted building and a project signpost. There was nobody to speak to him either at the site. Security personnel at the site said it has been years since the contractors packed their belongings from the site.
An official in Kaduna State Pilgrims Welfare Board Agency who sought anonymity because he wasn’t authorized to speak on the matter said “the Kaduna pilgrim agency and the State government are disappointed with the hajj commission for abandoning the projects.”
The official said former Governor Nasir El-Rufai was excited during the groundbreaking ceremony in Kaduna. “To facilitate the project, we provided a space at the Mando hajj camp and the contractor mobilized to site. However, having built some structures to linter level (possibly part of the multipurpose hall), the contractor just disappeared,” the official said.
He said Mr El-Rufai had many times inquired from the pilgrims’ agency why the project was abandoned. “We wrote many letters to NAHCON asking the same question. But four years after, the projects seem to have been abandoned and forgotten,” the official lamented.
In Abuja, our reporters went to a village called Zamani, along the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport. Tracking the multimillion-naira NAHCON 3-star hotel, clinic, and event centre was a herculean task. It took the intervention of a local commercial motorcyclist Harisu Ciroma to locate the abandoned site.
“This is the hajj commission’s Hotel, clinic and Event Hall,” Mr Ciroma, who said he once worked at the site as a labourer, said pointing at a ramshackle building with its roof half blown off, and an uncompleted building.
The two buildings and a DPC are located inside a large expanse of land surrounded by a dilapidated fence. The plot of land has since been converted into a refuse dump and conveniences by the hosting villagers.
There was no sign of any equipment of the contractors who were awarded the contracts.
In Kano, our reporters have traced the clinic. However, a visit to the site recently revealed that the completed clinic, which is supposed to be a community health facility, was under lock and key with its compound overgrown with shrubs.
Also, a visit to the proposed site for the construction of the 3-star hotel revealed an abandoned structure, with no visible sign of work going on. Sources alleged that the plot of land allocated for the project was cannibalised and sold to individuals.
— Why stakeholders are angry —
Almost all the staff of the commission and pilgrims boards with knowledge of the projects have elected to speak on the story in confidence for fear of victimization.
However, one of the NAHCON officials said the commission is missing a “golden opportunity of increasing its asset base by not completing the HDL projects.”
He said the projects, if not abandoned, would have spurred NAHCON’s revenue base, and even those of the state pilgrims boards.
Another staff said, “the hotels would be used to improve the welfare of pilgrims on transit during the hajj season, but also used for commercial purposes to generate revenue during the remaining 10 months of the year.”
Another advantage, the official said, “the hotels would serve as orientation facilities for our pilgrims, who are majorly from the rural areas, with those they will use in Makkah and Madinah. By housing them at 3-star hotels in Nigeria before their departure, the pilgrims would adapt to the use of elevators, toilet facilities, staircase, among others.”
“There is a need for ICPC, EFCC and DSS to urgently investigate the circumstances surrounding the abandonment of these lofty projects. It is gratifying that some aggrieved staff have already petitioned the anti-graft agencies seeking probe of the projects,” another official told one of our reporters.
This newspaper gathered that a Hajj Development Levy Standing Order, developed and approved by the second NAHCON board through an expanded meeting attended by the officials of the hajj commission, state pilgrim boards, private tour operators, past NAHCON leaders, among other stakeholders, had prohibited the use of HDL fund for purposes other than developing infrastructure at the hajj camps at the state and zonal levels, pilgrims’ enlightenment, and procurement of medical equipment.
The HDL Standing Order, which was also approved by the president, prohibits using the HDL fund for payment of Duty Travelling Allowance (DTA), travel expenses, office furniture, training, or even borrowing the fund for other purposes. Our reporters couldn’t find any evidence to show that the subsisting HDL Standing Order has been vacated through the same process it was first developed and approved.
— What NAHCON says —
Our reporter has reached out to NAHCON spokesperson Mr Mousa Ubandawaki for comment on the story. In an interview on Monday in his office at the Hajj House – the commission’s headquarters in Abuja – Mr Ubandawaki said he couldn’t speak on the HDL fund balance. He said he sent the question to the Commissioner Policy Personal Management and Finance, Nura Hassan Yakasai. He said the commissioner, who he said wasn’t on seat, didn’t respond as at the time of publishing this report.
On the abandoned projects, he said the commission had resorted to Public Private Partnership (PPP) to complete them, without explaining how it plans to achieve that.
He said NAHCON now “collaborates with ICRC and BPP to do the framework and guidelines with lawyers to sign the MoU, while NAHCON only contributes with the land.”
Mr Ubandawaki said, “those abandoned projects had been re-assigned and they are ongoing at Ilorin and Maiduguri,” adding that “we have finished those of Kano and Lagos. Though it is done one by one as ICRC approves each contract differently. As they finish one they move to the next one for transparency and qualitative work.”
On the action taken against the contractors that abandoned their project sites after collecting mobilization fee, the NAHCON spokesperson said the management is making arrangements for those contractors to come back to the sites. He said they (contractors) have gone back to Kaduna, Yola and Kano sites. This claim, however, was found not to be correct by our reporters.
Additional reporting by Bello Musa (Abuja), Keziah Badamasi (Yola), Madu Iro (Kano), Ibrahim Alhaji Muhammed (Kaduna), and Ramoni Segun Remi (Lagos)