By Muhammad Ajah
Over 80 percent of Nigerian Muslims have come to realize the reality in the fares announced by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) for the 2017 Hajj. Most of them have appreciated the painstaking efforts exerted by the Commission to arrive at the final package after reforming some of the key policies that would have jerked up the fares to unaffordable proportion.
In furtherance of its wide consultations and reassurance to the pilgrims to complete their payments for the 2017 Hajj, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) met with the Ulama Council of Nigeria at their zonal bases to press home the national call. Hajj officials from Lagos, Ogun, Oyo, Osun, Ekiti, Ondo and the representatives of the Armed Forces joined the Southwest Ulama in Lagos where the Commission enlisted the 2017 intending pilgrims who had paid the initial deposits for the exercise, to pay the balance immediately. NAHCON Commissioner in charge of policy, personnel management and finance (PPMF) Alhaji Yusuf Adebayo Ibrahim, at the Lagos meeting for the geopolitical zone appealed for quick response because the airlift of pilgrims will commence in less than three weeks. He said that the commission had tried its best to reduce the fare, but has no control over the dollar rate. Assuredly, the 2017 Hajj fare would have been put at between N2million to N2.5 million, but NAHCON bypassed the agents in negotiating for accommodation in Makkah and Madinah, thus saving over 200 dollars for each pilgrim.
NAHCON can, therefore, not be out to fleece Nigerian pilgrims or inflict hardship on them to perform Hajj. Lots of people complained that the Hajj fare is on the high side, but by the time the components are critically analyzed, one will agree that it is the same amount that we paid last year. The difference is the dollar, because last year, the official rate was N197, but this year, official rate is N305. So, the difference between N197 and N305 escalated the Hajj fare this year.
While the South-West Commissioner of NAHCON, Imam Fuad Adeyemi, assured the pilgrims that the 2017 Hajj would be better than that of 2016, the President, Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHOUN) Alhaji Abdulfatai Abdulmojeed, also called for massive enlightenment of intending pilgrims on the 2017 Hajj rites. In Kano and Sokoto, the council of ulama took the matter to Mosques for Juma’t sermons. They said that contrary to the perception and belief that the Hajj fare was arbitrarily fixed by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), it was discovered through documentary evidence and facts that the Hajj fare was influenced more by the prevailing Naira/Dollar exchange rate and the new Saudi Arabian rates on some service provisions and therefore urged the pilgrims to hasten to make their outstanding payments to enable their states and NAHCON commence visa and other travel arrangements.
In the same vein, the council urged its members across the country to commence vigorous sensitization campaign at their various Mosques and Juma’t sermons on the need for intending pilgrims to pay up on time as well as imbibe good conduct during the Hajj exercise. They also want pilgrims to obey the rules and regulations of the host country and that of their Hajj officials especially as it relates to the carrying of prohibited items like drugs, “goro” as well as conducting themselves as good ambassadors of the country. Also in Kano state, NAHCON commissioner of operations and secretary to the commission, Alhaji Saleh Modibbo and Dr. Bello Muhammad Tambuwal respectively took time to explain to the Council of Jumu’at Imams, under the leadership of Sheikh Falalu Dan Almajiri the urgent need for pilgrims to pay the balances of their Hajj deposits at the event organized in collaboration with the Kano State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board and participants from across the 44 local government areas of the state. Chairman Council of Ulama, Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil, Bayero University Chief Imam, Malam Abubakar Jibril, representatives of various Islamic groups and circles attended the one day event.
House of Qadiriyyah sect was represented by Sheikh Mustafa Sheikh Nasiru Kabara; the Tijjaniyyah sect was represented by Sheikh Bala Qalarawy. Sheikh Abdulwahab Abdullahi, heading the Ahlussunnah was also present. The Chairman of Pilgrims Education, Orientation and Training (Bita) Malam Haruna Muhammad Ibn Sinatra also partook, while public opinion leaders like Haruna Mako da, Alhaji Faruq Umar, Muhammad Usman and Muhammed Nabola were all part of the participants. All of them were in consonance that pilgrims should pay the Hajj fares without further delay as announced by NAHCON so to guarantee success for the 2017 Hajj. The same events were held in Kaduna and Sokoto states. And there has been positive response from the intending pilgrims who have completed payment of the Hajj fare. Hopefully before the airlift operations commence, all the pilgrims must have fully paid.
