By Muhammad Ajah
NAHCON has made tremendous improvement in the administration of Hajj in Nigeria in the last few years, but the change mantra of the current Federal Government has been more pronounced in the commission more than ever. Every intending pilgrim for 2018 Hajj will pay less in the range of N50,000 and N100,000 unlike what pilgrims paid for 2017 Hajj. Kudos to NAHCON!With this, intending pilgrims who deposited up to N1.5 million with their various state Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare Boards/Commissions and Agencies have been directed to collect their balances from their boards. This is good news for the Muslim Ummah in general and intending pilgrims in particular. It is also commendable on the part of NAHCON, amidst new economic policies that affect Hajj operations in the host country, Saudi Arabia.
How did it happen? In 2017, NAHCON eliminated all the accommodation agents in Saudi Arabia and dealt directly with the landlords. That initiative yielded a great difference in the amount paid by the pilgrims for their accommodation in Makkah and Madinah. The pilgrims paid less and got same or better hotels that they used to pay twice for. This year, NAHCON employed the same method. With the controversies that the 2017 Hajj fares raised in mind, NAHCON in collaboration with members of the Nigerian diplomatic corps in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and states’ officials engaged the landlords in intensive negotiations that further reduced rent in Makkah and Madinah.All other charges by the different Saudi Arabian Hajj agencies were renegotiated, though some have been fixed and unchangeable while others increased. Whatever Saudi Arabia charges for the services it provides, pilgrims cannot be challenged by Nigeria alone because all their policies are for all countries of the world, not for Nigeria in isolation. NAHCON also negotiated with the state boards to reduce local charges by the states.
The only additional money which will be paid by intending pilgrims will be the 2,000 Saudi Riyals (two thousand Saudi Riyals) which is about N163,000.00 (One hundred and sixty three thousand naira only) by old timers – repeater of Hajj. The money is a levy imposed by Saudi Arabian government since last year. Depending on the type of Hajj an individual pilgrim wishes to perform: Ifrad, Qiran or Tamattu’, about N40,000 will be paid by the pilgrim. This means that it is optional and only applicable to some pilgrims as the case may be.
That is why NAHCON has not included it in the entire Hajj package. However, the Commission since few years ago, appointed Ja’iz Bank for collection of Hadaya fees from Nigerian pilgrims for onward delivery to the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) Saudi Arabia through the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). For 2018 Hajj, the agreement was sealed at the NAHCON headquarters in the presence of the Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer of Jai’z, Mr. Hassan Usman, the Deputy Managing Director of the bank (DMD) Mr. Mahe Abubakar, secretary, Ms. Rukayyat Salaudeen and the bank’s branch manager, Yusuf Isa Jonge. NAHCON insisted on transparency and the need to build pilgrims’ confidence in the process. The bank assured that despite the fact that IDB only issues electronic receipts to its clients through sms alert, it will explore ways to print such receipts for individual pilgrims instead of the past practice where they print bulk receipts for states.
As far as the 2018 Hajj fares are concerned, pilgrims of the Federal Capital Territory paid N1,538,218.62 last year. They are paying N1,492,867.50 (One million, four hundred and ninety two thousand, eight hundred and sixty seven naira, fifteen kobo only). This translates to a reduction of N45,351.47 (Forty five thousand, three hundred and fifty one naira, forty five kobo) from the fare paid last year. The package includes a flat Basic Travel Allowance (BTA) of $800.00 (eight hundred US dollars) equivalent to N244,000 at the official rate. The new BTA was approved by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria for all intending pilgrims, a policy that began last year. The era of minimum fare with $750 BTA, medium fare with a BTA of $1,000 and maximum fare with $1,500 BTA has been abolished by NAHCON because of the sharp practices that used to mar the opportunity. NAHCON also discovered how some pilgrims were shortchanged by their officials. The official exchange rate this year is N305 to US$1 as it was last year. This is applicable to both Muslim and Christian pilgrims.
Other states for instances are Kaduna State whose pilgrims paid N1,535,505 last year but are paying 1,490,614.05; Kano reduced from N1, 537, 859 to N1,474,167.05; Nasarawa from N1, 544, 894 to N1,486,348.10; Adamawa from N1,530,101 to N1,467,200.00; Yobe from N1,520,101 to N1,470,864.65; Katsina from N1,498,502 to N1,463,410.00; Taraba from N1,521,138 to N1,476,755.12; Kwara from N1,501,571 to N1,462,390.95; Sokoto from N1,524,618 to N1,486,657.62; Plateau from N1,529,035 to N1,471,719.52; Bauchi from N1,523,122 to N1,476,238.91 and Niger from N1,525,483.30 to N1,465,500.00.
Zamfara paid N1,510,461.65 last year, Gombe N1,516,118.90, Benue N1,522,118.90, Kebbi N1,534,659.85, Osun N1,548,153.42, Armed Forces N1,538,379.22, Ogun N1,561,943.97, Anambra N1,511,173.77, Ekiti N1, 525,191.27, Edo N1,551,331.87, Oyo N1, 584,069.02, Cross River N1,556,221, Abia N1,526,473.77, Anambra N1,511,173.77, Delta N1,513,623.77, Ebonyi N1,526,773.77, Jigawa N1,518,683.33, Kogi N1,539,466.52 and Ondo N1,485,096.07. But the pilgrims going through the states are paying less this year. And though the registration exercise is ongoing, states have given their deadlines to enable them make remittances to NAHCON for onward payment to service providers in Saudi Arabia.
NAHCON has continued to battle with late registration by Nigerian pilgrims who always focus on Hajj matters after the month of Ramadan. The Commission had set March 31, 2018 as deadline for registration of the 2018 pilgrims but had to extend it because of the attitude of Muslims in Nigeria as it relates to Hajj. Most of the pilgrims are often from the rural areas and despite the awareness campaign by NAHCON on early preparations/registration/payments to ensure securing better services that are contended for by other pilgrims of the world, the case has remained worrisome every year. NAHCON and states should do something about this ,because failure to secure better services will not be counted against the pilgrims but on the federal and state Hajj administrators.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.