Rescue 2024 Hajj Exercise, Pressure Mounts On Governors

by admin

Opposition parties fill gap as Bauchi offers 50% rebate | Nigeria at risk of losing allocation quota in future

There is growing pressure on state governors with large contingents of intending pilgrims to intervene in the sudden increase of the 2024 Hajj fare by the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) earlier this week.

While some state governors are quietly exploring options of how to save this year’s hajj from becoming an embarrassment, states led by opposition parties are choosing to make public their intervention.

Thousands of intending pilgrims have been left in limbo, not knowing whether they will end up missing the exercise altogether, after the last-minute announcement of the fare increase. 

Meanwhile, LEADERSHIP Sunday learned that Nigeria risks losing its subsequent years’ Hajj allocations from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia if the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) fails to fill its 2024 quota,  which stands at 95,000, made up of 75,000 states’ pilgrims and 20,000 tour operators.

Of the 75, 000 allocated to states, only 15, 000 have fully completed their registration going by the new fare adjustment. 

The consequences of not utilizing this year’s Hajj quota will lead to a reduction in next year’s hajj quota to Nigeria by Saudi Arabia authorities to the exact number of this year’s hajj delegation, and Nigeria’s status as the fifth country with largest pilgrims in the world and first in Africa will be quashed.

Nigeria is ranked behind Indonesia, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh as the highest suppliers of pilgrims to Saud Arabia. 

While the commission is yet to state whether the new deadline to prospective pilgrims to complete their registration for 2024 hajj, which expired on Thursday, March 28, would be extended, LEADERSHIP Sunday findings revealed that fewer than 15,000 of the 49,000 pilgrims who had paid the earlier announced fees of N4.9 million each to the commission were able meet the deadline by completing their registration.

NAHCON had on Sunday, through a statement by the assistant director, corporate affair, Fatima Sanda-Usara, declared an increase in the fare for the 2024 Hajj pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia with an additional N1, 918,032.91, to bring the total cost to an unprecedented N6.8 million. 

The statement added that about 49,000 pilgrims who had earlier paid N4.9 million each to the commission and still want to perform the 2024 Hajj have to pay the additional balance of N1.9 million on or before March 28, while those registering anew were asked to pay N8.5 million before same deadline of March 28. 

The Kano State Government was the first to announce an intervention for intending pilgrims from the state who were struggling to pay the additional N1.9 million. 

The state government said it would pay N500,000 on behalf of each pilgrims. 

Addressing a misinformation, however, the Kano Pilgrims Board yesterday dismissed claims by some intending pilgrims that they were asked to pay N3.5 million as balance of their payments for the 2024 Hajj.

Some intending pilgrims told our correspondent that even when they made complete payments of N4.7 million in February, they were not issued receipts. 

As a result, when the NAHCON increased the rate and asked intending pilgrims to pay a balance of N1.9 million, those that had not been issued receipts were supposedly asked to pay N3.5 million. 

In response to this, the Pilgrims Board in Kano, speaking through the public relations officer, Sulaiman Dederi, said it has not heard of anyone being asked to pay N3.5 million when the rates were increased. 

The board added that those genuinely registered on its portal are those that effected all their payments on or before the 12th of February, 2024. 

The board also made clarification that concerning the subsidy of N500,000 each paid on behalf of pilgrims of the state by Governor Abba Kabir Yusuf of Kano State: only those that made complete payment before the stipulated 12th February deadline will benefit.

“The subsidy paid by His Excellency the state governor is only for those that paid their deposits. They are about 3,000 in all. They are the ones the governor said he paid N500,000 subsidy for each of them to help them pay the balance demanded by NAHCON. “We are not aware of anyone that has made payment and was not given receipt. We don’t have that case here. 

“We were instructed by NAHCON to stop collecting drafts from intending pilgrims as from 12th of February 2024. We received all drafts made on or before the 12th as stipulated. But for those who have made payments and have not come forward with their drafts, it is not our fault if we say we are not aware of them. This is because NAHCON had closed its portal as announced. 

“Even today, there are those that have gone to make payments with the intention that they will benefit from the N6.6 million seat and not the N8 million. But there are those who we understand, about 70 intending pilgrims, that have gone and paid their N8 million because they know that they have not deposited their money as scheduled,” he stated.

In Bauchi State, the state government said yesterday that it would cover half of additional N1, 918, 000 fare increase. 

The state commissioner for Religious Affairs, Hon. Yakubu Hamza, explained that of the 1, 652 intending pilgrim to this year’s Hajj will now pay an increment of N950, 000 as against the NAHCON increment of N1, 918, 000

The commissioner, who was flanked by the commissioner of finance and executive secretary of the State Pilgrims Welfare Board, Imam Abdurrahman Idris, also revealed that the government will subsidize those intending pilgrims it sponsored for the year’s Hajj, thereby making the government pay a total of N2, 196, 110, 000 as against N1, 984,260,000.

In Adamawa, LEADERSHIP Sunday learned that no fewer than 1,416 intending pilgrims out of the 1,780 earlier registered for 2024 pilgrimage had paid the  N1.9 million increased fare announced by NAHCON.

