HomeDocumentaryAnalysisN90bilion: Is it Hajj subsidy or concession on exchange rate

N90bilion: Is it Hajj subsidy or concession on exchange rate

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By Ibrahim Muhammed

If your relative requests that you assist him or her in raising money to pay the balance of Hajj fare due to circumstances beyond their control, that is a personal Hajj subsidy to a family member especially when you are the causative factor for his inability to meet his target.

Remember your brother has paid 90 per cent of the total sum. Can you now claim that you sponsor your brother to Hajj? That is what some uniformed writers are portraying about the alleged N90 billion subsidy by the Federal Government.

In the same vein, if you have paid for an item in a store and is unable to pick it up at that moment, but after a few months, you return to pick up the item which you paid for earlier and the manager told you that the price of the said item has increased due to higher exchange rate. Now, is it right that the manager asks you to pay additional money to balance the difference? Is it justifiable?

Remember some intending pilgrims paid their first deposit when the dollar was within 750 or 800 naira to a dollar. There are 2023 hajj leftovers who have fulfilled their financial obligations to perform hajj as directed by the Hajj authorities in Nigeria. Now, they will have to cough out more.

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Unknown to many of the critics, it has been a policy of the Federal government to approve concessionary exchange rates for both Muslim and Christian Pilgrims to enable authorities to conduct their operations with relatively lower dollar rates than official or black-market rates.

Expectedly, the Hajj industry in Nigeria has come under attack in recent weeks by the predictable hunters after a newspaper report claimed that the Federal Government has released the sum of N90 billion to subsidize 2024 Hajj fare for Nigerian intending pilgrims. I am not in a position to refute or clarify the accuracy of the report but let’s assume that it is true. Again, it seems the said N90 billion naira was said to have been computed into the hajj fare before the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, NAHCON, factored in an additional N1.9 million naira into the hajj fare. So, the equation of 2024 hajj fare remains the same.

As far as I can remember, there has never been a time in the history of hajj operations in Nigeria when the Federal Government gave money to serve as a form of subsidy to Nigerian Muslim or Christian pilgrims. The request by both Christian and Muslim pilgrimage authorities has always been about approving a concessionary exchange rate for pilgrimage transactions due to the unique nature of the exercise.

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READ ALSO: CSO asks NAHCON, States to open up on BTA in 2024 Hajj cost

Hajj operations is an offshore exercise where services are paid for in foreign currency, the US dollars. The mode of payment for hajj fare takes longer usually within 6 – 7 months. Due to the fragile nature of our economy and the exchange rates, especially naira to dollar, forex rates hardly stay within range through the period of pilgrims’ registrations. So, what the hajj industry requested is for the Federal Government to approve a concessionary exchange rate for this year’s hajj, the reason being that the dollars keep fluctuating against the naira every day.

For example, some pilgrims paid their hajj fare when a dollar was exchanged for N800, others made payment when it was N1,000 to one dollar. Hajj registration was still ongoing when the dollar rose to N1430 to a dollar.

Now, pilgrims who made payments when the dollar was N750 or N800 dollar will be shortchanged if hajj transactions were conducted using N1430 to a dollar rate or more. This is why previous administrations of Former President Olusegun Obasanjo, Dr Goodluck Ebele Jonathan and President Muhammadu Buhari approved certain fixed exchange rates for Nigerian pilgrims, a privilege that has been extended to other areas of intervention by the Governments.

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I commend President Bola Ahmed Tinubu for being a listening leader so far. He has demonstrated an uncommon leadership quality in addressing various national issues. The President, being a Muslim knows the importance of Hajj (the fourth pillar of Islam) and understands how our Muslim faithful value their religious obligations.

However, what Nigerian Hajj Stakeholders and faith-based Civil Society organizations have been pleading for is a concessionary exchange rate and not a subsidy. N200 billion subsidies or more will not have much impact on intending pilgrims who have paid N4.7 or N4.9 million as announced by NAHCON; especially if the exchange rate eventually rises to N2000 to a dollar at the time payment for service providers are being affected, Hajj is conducted in Saudi Arabia with over 68 hajj participating countries. My appeal is for the Federal Government to direct the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to sell dollars to NAHCON at the rate of N800 to a dollar to serve as a shield against forex variations. Recently, CBN sold 10,000 US dollars to each Bureaux de change operator in Nigeria at the rate of N1251 to a dollar.

The fallout and media-biased attack over the purported N90billon naira has a negative psychological effect on our dear pilgrims. A man or woman who has raised N4.9 million cannot be said to lack the capacity to perform hajj. The subsequent intervention by State governments though commendable has further created a wrong impression that Nigerian Muslims cannot afford to meet their religious financial obligations. It seems we are unconsciously setting the Hajj industry in a state of instability that may pave the way for activating the Oronsanye report hammer. It is not the fault of the Islamophobias and anti-Muslim media chauvinists, because if there is no crack in a wall, a lizard doesn’t stand a chance of going through the wall.

Finally, let it be clear that the said N90bllion is not a direct subsidy to 2024 hajj intending pilgrims but rather a contribution by the Federal Government to reduce the gap in exchange rates.

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