June 24, 2024

Hajj: N100.7bn subsidy not a handout, but a lifeline – MURIC

By Luminous Jannamike

The Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC) has clarified that the N100.7 billion subsidy provided by the Federal Government for the 2024 Hajj pilgrimage was not a handout, but a necessary rescue package for pilgrims who had already paid for the journey but faced losses due to the Naira’s depreciation.

According to MURIC’s Executive Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, the subsidy was a response to the extraordinary circumstances faced by the pilgrims, who had paid the full amount required but were affected by the unforeseen fluctuation in the Naira’s value.

Akintola explained that the government’s intervention was aimed at alleviating the suffering of the pilgrims, who would have otherwise been forced to bear the burden of the currency’s depreciation.

The clarification comes amidst controversy surrounding the subsidy, with some critics questioning the government’s decision to allocate such a large sum for religious purposes amidst economic hardship.

Speaking to Vanguard in Abuja on Monday, Akintola said, “Depending on the circumstances, it may be appropriate for the government to subsidize pilgrimage. The subsidy provided by the government in the past year was prompted by the difficulties faced by Muslim pilgrims. They did not explicitly request the subsidy, either individually or collectively. However, during the payment process, some pilgrims had already paid the full amount required when the Nigerian currency experienced significant fluctuation. They did not ask for the subsidy, but the prices changed after they had already paid, and it was not due to indigence. They had collected the exact amount that the Pilgrims’ Board required. Unfortunately, the value of the money they paid dropped, and they were asked to find additional funds. This is the true situation we face.

“Ordinarily, we have argued that under normal circumstances, there would be no need for government intervention in pilgrimage matters. About five years ago, MURIC (Muslim Rights Concern) launched a campaign urging the federal government to withdraw from pilgrimage affairs. Muslims can manage pilgrimage on their own; this year alone, at least 65,000 Muslim pilgrims went for Hajj. When such a large number of people pool their resources and manage them properly, they can return with profits. Therefore, we suggested that the government should withdraw its involvement.

“The only issue is that when international travel is involved, no responsible government can completely disengage because there are requirements for visas, protocols, and many other factors. We advised the government to disengage, but they did not listen. Let me also add that whenever Christians travel, whether within the country or internationally, especially to destinations like Jerusalem, and they encounter issues, no responsible President or governor—regardless of their religion—should abandon them. Anyone traveling outside this country becomes an ambassador for it. If pilgrims or travelers run into trouble for any reason, a responsible government should come to their rescue.

“What is referred to as a ‘subsidy’ was simply the government coming to the aid of pilgrims who had, in good faith, paid fully for Hajj, but whose money lost value due to international economic factors. Without government intervention, there would have been chaos.”

Vanguard News