The most, a source in the Adamawa State Pilgrims’ Welfare Board would admit, is that the state government has provided its yearly support to the board to enable it have smooth operations for the airlift of the 2024 intending pilgrims from the state.

Officially though, the pilgrims’ board official said intending pilgrims individually shouldered the increment in fare.

Earlier, Governor Ahmadu Fintiri had appealed to NAHCON for more time to enable intending pilgrims from the state pay the new fare.

Speaking on a local radio station, the Adamawa Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) programme, the governor lamented that most of the intending pilgrims from the state are from rural areas, hence they need more time to source for the balance of the new Hajj fare.

Findings by our correspondents across the country revealed that raising the required balance of N1.9 million amid the present harsh economy has become extremely difficult for most first-time pilgrims who are peasant farmers and are now demanding a refund of their deposits. 

Speaking to our correspondent, the spokesperson of the FCT Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Muhammad Lawal Aliyu, said the pilgrims didn’t find easy paying the announced balance because of the short notice.

Aliyu had, through a press statement on Monday, directed 2,489 FCT intending pilgrims, who have paid the earlier announced hajj fare of N4,699,000, to pay the additional fee of N1,918,032.91k announced by NAHCON on or before close of work on Wednesday,.

“The National Hajj Commission directed that the state boards should remit

the balance to the commission account on or before March 28, and for us to meet the deadline, we have to give intending pilgrims till Wednesday, March 27, to pay the new balance of N1.9 million. But I can’t tell you that it wasn’t easy. There is no way pilgrims will raise the balance of N1.9 million within three days. Even if they have assets on the ground that they would like to sell, they have to look for buyers first, and the time is very short to do so. 

“For instance, a Fulani man that may need to sell his cows to get the balance would have to take the cows to the market and their market is not every day. Already, most of these pilgrims who are farmers have lost the value of their earnings because of the poor exchange rate,” Aliyu said. 

While many have described the last-minute increment to the 2024 Hajj fare as unfair and a deliberate ploy to deny Nigerian Muslims, particularly first timers, the opportunity to perform the religious rites, NAHCON insisted the prospective pilgrims would have themselves to blame should they fail to meet the new payment and miss the 2024 Hajj. 

The spokesperson of NAHCON, Fatima Sanda-Usara, who spoke to our Correspondent, said the delays in remittances of Hajj fares necessitated the increment. 

“We changed the deadline twice because the payments were not coming in. If they had kept to the guidelines and paid on time, definitely we would have been able to meet up by remitting the money to the Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah. 

“But payments were not being made. We announced the fare when it was cheaper, but the payments were slow. Some were not even coming in at all. If at the time we announced the initial fare, payments were made immediately, or by the end of the deadline, we would have forwarded the money based on the rate at that time, and it would have covered the cost first announced. But by the time we shifted it to February 12, the exchange rate had doubled beyond our imagination. Nobody is overcharging the pilgrims, but simple logic is the fluctuating nature of exchange rates. 

“So, the intend pilgrims should blame themselves because it was unforeseen delay in fare collections, compounded by the harmonization of foreign exchange rates and global financial challenges, that resulted in an unexpected increase in the Hajj cost for Nigerian pilgrims,

“The cost of Hajj for the year 2024 in Dollars is set at $5,692.25. It is essential to note that on the day the initial press statement was issued, the exchange rate for the Nigerian Naira to the US Dollar stood at N1,474.62.

“However, due to the fluctuating nature of exchange rates, intending pilgrims are advised to pay the Hajj fare according to the prevailing dollar exchange rate on the day of payment. This flexibility is crucial to accommodate any changes in the exchange rate. In the event of a change in the Dollar’s value at the time of final remittance into the Commission’s IBAN account, pilgrims will either receive a refund or the balance will be reconciled accordingly at the appropriate time.

“NAHCON remains committed to ensuring a smooth and transparent process for all intending pilgrims,” Sanda-Usara said.

LEADERSHIP Sunday recalls that NAHCON had set January 5, 2024 deadline for completion of registration and remittance of pilgrims intending to take part in this year’s pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia. 

However, none to late remittances of Hajj fare by those concerned necessitated adjustments, resulting in two date shifts with the final being February 12, 2024. The economic headwind facing the country also affected the hajj industry due to 99 per cent of payment made in dollars.

Before the unification of the forex window by the government, Nigerian pilgrims often accessed dollars at a concessionary rate from the official prices of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN); that is no longer tenable, forcing NAHCON to demand an additional balance of N1.9 million each from intending pilgrims who had paid the earlier announced fare of N4.9 million.

The NAHCON has announced on different occasions that the new policy introduced by Saudi Arabia had made it difficult to go on with payment of hajj fare a few weeks to the commencement of Arafat as obtained before in the country. This is due to the short period given to complete all negotiations with service providers in the Kingdom while the issuance of visa will end 50 days to the day of Arafat

Source: Leadership Newspapers

You may also like