The chairman, National Hajj Commission ( NAHCON), Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar, disclosed yesterday that the high cost of Hajj fares for Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2017 were mainly caused by high exchange rate of the dollar to naira. Mukhtar made this comment to journalists yesterday after appearing before the Senate Ad-Hoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics, Feeding, etc, of the Nigerian Pilgrims on series of petitions written against the Commission by some stakeholders in the Hajj operations.
He further said that the Hajj fare, which was N1.5million last year, arose from the increase in the official exchange rate of the naira to a dollar, from N198 in 2015, N297 in 2016 and N305 in 2017. This is just as he averred that the commission, in line with the wishes of the Senate committee, would do everything possible to ensure a lower fare this year through reduction in some service charges.
According to him, “Aside some other variables, the major determinant of hajj fares is the value at which our own naira exchanges for a US dollar. “Years past, when the naira exchanged for a dollar at lower rate, hajj fares were in radius of hundreds of thousands Naira but for a year like 2017 when the exchange rate got up to N305 to a dollar at the official rate, the hajj fare moved to N1.5million since all the service charges are to be paid either in dollar or riyal.”
The NAHCON boss had earlier, in his response to allegations leveled against the commission, said no money collected from service charges during the 2017 Hajj operations was diverted. He specifically declared that the commission did not in any way indulge in extortion of pilgrims and wondered where a petitioner got the N3bn he referred to. On capital flight, he said as long as the transactions -payment of service charges in Saudi Arabia – are done in naira, those alleging capital flight would continue to do so