A rights group, Muslims Rights Concern on Wednesday asked Nigerians not to blame the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria for the increase in this year’s hajj fare compared to that of 2016.
In a statement emailed to PREMIUM TIMES, the organisation’s Executive Director, Ishaq Akintola, said the high exchange rate is responsible, a situation he said is beyond NAHCON’s control.
The statement reads, “This year’s hajj fare of N1.5 million announced by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has been generating ripples. Prospective pilgrims have wondered why the fare is higher than that of 2016. They have therefore called for a reduction. Other stakeholders have called on the Federal Government (FG) to subsidise hajj fare.
“The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) considers the ensuing controversy unnecessary, uncalled for and a sheer waste of saliva and misuse of calories. The suspicion, distrust and allegations leveled at NAHCON are equally products of misinformation.
“Our investigations reveal that 98% of the services rendered by NAHCON in Saudi Arabia are determined in US dollars. Although 2016 official exchange rate was N197, recession and the attendant fall of the naira forced 2017 official exchange rate to N305. Whereas a pilgrim needed just $4,003 in 2016, his need in 2017 has risen to $4,805.
“Now, if we multiply $4,805 by N305, what we will get is N1,465,525 (approximately N1.5m). This is why NAHCON has pegged the 2017 hajj fare at N1.5 million. Further investigation has also revealed that air ticket from the North is $1,600 while that of the South is $1,700. Furthermore, the cost of accommodation in Makkah is $933 while that of Madina is $430. These are easily verifiable.
“MURIC opposes further subsidy for hajj this year for three reasons. Firstly, FG has already subsidized 2017 hajj because the official exchange rate is N368 whereas FG allowed N305. Pilgrims would have had to pay N1,768,240 (approximately N1.8m) at the prevailing bank rate of N368 per dollar if FG had not subsidized at all.
“Secondly, Nigeria is in recession and Nigerian Muslims must be prepared to make sacrifices as government cannot afford to play the prodigal son at a time like this. About N34b would be needed to subsidise if pilgrims were to enjoy the 2016 rate of N197 per dollar but this cannot be rationalized in the face of the current recession.
“Thirdly, every special concession granted to Muslims is most likely to become a subject of controversy as Christian groups are most likely to challenge FG for taking such an action. We must take the diverse character of our country into consideration at all times.
“It is clear from the above details that it is highly naïve to blame NAHCON for the increase in hajj fare. Neither can FG or the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) be blamed. The major correlate which determines hajj fare is the exchange rate.
“The options before us, therefore, are: one, to ask the National Assembly (NASS) to wade in and lobby for more concession; two, to appeal to Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to intervene executively and secure a reduction for Muslim pilgrims and, three, to enlighten prospective Muslim pilgrims and face the reality. The state of the nation’s economy has automatically knocked off the first two options and unless we want to rely on primordial sentiments, option number three seems the best in the present circumstance.
“MURIC is therefore constrained to drum the doctrine of manistata‘a ilayhis-sabiil into the medulla oblongata of 2017 intending pilgrims in particular and all Muslim faithfuls in general (manistata‘a ilayhis-sabiil means hajj is for Muslims who have the means). This means hajj is not mandatory on those who do not have the money to perform it but it becomes compulsory once a Muslim has the means. But does a Muslim who has the money to perform hajj need government’s subsidy or sponsorship? The answer is capital ‘NO’.
“A radical interpretation of the doctrine of manistata‘a ilayhis-sabiil will render borrowing from other sources to perform hajj or compelling government to subsidise the cost of hajj absolutely unnecessary. However, subsidies and outright sponsorship of citizens on hajj may be rationalized in an Islamic Republic but Nigeria is not one.
“Nigeria has always been among countries with the largest number of pilgrims in Saudi Arabia every year. Of more than 2 million Muslims from 183 countries who performed hajj in 2016, Nigeria had 76,000. But how many out of this number contribute anything to the growth, development and welfare of the Ummah back home?
“That is why we want FG to hands off hajj affairs in Nigeria. FG must allow the Muslim Ummah to determine its own destiny. If Muslims are to succeed in becoming owners of Islamic schools, universities, hospitals, libraries, halal hotels and other halal investments, every intending pilgrim must be compelled to pay a particular amount to the coffers of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) before they leave for hajj. Those going for ‘Umrah should pay something higher.
“MURIC reiterates the need for FG and state governments to stop sponsoring Muslims on hajj. It is counterproductive because it has been abused severally. Politicians have hijacked it. They sponsor political thugs, hoodlums, riffraffs, mistresses and prostitutes who may not even be Muslims. This category of ‘pilgrims’ become recalcitrant in Saudi Arabia. Some members of the National Assembly also abuse it by seizing those priviledges meant for hajj officials. This practice should cease forthwith as MURIC is poised to monitor the procedure with the aim of identifying NASS members who engage in this immodest behavior. Enough is enough.
“As we round off, we reaffirm our belief that it is time to correct misconceptions about hajj among Muslims. Hajj is once in a lifetime but we ignore this principle and rush to Saudi Arabia almost every year. ‘Umrah (lesser hajj) is not compulsory but we force it on ourselves as an annual ritual. We must open a new leaf. Gone are the days when anything goes. We must do what is right at all times.”