Forex Crisis Pushes Hajj Fare To N4.9m - DAILY TRUST
FEBRUARY 04, 2024
The volatility in the exchange rate of the Nigerian currency, the Naira, has raised the fare for the 2024 intending Muslim pilgrims from the initial N4.5 million pegged by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to N4.9 million.
This sudden development, coming barely three days after the January 31, 2024 dateline initially set by the national Muslim pilgrims’ agency has general mixed feelings in the Muslim community across the country.
This has equally raised concern among intending pilgrims, majority of whom have yet to fully pay the N4.5 million earlier announced as the fare.
The pegging of the new fare, according to NAHCON, is due to “the volatile currency situation.”
This development is coming just as tour operators, under the aegis of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), have called for subsidy for intending pilgrims.
The naira plunged to a record low on Tuesday selling for 1,413 against dollar at the official foreign exchange window.
The drop of the exchange rate of the currency against the US dollar followed an adjustment in the methodology for setting the rate.
Daily Trust on Sunday reports that the new hajj fare, which is about N1.6 million higher than that of last year, had earlier been pegged at N4.5 million.
The NAHCON, in a statement yesterday by its spokesperson, Fatima Sanda Usara, said intending pilgrims for the 2024 hajj from southern states were required to pay N4,899,000; those from northern states, N4,699,000 and those from Yola and Maiduguri, N4,679,000.
The commission said if it had not taken a drastic decision to consolidate the gains achieved in lowering the cost of services for hajj, the 2024 pilgrimage might have cost about N6 million.
The commission gave intending pilgrims till February 12 to make final payments, to enable it transfer the money to the service providers before the February 25 deadline set by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.
The statement by the commission said: “It would be recalled that the chairman of National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Malam Jalal Ahmad Arabi, had initially aimed to maintain the 2024 Hajj fare at N4.5 million that was charged as initial deposit.
“The prospects had remained high until the well-known Naira crash that occurred mid-week. Regrettably, the recent instability in the Dollar exchange rate compelled a necessary adjustment despite commendable efforts by NAHCON Chairman, Jalal Ahmad Arabi to maintain cost of the year’s Hajj at the said rate.
“Chairman Arabi had actively negotiated substantial discounts with service providers in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia in late January, striving to alleviate costs for intending pilgrims.
“However, the volatile currency situation within the week necessitated the commission to take a drastic decision to consolidate the gains achieved in lowering the cost of services for the Hajj, without which the price of 2024 Muslim pilgrimage might have shot to about N6,000,000 (six million Naira).
“Consequently, intending pilgrims from Nigeria’s Southern centre are required to pay N4,899,000 as Hajj fare; those from the Northern centre will pay N4,699,000, for the Hajj and pilgrims from Yola and Maiduguri centre will pay a fee of N4,679,000 for the 2024 Hajj.
“While expressing his regret, Chairman Arabi stated that this is the will of Allah, because the Commission, facing a tight deadline of 25th February, has limited time to explore further options to remain within the range of N4.5 million which he assiduously worked for. Consequently, NAHCON announces the feasible cost of Hajj to meet the impending remittance deadline.
“Intending pilgrims are therefore advised to balance their Hajj fare by Monday, 12th of February accordingly, to enable the commission transfer the funds before the imminent deadline.
“NAHCON assures the public of its commitment to ensuring a smooth and successful Hajj pilgrimage for all participants despite the challenges posed by foreign exchange factors. The Commission appreciates the understanding and cooperation of the Nigerian Muslim community during these times”, Ms Usara, who is Assistant Director, Public Affairs in the Commission said in the statement.
Intending pilgrims react
Some intending pilgrims from Kano State, who had paid the initial deposit of N4.5 million, said they would complete the payment to N4.7 million as announced by the hajj commission.
Hassan Abdullahi, who deposited N4.5 million for his mother to perform this year’s pilgrimage, said though he had hoped that the fare would remain unchanged he will pay the balance of N200,000.