However, it has been observed that it will not augur well for a country which must borrow money to complement its budgetary execution to think of subsidizing Hajj in a recession. High level mathematics reveals that government may require up to N30bn to subsidize Hajj held once a year and about three times that amount to subsidize pilgrimage to Jerusalem which is conducted throughout the 12 calendar months. Any well-meaning citizen and organization may then have sympathy on the government. Next year Hajj fare may be quite different as government is poised to improve the economy and strengthen the national currency against the dollars. Howbeit, the last hope lies on the efforts of a 10-man Ad hoc committee of the House of Reps led by Hon. Muhammad Umar Bago which investigated the presumed hike in 2017 Hajj fares and promised to meet with the Acting President, the governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), NAHCON, PPMC and the approved air carriers for 2017 Hajj for a way out and possible succor for the pilgrims.
No doubt, Hajj fares increase over the years are basically due to the official exchange rate of dollar. In 2009, the exchange rate was N135 to US$1, in 2010 N135, in 2011 N154, in 2012 N145, in 2013 N146, in 2014 N150, in 2015 N160, in 2016 N197 and in 2017 N305. For instance the 2016 Hajj fare was US$4,326.91 without BTA, that of 2017 Hajj is US$4,105.64 without BTA. The 2016 Hajj with US$ 750 BTA was US$5,076.91, that of 2017 Hajj with US$750 will be US$4,855.64. If 4,855.64 is removed from 5,076.91, the balance is 221.27. This means that the 2017 Hajj fare is less than 2016 Hajj with US$221.27. But the 2017 Hajj is computed with US$800 BTA across board. If $800 is added to the 2016 and 2017 Hajj fares in this analysis, the results are US$5,126.91 for 2016 and US$4905,64 for 2017 with the same difference of US$221.27. When the 2016 Hajj fare is multiplied by the official dollar rate of N197 and that of 2017 Hajj is multiplied by N305, the difference is clear.
Moreover, Nigeria’s Hajj fare ranks the lowest as compared to many other countries with large number of pilgrims. Most of these countries compute their Hajj fares without BTA which they see as a private arrangement. But NAHCON cannot leave this sensitive and indispensable component of Hajj to precarious arrangements which have often threatened smooth and hitch-free operations in the past. Despite NAHCON’s efforts to regulate the BTA, pockets of complaints on irregularities and mismanagements by state officials and agents are still recorded. This year, NAHCON ensured that it is issued at flat amount of US$800 paid to designated accounts of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) instead of past often abused amounts of $750, $1000 and $1500 US Dollars paid to accounts of state boards/agencies/commissions.
Moreover, some of the countries use 3 to 5 star hotels within the Markaziyyah area or ordinary houses outside the Markaziyyah axis in Madinah. At Makkah, some hire hotels or houses three to seven kilometers away from Haram. Yet, Ghana’s 2017 Hajj fare for government pilgrims is $3,450, United Arab Emirate (private) $7,560, USA private $7,750, Britain private $4,872, Pakistan government’s $2,660. Bangladesh government’s $3,083, India government’s $3,628, Malaysia government’s $4,427, Cameroun government’s $3,858, Niger government’s $3,750, Burkina Faso government’s $3,723 and Indonesia government’s $5,350. All the above fares are without BTA.
Further comparison showed that the 2016 and 2017 Hajj fares were affected in three ways: services that retained the same charges, services whose cost were negotiated downwards and services whose costs went up. The first category of services includes feeding at the airports, Makkah/Madinah and the holy sites of Mina, Arafah and Muzadalifah, tent security deposits, tent C fee and Ministry of Hajj deposits. The second category includes Makkah and Madinah accommodations, air fare and CBN commission charges. The third category includes united agents fees and the newly introduced PVC tent at Arafah. NAHCON raised the BTA from $750 to $800.
The Hadaya (sacrificial animal) which has been an optional obligation depending on the type of Hajj a pilgrim may wish to perform raised to N38,000 also due to the exchange rate. Some local charges have remained the same such as admin charge, Hajj development levy, yellow card and registration form, while others went up like charges for suitcase, uniform and others that differ from state to state due to peculiarities. So the difference in Hajj fares of states is basically from three sources: Makkah accommodation, airfare and individual state administrative charges which were defended before a NAHCON panel by each state.
This is how fair the 2017 Hajj fare is. It was, however, somewhat trashy for some Nigerians even from amongst the highly placed to jump into destructive criticism and outright condemnation of NAHCON’s efforts without proper investigations. NAHCON has saved the Nigerian pilgrims untold hardship and costs and also accorded them ease and joy in Hajj. It will be therefore viewed as a bridge of trust for NAHCON’s administration to work against the interest of the pilgrim, an administration that has since the birth of the commission grown from strength to strength and every year makes milestone achievements that are much-admired worldwide.