By Ibrahim Muhammed
Independent Hajj Reporters
States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare boards has announced 2019 hajj fare with the exception of few states that are yet to secure the approval of their respective states Governors. Prior to the announcement, facebook fake news manufacturers and distributors had invented N1.8 million as cost of 2019 hajj fare.
However, announcement of hajj fare has always been greeted with high level of skepticism and apprehension. Such anxiety mostly is products of inaccurate information being dished out on social media and sometimes, a deliberate distorting of information about hajj related issues.
In addition, there is little information in public domain as per the details and processes that birthed the final costs of hajj fare. How do they arrive at the final costs? Who is responsible for what? What are the services that are being paid for and which establishments or company offers such service? What are the roles of Saudi Arabia Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, National Hajj commission, States Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards, Hajj Service providers and regulatory agencies in the hajj fare, if any?
First, hajj fare is products of multi faceted and all inclusive painstaking negotiations and discussions among all hajj regulatory bodies, service providers in Saudi Arabia and in Nigeria. Before the announcement of this year fare, States muslim pilgrims welfare boards meet with the whole set of management staff of national hajj commission to vet each components cost. Thereafter, NAHCON sent the agreed hajj fare to state Governors before the announcement.
The second challenge is the format and information dissemination templates being used to announce hajj fare by states pilgrim’s boards. For example, when a states announced that 2019 hajj fare is N1.534, 000. The impression in the minds of larger public is that pilgrim are requested to pay N1.534, 000 being a cost for performing hajj.
On the contrary, performing hajj is free but pilgrims are requested to pay for the services they will enjoyed in the course of performing the fifth pillar of Islam. Hajj is free, Saudi Arabia government is not charging a penny for you to pray at holy sites of Mina, Muzdallifa, Arafat neither are pilgrims being charged for praying in the two holly mosques or performing tawaf.
During 2018 hajj, there are more than 32,500 employees providing health services from Saudi Ministry of health of which 9,216 are women, and additional 25 operational hospitals in Mecca and the Holy Sites. 4,814 medical beds and additional 153 medical centers serving pilgrims .These services were provided by Saudi Arabia government free of charge.
To complement the government provision, Saudi Red Crescent deployed 127 emergency centers, 361 ambulance cars, 20 motorbikes, and more than 2,867 people to work in the in Mecca and Medina and another 100 field teams with 100 small ambulance cars and 80 big ones fully equipped for the service of pilgrims.
Hajj fare or hajj package is the total costs of services pilgrims enjoyed in the course traveling from his country to Saudi Arabia of perform hajj. Return Air tickets, cost of accommodation in the Holly city of Makkah and Madina, feeding of pilgrims for 35 days, the cost of air conditioned tents where pilgrims will spend 3-4 days, the cost of transportation from with Saudi Arabia, two pairs of suit cases (8Kg and 32Kg) the uniform worn by the pilgrims, and the cost of feeding pilgrims in Mina. These are the hajj services enjoyed by pilgrims during hajj.
Out of the N1.5million, pilgrim will be given back the sum of $800 (equivalent of N288, 244) as pocket money otherwise known as BTA. Each pilgrim will also be given two sets of uniform that costs N4, 000. Instead of pilgrims spending his BTA on feeding, N85, 000 out of the hajj fare will be used to feed pilgrims for 35 days in Saudi Arabia.
The remaining money cover the cost of air ticket, accommodation in Makkah and Madina, Feeding and tent in mashair areas (Mina, Arafat and Muzadfalifa), United Agents Services at Saudi airport, Development levy and local service charges.
Unlike in Nigeria where there is minimal or no increase in 2019 hajj fare in, the situation in other countries are not the same. Pakistan, Malaysia, Bangladesh, Egypt, Gambia, Cameroon increased 2019 hajj fare.
The concerted efforts made by various hajj stakeholders in ensuring that 2019 hajj fare did not climb the roof could have been embedded in the statement announcing hajj fare by state Muslim pilgrims’ welfare boards.
For example, the return air ticket that cost $1,750 dollar is now $1,550. Significant discount were extracted from Accommodation providers by the accommodation negotiation teams. Analysis of the breakdown shows that there is no increase in any component service that falls within the scope of states Muslim pilgrims’ welfare boards or National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.
The increased in transportation by Saudi Arabia was attributed to Saudi Arabia decision to use brand new buses air-conditioned buses with facilities such as trackers and television.
To be fair to Saudi Arabia Hajj Ministry, there are many reported cases of bus conveying pilgrims either from Mina or to mina get missing and in some instances, pilgrims spends more than 24 hour transiting from Mina back to Makkah. The introduction of bus equipped with tracking facilities will definitely address such issues.
States Muslim Pilgrims boards must embrace the culture of giving details breakdown of hajj fare during announcement. What processes and how such amount was arrived at. This will go a long way in enlighten the general public and clear the wrong conception that hajj fare is like a price of commodity in a super market store.
Blue Prints News paper