The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has urged state pilgrim welfare boards to collect N4.5m as deposits from 2024 hajj pilgrims.
Speaking after a meeting with chairmen and executive secretaries for the state’s pilgrim board Tuesday in Abuja, the Chairman of NAHCON, Zikrullah Hassan, said the fare for the next hajj would be expensive due to the unification of foreign exchange by the federal government.
Hassan noted that with the dollar currently at N750, the commission is not certain what the price for pilgrims would be owing to the fluctuation of forex.
He said the deposit might change depending on the performance of the naira.
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Daily Trust reports that the price for the 2023 hajj was N2.8m when the exchange rate was N450 to the dollar.
“I must tell you that next year’s hajj is going to be expensive. This is something we must prepare for, starting from today. I am not saying we will be able to know the cost today, but what we must be able to know is that the hajj is going to be expensive.
“This is because the age of the concessionary rate is gone. As we speak now, the forex is at N740 to dollar, so, if you multiply that with the dollar of hajj last year, you can imagine how many more million you will need to add to the cost of hajj. The government has been clear on it. Will the N740 come down? I don’t know, but I pray it comes down.”
Hassan, who noted that the preparation for the 2024 had begun, said the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia would end the issuance of visa 45 days to Arafah.
He said this would stop state governors from changing the names of approved pilgrims to accommodate new ones.
“By the 29 of April, visa issuance will close. 10 days after, pilgrims will begin to arrive in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
“Unlike what we do when it is two days to the closure of the flight, somebody will say my governor wants some people to go to hajj and look for the slot, the Kingdom says it is gone forever. It means you have between 40 to 50 days to Arafat when you can’t do a visa anymore,” he stated.
He said NAHCON had constituted a committee to look into how a refund would be secured for services not rendered to Nigerian pilgrims during the 2023 hajj.
Nigeria may not fill hajj slots
Reacting, National Coordinator, Independent Hajj Reporters, Ibrahim Muhammed, said Nigeria might not be able to fill the slots to be given to it for next year’s hajj.
Muhammed, who noted that 80 to 90 per cent of hajj payment is done in dollars, urged the government to allow the pilgrims to access concessionary for the dollar to reduce the price.
“This is a manifestation of the current weakening position of the naira against the United States dollar. As you are aware, the hajj fare computation template is about 80 to 90 per cent dollar bases. Air tickets, pilgrims’ accommodation, catering services, transportation within Saudi Arabia, otherwise known as car syndicate, are paid in dollars.
“Even the pilgrims Basic Traveling Allowance (BTA) is paid to them in dollars.”
He said the only naira components in hajj fare are the pilgrims’ uniforms, suitcases and service charges.
“Therefore, the current policy of the federal government on forex will certainly affect the cost of 2024 hajj as announced by the NAHCON chairman.
“However, I think the federal government owes it as a responsibility to find a way of curtailing the negative effects of this policy on hajj cost. Government can allow pilgrims to access dollars at a relatively concessionary rate. Otherwise, Nigeria may not be able to utilise its full quota this year,” he said.
Provide support to pilgrims – Sheikh Fuad
Sheikh Fuad Adeyemi, National Chief Imam, Al-Habibiyyah Islamic Society, asked the federal government to provide support for intending pilgrims who are sincere worshipers and not those who are all year goers.
He said: “I think we have a problem here, if the dollar and naira exchange rate does not come down, I think next year’s hajj is going to be a challenge. Remember that the country is a bit tough now for an average citizen.
Adeyemi, a former Commissioner of NAHCON, also urged the commission to evolve a way of cushioning the effect of the high cost of hajj fees through the hajj savings scheme and levies being paid by pilgrims over the years.
Also, renowned cleric and Managing Director of Comerel Travels-Nigeria, Ustaz Abubakr Siddeeq Muhammad, said unless a solution is found in the dollar components of the rate of services rendered to the pilgrims, hajj price will continue to soar in proportion to the dollar rate.
