“Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand [by taking action]; if he cannot, then with his tongue [by speaking out]; and if he cannot, then with his heart [by hating it and feeling that it is wrong] – and that is the weakest of faith”
The above hadith by the noble prophet of Allah is a direct instruction to every one of us to always strive to correct the ills in our society in the manner convenient for us and to my understanding; this is what propelled the Human Rights Crusader, Ibrahim Garba Wala to embark on a mission to hold the National Hajj Commission accountable to the numerous corruption allegation leveled against the institution over the years.
On the 16th of April 2019, an Abuja court sentenced Human Rights Activist Ibrahim Garba Wala popularly known as IG Wala to 7years imprisonment and since that fateful day, many opinion articles have flooded the media, both conventional and social.
Some of the op-eds are well thought out, others full of fabrications and some are outrightly sponsored. What is important here is that IG Wala has succeeded in achieving the first phase of his advocacy, which is to focus the searchlight on the National Hajj Commission, a government agency for Muslim pilgrims, alleged to be extorting the Muslim Community.
Before we all get carried away by the paparazzi of joining a popular narrative, let us pause and ask again, what was Wala’s crime? Like many before him, he was said to have uncovered monumental acts of corruption, running into billions of naira in National Hajj Commission (NAHCOM) against the Muslim Ummah of Nigeria and he took action to stop it.
Contrary to reports by several media agencies, IG Wala didn’t only go on the social media to accuse the Chairman of NAHCOM, that’s a false narrative. He actually petitioned the relevant agencies, which include but not limited to the Nigerian Senate, Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and others and all pieces of evidence at his disposal was presented to these statuary agencies for further investigation. If i am not mistaken, it was a portion, from the petition submitted to these agencies that IG Wala posted on the social media.
For many years now, Nigeria has remained one of the most expensive places on earth to travel to hajj, even though the country is not among the most distant places to Saudi Arabia. Countries that are more distant than Nigeria to Saudi Arabia are said to be paying less and it continued to remain a misery, why Nigeria’s hajj fare is so exorbitant.
After the Nigerian Senate received IG Wala’s petition with all the supporting evidence, they set out to investigate the claims.
The Senate Ad Hoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics and Feeding sent some delegations to Saudi Arabia to verify some of the claims in Wala’s petition and when they returned; they also held series of public hearings in which IG Wala and the Chairman of Hajj Commission were given an opportunity to present their case. Those who witnessed the public hearing gave accounts of what transpired.
Consequently, having properly investigated the matter with both parties presenting what they have, the Senate established the facts and made its report public on 19th October 2018 and in Vanguard Newspaper, the headline screamed ‘’ Senate panel indicts NAHCON in hajj extortion, fee hike probe’’
In the report also carried by several national dailies, it was said that:
The Senate had on July 20, 2017, resolved to conduct the probe following the adoption of a motion moved by Senator Ibrahim Dambaba, titled, ‘Extortion of Monies from Nigerian Pilgrims by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.
The report partly read, “The committee has observed that the commission’s procurement processes on the annual hajj operations were marred by many contraventions and infractions as it flagrantly breached the 1999 Constitution of Nigeria, the Public Procurement Act 2007, and the Federal Government’s Financial Rule and Regulations in the conduct of its role as mere regulator of hajj operations.
“Similarly, it was also observed that under the normal circumstances, Saudi Arabian authorities recognize two institutions as far as hajj is concerned: the Foreign Affairs Ministry and the (Nigerian) Civil Aviation Authority. The Foreign Affairs Ministry’s recognition was based on the international laws under the Vienna Convention on Consular Matters. The role of hajj commission is limited to national issues.
“However, NAHCON has usurped the responsibilities of these agencies and deals directly with Saudi Arabian authorities without recourse to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs. In fact, the committee has realized that the Nigerian Consular General in Saudi Arabia has been turned into an employee of NAHCON. This explains why there is a conflict of interest in almost all the offshore transactions engaged by NAHCON.” The committee also accused NAHCON of “over bloated charges,” onshore and offshore, saying, “The charges escalate the cost of pilgrimage,” it said.
NAHCON was further accused of short-changing and extorting Nigerian pilgrims, intending air carriers, and service providers “through spurious charges without regards to the Second Schedule of the Utilities and Charge Commission.
The committee added that “ the so-called revenues realized by the commission were not paid into the Consolidated Revenue Fund, contrary to Section 80(1) of the 1999 Constitution. “Just as in the same manner, the commission generates its revenues with total disregard to extant Acts, so it expends them without following the provisions of the Constitution. “Similarly, NAHCON often goes on spending spree from the said generated revenue, quite beyond the approval threshold of the Accounting Officer, which is a breach of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation’s circular with reference number SGF/OP/S.3/XI/894, dated 14th January, 2016.”