“I am just hearing from you the (new) hajj fares you said NAHCON announced. Hajj is a pillar of Islam and I am determined that my mother, who is about 56 (years) now, will perform this important religious obligation. It is her first time unlike me,” he said.
Similarly, Sa’adu Na’abba said he will pay the balance before the deadline, but stressed that if the fare goes beyond N5 million, he might have a rethink.
Another intending pilgrim, Ahmadu Rufai, Abbas, said: “The hajj fare is expensive. But that is the economic reality in the country. We can only pray to God to bless us to afford this journey; but it is not easy”.
The spokesman of the Kano State Pilgrims’ Welfare Board, Suleiman Dederi, told our correspondent that the Executive Secretary of board, Laminu Rabiu Danbaffa, will chair a management meeting over the weekend to deliberate on the new hajj fares.
He said over 2,000 intending pilgrims had deposited N4.5 million. The NAHCON had allocated 5,993 seats to the state.
An intending pilgrim from Ilorin, Kwara State, who simply identified herself as Mrs Abimbola, said: “The last time I made an inquiry, my sponsor said everything would be taken care of. But with this new development, I don’t know what my sponsor will say.”
The chairman of the Kwara Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Board, Prof. Mahmud Moshood Jimba, said: “Intending pilgrims from Kwara will now pay about N4.7 million, which is about N200,000 extra.
“We think this will be the last increment because of the volatility and the free fall of the naira because nobody can predict the situation now. Before the time of hajj, only Allah knows what will happen.
“This pronouncement might even mean that the federal government is taking a risk because of the factor of time. For now, only God knows how this will further impact the exercise”, he said.
N4.8m too high–Taraba pilgrims
Intending pilgrims in Taraba State said the N4.8 million hajj fare is on the high side, even as only 525 of them had deposited N4.5 million. The state was allocated 1,600 seats.
Malam Kabiru Gambo, who deposited N4.5 million, said the new fare had put intending pilgrims under pressure.
He appealed to the federal and state governments to intervene in order to enable those who paid the minimum deposit to perform this year’s hajj.
The spokesman of the state Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Board, Umar Baba Muri, told Daily Trust that out of the 700 intending pilgrims that registered for this year’s hajj in the state, only 523 had paid the N4.5 million deposit; while 247 deposited less than N4.5 million.
Borno, Yobe to reach out to pilgrims
The acting Secretary of the Borno State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Board, Mohammed Dawule Maino, said he will only comment on the new fares after reaching out to the intending pilgrims.
One of the intending pilgrims in Damaturu, Bulama Dauda, said: “With the way things are going, it’s like many depositors will not make it to hajj this year because the economic pressure is too much. People are battling to feed and now comes another pressure on hajj. We pray to Almighty Allah to ease everything for us.”
Hajj operators advocate subsidy
The president of AHUON, Yahaya Nasidi, in a chat with Daily Trust on Sunday, noted that the NAHCON only announced the minimum fares, saying those desiring premium services would pay more.
He said giving hajj pilgrims fare subsidy will be a welcome development.
“If the government wants to give subsidy, it should give it to the whole Hujjaj (pilgrims). No matter how small the subsidy is, it will go a long way to help,” he stated.
“How much was hajj before? It was less than N1 million. Last year, it was N3 million and people still went. The whole of 95,000 people went. Despite the economic crisis, people would still go,” he added.
The Chief Executive Officer of Al Barik Hajj and Umrah Services, Mansur Umar, said intending pilgrims might pay more than the fares announced if they do not pay on time.
“Things are not easy at all. There are many challenges in the economy. It may shoot up;
“Those who are willing will pay. It’s a religious rite. I know a lot will be able to afford it. Many people like to go to Hajj no matter the price; even if it’s going to be their last penny,” he said.
From Abdullateef Aliyu, Lagos; Faruk Shuaib; Ahmed Datti, Kano; Mumini Abdulkareem, Ilorin; Magaji lsa Hunkuyi, Jalingo; Hamisu Kabir Matazu, Maiduguri