Bamgbose: Hajj Savings Plan, New Frontiers for Muslims

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Recently, Sterling Bank Plc, Nasrul-lahi-li Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT) and TAFSAN Investment, the investment arm of NASFAT, signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) in a collaborative effort to create awareness among Muslims about Sterling Bank’s Hajj Savings Plan designed to make it easy and affordable for prospective Muslim pilgrims to go on Hajj in Mecca in Saudi Arabia.  Chairman of TAFSAN, Alhaji Biyi Bamgbose, in this interview with Obinna Chima, says they have a big plan for the product

Why was TASFAN Investment created?

TAFSAN is the business arm of Nasrul-lahi-li Fathi Society of Nigeria (NASFAT). The company started life as a business committee 10 years ago and later evolved into a big cooperative society before it transformed into a limited liability company. As the investment arm of NASFAT, our mission is to help the Muslim Ummah through the empowerment of members and other Muslims. We also work with structured committees in NASFAT.

For instance, we work with the empowerment, education and children committees at the branch level within and outside Nigeria. We also work with other committees to help NASFAT to achieve its mandate.

In what ways has TASFAN Investment empowered members of NASFAT and the Muslim community in general?

TASFAN Investment was upgraded to a limited liability company as part of a deliberate effort to serve NASFAT members and the Muslim community at large. This is because of the belief we hold that any organisation that cannot benefit its members and the larger society is not serving its community. So, we organise training and empowerment programmes at regular intervals for our members. About 90 per cent of the products we sell in the market and to our members are produced by beneficiaries of these programmes. This has enabled them to grow from subsistence levels to commercially sustainable levels today.

 What is TASFAN doing about educating NASFAT members on the benefits of non-interest banking products and services?

The practice of non-interest banking products and services in Nigeria is a recent phenomenon even though it has existed in advanced economies for many years now. We have embarked on the education of our members within and outside the country. We have been telling them that non-interest banking is at the heart of business in the Islamic world.

Interest on money is forbidden in Islam. We want to make sure that as many members as possible benefit from non-interest banking products and services. There are a lot of products that have been introduced to us by banks. But before they were exposed to our members, we made sure they were discussed extensively and that they were within the tenets of Islam.

NASFAT, TASFAN and Sterling Bank recently signed an MoU. What was the MoU about?

We just signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with Sterling Bank aimed at encouraging NASFAT members to embrace the idea of savings for Hajj with ease. Hajj is one of the five pillars of Islam. It is a journey of a lifetime and we do not want people to go through it under pressure. This is why we went into the alliance with Sterling Bank so that our members can save towards it.

Saving towards Hajj is not a new phenomenon because some intending pilgrims used to save through individuals in the past. But this approach to saving for Hajj is fraught with problems. Those who tried have tales of woe and we have seen problems here and there. So, we decided to formalise the practice for the benefit of our members with the help of Sterling Bank.

This way, the savings of intending pilgrims will be safe and even grow under the principle of non-interest banking. Those who embrace the savings plan will also enjoy full banking benefits on their savings.

Also, TASFAN has a travels and tours arm that deals with matters related to travelling. As a result, 95 per cent of businesses conducted in this arm of TASFAN are based on pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The pilgrimages include Umrah and Hajj at different times of the year and they come with lots of benefits for our members. The Hajj Commission recently recognised our travels and tours arm as the second-best Hajj operator in the country.

We are proud of the launching of the Hajj Savings Plan because we know that it is not only NASFAT members that will benefit from it, but also the entire Muslim community.

When the product was launched, we thought it was for adults only. We thought it was for men and women who want to go on Hajj, but we have just realised that there is a growing interest from parents who want to take advantage of the plan to prepare their children for Hajj also. This is the big question we are trying to address now.

We have a big plan for the Sterling Bank’s Hajj Savings Plan but we need time to grow and nurture it to maturity. It is a marathon and not a sprint. The product is opening up new ideas and frontiers, especially for our children. We are working to use it to fund excursion pilgrimage for our children next year.

What are the benefits of this partnership?

There are several benefits of the savings plan. One, the account holder will enjoy profit sharing on savings at an agreed profit sharing ratio, enjoy takaful (insurance) cover of up to N500,000 and also enjoy early payment for Hajj in the year he is scheduled to perform it.

What is the difference between Hajj and Umrah?

Pilgrims perform more rites during Hajj than Umrah because Hajj is a religious obligation while Umrah is for personal spiritual purification. Both take place in Mecca. During Hajj, the pilgrim is allowed to go to Mecca and Medina and to climb Mount Arafat while the pilgrim on Umrah is restricted to Mecca.

 How many people has TASFAN Investment helped over the years?

We have empowered a lot of people – particularly our members – and I will break it down to three levels. They are the suppliers, the distributors and the society at large. For the suppliers, we have more than 50 of them that are trading with us in the different products we are involved in both locally and internationally.

We have provided them with our network and our market and this has enabled them to move from subsistence levels to sustainable levels and about 10 of them have become full-fledged companies. They are now big and are doing businesses with us and other Islamic organisations as well as the general public.

The second level of people we have empowered are the distributors of our products. For instance, we developed a product to supply school uniforms to NASFAT schools but other schools are now coming to us to supply their schools as well and we are meeting their needs across the country.

In this regard, we have also empowered a company that produces mats for us. The company was on the brink of closing down when we intervened. Today, it has become a big company to the extent that it is also producing for other customers and we now queue to get our orders.

We have also empowered our business committees to be self-sustainable. They no longer rely on contributions to survive.

 Is there any other thing TASFAN Investment is doing?

TASFAN Investment also has an agricultural farm and a block making business. We are really expanding the horizon of the investment arm and we have other areas we want to go into but we will take them gradually.