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JUST-IN: Alleged hajj fraud: EFCC quizzes ex-NAHCON Chairman Zikirullah

The Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) has grilled the immediate past Chairman and CEO of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Mr Zikirullah Kunle Hassan over alleged hajj fraud....CONTINUE READING

Mr Zikirullah was quizzed on Monday for hours at its head office in Abuja over various fraud allegations.

He served as the hajj commission CEO for four years, between January 2020 to October 2023 when he was sacked by President Bola Tinubu.

Officials at the headquarters of the anti-graft agency in Abuja said Mr Zikirullah was grilled by a team of investigators over alleged fraud running into billions of naira.

A source who confided in this newspaper said, “Mr Zikirullah was with our detectives today (Monday) for hours. But he was later released on bail. He would return to us on Wednesday.”

It was also revealed that Mr Zikirullah was being investigated for alleged 92 million Saudi Riyal fraud. “When he came on board in January 2020, he met 92 million Saudi Riyal on the Saudi Arabia NAHCON account, which is royalty funds left intact by two successive administrations of the board. But he depleted the account to 37 million Saudi Riyal as of 2022, after conducting one hajj operation, an official in the agency said.

The insider said he’s also being investigated for allegedly squandering N3.2 billion hajj development levy fund; about N2.5 billion meant for renovation and furnishing of NAHCON headquarters (Hajj House) and also construction of Hajj Institute at CBD in Abuja.

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Others include pilgrims’ hajj refunds; procurement fraud; concession of public lands without due process; illegal payment to family members from official purse, among others.

The investigation covers the introduction of three new fraudulent budget lines in 2022 and 2023 budgets, passed under President Buhari. He was said to have allegedly defrauded the government of N600 million in connivance with some lawmakers. The three budget lines were, however, removed under President Bola Tinubu.

The agency is looking Mr Zikirullah’s introduction of 5% percent additional charges on accommodations, feeding, Mu’assasah services in Masha’er, among others.

His interrogation is coming a week after The Companion, an umbrella body for Muslims in business and professionals in the Southwest, organized a phantom event to celebrate his stint at NAHCON.

However, the executive secretaries of the six Southwest states and other members of the hajj family boycotted the event allegedly bankrolled by Mr Zikirullah, which took place in Lagos a week ago.

The Southwest secretaries have accused Zikirullah in a petition of withholding their 2022 hajj refunds for poor services and those services that were not rendered.

In a petition, the executive secretaries of Lagos, Oyo, Ogun, Osun, Ekiti and Ondo states, categorically accused Mr Zikirullah of “unjustifiably” excluding them from the 2022 hajj refunds for services not rendered or rendered unsatisfactory to their pilgrims.

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The pilgrims’ administrators expressed astonishment as to why Mr Zikirullah would be honoured or celebrated for conducting the worst hajj operations in NAHCON’s history and withholding their refunds.

However, this newspaper reports that the event was attended by some top Southwest politicians who are known political enemies of President Bola Tinubu.

They include Mr Rauf Aregbesola — Mr Zikirullah’s godfather, a two-term former Governor of Osun and Minister of Interior — who parted ways with Mr Tinubu; and Mr Muiz Banire, a former national legal adviser to the APC and AMCON chairman, and erstwhile associate of the president.

Hajj stakeholders said EFCC’s quizzing of Zikirullah will build confidence in the hajj sector, adding that the anti-corruption agency would do a diligent investigation to recover public funds and make the culprits face the full wrath of the law.

“It is a good omen for the Hajj industry in Nigeria. The investigations would serve as a deterrent to hajj officials at the federal and state levels,” one of the officials said.

A chief executive of one of the states pilgrims boards, who declined being named, said the introduction of 5% was “contradictory at a time he was busy saying he would reduce hajj cost.
It was on record that the administrations before him conducted hajj operations with zero government funding and without introducing additional deductions of 5%.”

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The pilgrims administrator said by introducing the 5% revenue, “it means every pilgrim paid additional N200,000. He increased the pilgrims burden, instead of lessening them.”

On the purported celebration of Zikirulah’s achievements, a catering service provider said the so-called celebration was unfortunate. “He superintended a regime that was [allegedly] collecting bribes for every contract. What is there to celebrate?,” the service provider, who requested anonymity said.

Another pilgrims official said the former NAHCON chief “performed two hajj operations that failed to airlift 6,000 pilgrims in 2022; and the worse one since 1980s that left thousands pilgrims stranded in Muna in 2023. That is his scorecard.”

Speaking on hajj saving scheme and hajj institute, another stakeholder said the institute was not in tandem with original concept. “He was left with money, land and local and foreign universities partners for curriculum development. But he ended up doing a shoddy job. It was same sad story on the hajj saving scheme. He operated it without recourse to the extant law, making the senate to declare it illegal.”

This newspaper gathered that the EFCC was working in dozen petitions and documents supplied by whistleblowers and other insiders from the commission.