“It is imperative to note that payment for hajj services such as visa, air ticket, accommodation, etc are not done in naira. This means that the reason advanced by the NAHCON is tenable due to the current situation.
“The current board of the commission, it must be noted, has striven in many ways to make pilgrimage affordable for Nigerians. The same issue of the dollar rate stalled the efforts.
“Whatever is the case, NAHCON should ensure that Nigerian pilgrims have value in terms of comfort and standard of service for what they expend in fulfilling this obligation,” Muhammad said.
Dr Maisuna M. Yahya, founder, Al-Mustofiyyah Society of Nigeria, said: “I don’t and I cannot levy or apportion any blame on either NAHCON or its officials; simply because they are not responsible for the hike in pilgrims’ suggested deposit.
“However, my area of cardinal importance that I like to orchestrate is the appropriate and deserving welfare of the pilgrims: food, accommodation, health and visitations. What is worth doing, is worth doing well.
“2023 hajj operation was spectacular in its own case, and as such, I will not want to recapitulate some of the ordeals; rather, as a piece of plausible advice, shall call both NAHCON and state welfare boards’ attention to pre-hajj visit(s) should be made as early as possible to enable the officials acquire befitting but not dilapidated accommodation or a too far distantly related hotels.
“Most importantly, political administration of diverting flights, using small flights to convey pilgrims from and to Nigeria-Saudi Arabia should be avoided,” Yahya said.
Pilgrims may pay more than N4.5m – Operators
Chief Executive Officer, All Qibla International Service (QIS), a Hajj and Umrah operator, Alhaji Abdulfatah Abdulmojeed, said N4.5m might not be enough for the hajj components.
He said the increase in the hajj fare was as result of the decline in the value of naira. Abdulmojeed, a former president of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHOUN), explained that virtually all hajj components are paid for in dollars and Saudi Riyal.
He said, “I doubt if the N4.5m would be enough. Don’t forget that this year, the state paid about N3m and the exchange rate used was N460.
The official exchange rate today is about N760, N770 which is almost about 70 per cent increase. So if you now use N1.7m, you would see that the N4.5m might not be enough.
“There is no need for an argument about this. Just add N1.7m to N3m paid this year, you know what it is. It might be around N6m eventually and that is at the minimum and the fare might be around N7m for the private operators with the way things are going. This is not on any high side. It is the value of naira that has dropped.”
According to him, the implication of the increase is that many aspiring intending pilgrims might not be able to afford the fare.
The hajj operator said it was high time Nigerian Muslims embraced the Hajj Savings Scheme recently introduced by NAHCON for ease of performing the sacred exercise.
He noted that many people might find it difficult to remove N4m or N6m from their business to perform the spiritual exercise.
“The logic is that this would affect a lot of pilgrims who were planning towards N3m. But it is a call and if Allah says you would make it, you would definitely make it. It is also not compulsory for you if you don’t have the means. It is those who are qualified and you are not committing any sin if you are not qualified. It is only if you are qualified and you refuse to go and you can afford it that is when it becomes a sin.”
A former Commissioner for Home Affairs/Amirul Hajj in Lagos, Dr Abdullateef Abdulhakeem, said any Muslim who could not afford it should accept it as the will of God, noting that anybody with good intention without the financial wherewithal could earn the reward of hajj.
“Generally speaking, hajj is a spiritual exercise. It is predicated on some prerequisites and conditions. Every Muslim must be conscious that hajj is not something you must do under duress or you should become a debtor.
“Hajj has been prescribed only for those who have the capacity. Capacity can be financial, good health or the situation of that country. In all these situations, people should always ensure that they avoid show offs. Every Muslim must get their priority right. The basic duties you owe your family, are you able to discharge them?
“You can earn hajj without attending hajj if you have good intentions and you do not have the capacity. Islam is a very beautiful religion where Allah (SWT) does not place a burden on anyone beyond his/her capacity.”
By Faruk Shuaibu, Abbas Jimoh (Abuja) & Abdullateef Aliyu (Lagos)