In achieving a hitch free hajj, as well as reducing the risk of ill health, provision of good food and accommodation is key. The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON and the Pilgrims Welfare Board from various states have taken this issue with all serious attention.
Over five years, Nigerian Pilgrims were said to have been enjoying good accommodation with proximity to Masjid Al Haram. The availability of the indigenous food common to various states have also been a very successful episode. Quite a number of pilgrims have attested to this facilities from various states. A Lagos state pilgrim stated that in the past four to five years provision of four-star hotel accommodation for Lagos and other states’ pilgrims in Makkah close to Haram has been commendable, adding that delicacies common to these states such as ‘Semo, Amala, Yam and Poundoyam, fish were common on their menu list have been prominent on their menu lists. The man at the center of this service is young, vibrant businessman, Alhaji AbdulWaheed AbdulRaheem, also known as Alarafa.
In a chat with Vanguard, Alarafa, who is the Chief Executive Officer of Al Kaothara AbdulSalam Company Ltd, a Saudi based service provider for Hajj and Umurah pilgrims as well as tourists to the Holy Land, stated that he was passionate about providing good food and accommodation to Pilgrims from his country.
Hajj and umrah pilgrimage
According to him: “I want my people to be fed their indigenous food. The stress of getting food in Muna and Arafat is much. If they don’t eat good food, it could expose them to risk of illness and with the stress of hajj, it may not be a pleasant story. This might lead to illness and death. But with good food and accommodation, other issues can be easily dealt with. That is my passion and that is what Al Kaothara company is all about,” he stated.
Alarafa who is married to a Saudi woman said his sojourn in the holy land spanning over three decades has given him wide experience about how factors that can bring about hitch during hajj and umurah pilgrimage can be curtailed.
He added that beyound the facade of vast experience, he works with the various ministries and agencies under the control of Saudi government to provide these services.
“We carry out these services with the approval from the Ministry of Hajj and Umurah; Ministry of Commerce and Ministry of Investment as well as the African Establishment. Al Kaothara also manages public and private buildings, provides accommodation for tourists and Hajj and Umurah Pilgrims, ensures its proper maintenance and general services. We also have Al-Kaothara travels and tours which specifically operates from Nigeria, aiding and assisting pilgrims from home to actualise the dream of performing the holy pilgrimage.
Just like there are choices of food, (both continental and indigenous food) for pilgrims to make the pilgrims feel at home and enjoy every little time of their spiritual activities, there are cadres of hotels and accommodation depending on the choice. These are two, three, four and five stars hotel accommodation withing the precint of Haram.
Alarafa also stated that although there were challenges about provision of these facilities this year, adding that these challenges were caused as a result of late ticketing from home authorities.
According to him: “One of the major challenges of operation this year was the late ticketing. Our arrangements were late and it affected the provision of facilities including accommodation and provision of food for pilgrims. This is simply because everything goes into the planning together. If you dont know the number of pilgrims you will provide for, you can’t plan very well. The blame is not mainly on our company, we are not the one in charge of issuing visas for the various states and various tour operators. This late arrangement also affected the Saudi authorities who give approvals to various segments of the facilities in order to know how many people from Nigeria are coming into the country for Pilgrimage.
“This year, before we could leave Nigeria for Saudi Arabia with the number of pilgrims we have to provide for, it was too late. In fact, what helped us was our long standing relationship and experience in the industry with Saudi government.
“The Muna challenges was tough. The capacity of the tents provided for us was very small. The number of pilgrims outweighed the capacity of the tents. This was not the fault of Al Kaothara but it was mainly as a result of the late arrangements from our home authorities. The allocation of tents was from Saudi government specifically. But the good thing was that when we complained, they listened, and they gave us another place. Again, because of the late arrangements, and the distance of tents at Muna, it was difficult in getting food down to various tents. Over the last five to six years, we have not experienced this challenge, but it has added up to our long years of experience which we hope to leverage on. It is my believe that all stakeholders will learn from this and never allow this to happen again.”
Also, commenting on this year’s facilities, the General Manager of the company, Alhaji Zakariya Abdullahi, stated that the Al-Kaothara several states including Lagos, Osun, Ondo, Oyo were among the list of its clients this year, with some skeletal service to Ebonyi, Enugu and Anambra State pilgrims, including some international agencies giving them different delicacies and housing them in a comfortable hotels close to Haram.
He said: “transparency, sincerity and hard-work have been working for us. The Saudi people are very kind people. In spite of the challenge, we were able to navigate out of it and contributed in our own little way into making the whole exercise a successful hajj for our pilgrims. We thank Allah for that.
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