Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammad, Executive Chairman, National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) addressed selected journalists at the NAHCON’s headquarters in Abuja recently, where he assured Nigerians of the Commission’s readiness to carry out the airlift of pilgrims for this year’s Hajj operations vis-à-vis the challenges and prospect of managing the affairs of the travelling public. Ibrahim Apekhade Yusuf was there.
Thorny issues with 2017 Hajj operations
Of course, the major headline of this year’s Hajj exercise has been the issue of the fares for which we’ve explained over the media and granted series of interviews. But the fact remains that what makes up Hajj package 98% is dollar component. Between Nigeria and Saudi Arabia, there’s no naira exchange. That means we cannot take naira to Saudi Arabia. But there’s one thing unifies us: that is dollar.
So whatever you do in Saudi that means you have to convert it first to dollar and then take it to Saudi Arabia. If 98% of the computation is dollar and only two percent makes up the naira component how do you determine whether the actual component of the Hajj is expensive or has gone up or has not gone up?
For example in 2015, the total dollar component spent by Nigerian pilgrim with minimum Basic Transport Allowance (BTA) of $750, plus $4721.93. How much was the exchange rate then? It was N160. So if you multiply that dollar by N160, it gives you about N760,000. In 2016, what was thetotal dollar component for the hajj was $5, 077 plus minimum of $750 BTA. The exchange rate then was N197. If you multiply that by $5077, it’ll give you about N1m plus. What is the dollar component for this year’s hajj? With $800 BTA, $4839. The actual dollar component for the 2017 hajj has reduced with over $250 compared to 2016. What was the official exchange rate last year was N197 but this year, it’s N305. If you multiply that by $4839, it’ll give you about N1.5million.
The Commission has no control over official exchange rate. The National Assembly appropriated or approved Nigeria’s 2017 budget at the official exchange rate of N305. If the Commission had computed the hajj fares over and above the official exchange rate, then that’s where many people can raise eyebrows.
But we know that the official exchange rate is considered for issues that borders on national importance by the government. Or else, if you have any other business, you want to transact and it’s not of national importance, you’ll be allowed to source at the prevailing banking rate of N368. But because of the importance government attaches to the issue of hajj, that was why last year we were allowed the official exchange rate and this year too, we were obliged as soon.
If Hajj and pilgrimage to Jerusalem happen not to be considered as matter of national importance and the dollar component was calculated at N368, last year would have been about N1.9million and if it’s at the prevailing black-market rate, N370-375, the Hajj fares would be about N2.1 or N2.2million. If there’s anything the Commission has done, the impact of the reforms in accommodation, the impact would have been felt more if the exchange rate was the same as last year because the dollar component has reduced and if you translate it, or convert at the same rate of last year, the pilgrims would have paid lower than what they paid last year.
Fair deal for 2017 Hajj pilgrims
There’s no increase in the breakdown but decrease in some areas. The decrease is almost about $300. But if you analyse the hajj based on the naira component, you’ll say yes it has gone up. Why because the exchange rate is almost over and above 60% that of last year.
Of course, all the savings and gains we have made for this year’s hajj operations may not be apparent because of the high exchange rate. But definitely, there’s a marked reduction in the fares unlike in the previous years.
Mandate to the media
I really don’t envy you the media team because you’ve a herculean task ahead of you: A task of managing the public, managing us-NAHCON, the task of getting the right information and disseminating it at the right time to the members of the public and the task of getting the right information and making the best use if. Hajj is always challenging because you’re dealing with not only the pilgrims who registered for the Hajj but the officials also officiating the Hajj.
The officials could be the Nigerian side and there are also officials involved in the management of hajj indirectly and their role is very critical to the success of the Hajj. There are those who represent other government: we have the States Pilgrims Welfare Board, not the Hajj Commission, not the Saudi Arabia government. Such officials are the security agents, the aviation agencies, the medical services and so many other sectors including even the banking sector. Everybody has a role to play. Hajj is such a complex thing.
So you cannot deny the fact that the ordinary Nigerian is not a stakeholder in the discourse of hajj matters because even if he’s not a pilgrim a member of his family might be a pilgrim, a neighbour of his might be a pilgrim or somebody from his locality might be a pilgrim. And even if he’s not a Muslim by virtue of being a Nigerian he’s entitled to know what is happening within the Hajj operations.
What we want to achieve is to ensure dissemination of the right information to the public, particularly those who are the direct beneficiaries. Secondly, protecting the integrity and image of our nation because there are something’s that cannot be used as yardstick of religion. Why you’ve a pilgrim who by virtue of some social vices committed an act contrary to the teaching of the religion and contrary to the laws of the land, or contrary to the laws of the host country, that cannot be used as a yardstick in measuring the performance or the behaviour of the entire pilgrims.
So if one will take such a story and make it a sensational headline, the image of the country and the religion will be bad. Our conduct as a nation is important. Guiding the pilgrims is very critical. I want to appeal to all of you not to work with third party information. No matter how credible you think that person is, he might not know the facts behind the scene. We’re going to have periodic review of things. Feedback to the members of the public is very key to us. How the public perceive our services, our conduct, our regulatory function the performance of the States Pilgrim Welfare Board, the performance of the licensed tour operators, the performance of the service providers like the airline operators, the accommodation providers, the transportation, the medical services is very important to us.
Commitment to service delivery
What we are after is service delivery to ensure that the pilgrims get value for their money at the right time. We don’t want to have a post mortem Hajj. Where we have issues, let us know so that we solve it at this spot not after the Hajj.
If you hear or you see by way of any means, anything that you believe is not in the best interest of the pilgrims, or the Commission or the nation, alert us immediately so that we would do the needful. But where pilgrims are poorly served, only for you to go and take the picture keep or record the event so that after the Hajj you’ll air or write and say this is what happened, you’re not helping the pilgrims in any way.
But where you get information that pilgrims from so so state are not served the way they should, give us a call, we will rush there or deploy people to go there for on-the-spot assessment. But if you allow it to pass, you’re not helping us.
If you’re conscious of the fact that you’ll be criticised, you’ll have the desire to do what is right. And if you’re conscious of the fact that you’re a human being and can make mistakes, it only takes another human being to identify the mistakes. See that mistake and address it accordingly then we’ll have a better performance.
We’re not averse to criticisms of any sort. Whatever we’re doing here, we believe it’s in the best interest of everybody. But of course, we cannot stop people from perceiving us the way they feel or how they want to perceive us because my understanding of life is that human beings believe what they want to believe. No matter how hard you try to bring out the facts, those who are bent on doing mischief they’ll still be mischievous. But I’m convinced that what you utter, what you see, and what you give, you’ll stand before Allah and account for it. I pray Allah gives us the grace to discharge this responsibility with all sense of humility, truthfulness and in the best interest of our nation and religion.