The above indictment against NAHCOM wasn’t done by IG Wala, but by the Nigerian Senate through evidence provided by IG Wala and subsequent investigation of the matter.
So, what I am driving at here is that, even if we remove IG Wala from the equation, the corruption allegation against NAHCOM is still very valid and it is only a matter of time before the NAHCOM chairman is prosecuted unless those in charge choose not to.
However, rather than for our Muslim Ummah, whom IG Wala is trying to protect from extortion to see this as something worthy of attention and ask relevant questions, our leaders are looking the other way, as if IG Wala who made the Senate report possible has committed a crime by trying to protect the Muslim Ummah against possible extortion and make hajj more affordable.
One must then ask, where are the so-called Muslim organizations always claiming to be fighting for the interest of Muslims? Have they not seen the Senate indictment on NAHCOM about possible extortion of the Muslim Ummah? What has been their contribution in ensuring everything is corrected?
In all honesty, the judgment against IG Wala wasn’t strange to him. Long before now, Wala had revealed several times that he has been promised jail by hook or by crook and he vows never to back down, even if it means going to that jail. The first time he was sent to jail, he saw it as a learning opportunity and this will not be any different. However, he is certain that the truth, which he stands for will prevail, now or later.
Many had accused IG Wala of turning down out of court settlement, but what is there to settle really?
Will settlement between IG Wala and NAHCOM suddenly bring justice to NAHCOM over the senate indictment or will the settlement make NAHCOM chairman saint?
If you ask me, IG Wala’s case can be equated to that of Yusuf in the Holy Quran. In Suratul Yusuf, Prophet Yusuf prefers prison against the temptation of compromise.
In verse 33 of that chapter, Yusuf said, ‘My Lord! The prison is DEARER to me than that to which they invite me” and like Yusuf, IG Wala refused to negotiate if that negotiation would mean rejecting the truth.
Sometimes last year, a colleague narrated how he came in contact with an individual working in one of the anti-graft agencies and the hajj commission matter came up.
The gentleman narrated what he heard, which according to him was frightening, though cannot be verified.
According to the person he met, IG Wala made the biggest mistake of his life by trying to expose corruption in Hajj Commission. The person, who is not even a Muslim, pointed out that, even in his office, there are several petitions against hajj commission, but he dare not act on them. He said, rather than act, he will rather resign and walk away in peace than incur the wrath of the hajj commission cabals.
Curious to know why it is so, he said as an activist, you can fight corruption in NNPC and succeed, you can even fight corruption in CBN and succeed, but there are places you dare not go to fight corruption and one of such places is hajj commission. According to this information, if you dare do that, you will be dealt with and nobody can save you, not even the president. This revelation shocked many greatly, but the fellow isn’t done. He went on to explain that, when the cabals in hajj commission are ready to deal with anyone, they will get their own police that will arrest you, get their own judge that will sentence you and still get their own prison official that will ensure you are feeling the heat of the prison.
This person asked those close to IG Wala to advise him to settle out of court no matter what.
IG Wala became aware of this information and he laughed it off. He made it clear that he knows the capability of those against him, he knows what they can do, but rather than negotiate with an evil prophet Muhammed asked us to reject, he decided to face the consequences of the truth, knowing fully well that no matter how fast falsehood runs, truth will eventually catch up with it.
Yes, IG Wala maybe arrogant, but his arrogance is usually against corruption and bad governance. He may be proud, but only against injustice and he may be accused of taking activism too personal, but that is because he personally feels the effect of lack of good governance.
Although, for IG Wala, activism is an act of worship to Allah. It is in furtherance to the observation of the Sunnah of Prophet Muhammed (S.AW) and he is very convinced that even if he dies in the course of activism for a better society, Allah if not the society, will give him his reward.
Let me therefore conclude by saying that, IG Wala has been sentenced to prison for daring to fight corruption, not for stealing, not for committing any crime, but for observing the Sunnah of prophet Muhammed which says, “Whoever among you sees an evil action, let him change it with his hand [by taking action]; if he cannot, then with his tongue [by speaking out]; and if he cannot, then with his heart [by hating it and feeling that it is wrong] – and that is the weakest of faith”.
But according to Sheikh Adam Abdullahi Al-Ilori (May Allah continue to be pleased with him), when you are down, (like IG Wala is currently is), nothing worse can ever happen to you than rising up. I believe strongly that IG Wala shall rise again.
Abdulrazaq O Hamzat