As Intending Pilgrims Grumble Over High Fare, Short Payment Deadline

Amid an unstable forex exchange rate and economic hardship, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has yet again announced an increase in the final fare for the 2024 Hajj exercise.

The commission on Tuesday, March 19, 2024 fixed N5,013,500 as final fare for 2024 Hajj, adding that the complete payment by boards, agencies and commissions of State Muslim Pilgrims’ Welfare managers should be remitted within 48 hours.

Following NAHCON’s update on Tuesday, March 19, 2024, the intending pilgrims are advised to complete their Hajj fare on or before Thursday, March 21, 2024 to enable the Commission transfer the funds before the imminent deadline.

The recent development by NAHCON, according to survey means 2024 Hajj fare by private operators now ranges from 8 to 9 Million naira after adding flight ticket and other logistics.

This led to intending pilgrims complaining of high Hajj fare and short payment deadline.

Earlier this year

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.

NAHCON had on January 3 disclosed that the Saudi Arabian Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had slated February 25 as the end date for signing all contracts, signalling the end of payments into International Bank Account Number (IBAN) accounts.

While the naira’s depreciation is a major factor for this, it was gathered that uncertainty whether President Bola Ahmed Tinubu would approve a subsidized dollar rate is causing apprehension about an increase in the fare.

When the initial fare was announced, a dollar was N1,410 at the black market and N1,368 at the official rate. The minimum amount to have been paid as fare, would have been N8.46 million or N8.2 million, respectively, going by the $6,000 often spent on each pilgrim.

The chairman of the commission, Jalal Ahmad Arabi, had admitted that the cost would have been “about N6 million” if not for the discounts by the service providers.

Although he did not disclose how much each pilgrim would pay in dollars after the discount, the dollar increase a month after the announcement had put the commission in a fix as it is seeking the aid of the president to augment the price.

Before now, the federal government often subsidized the dollar for pilgrims which kept the fare low, but with the forex crisis, it is not certain if the government will do so this year.

While industry experts have expressed hope that the government will intervene, sources revealed that the incommunicado between the presidency and NAHCON on subsidizing the hajj fare has stalled payment of some services by the commission two weeks after Saudi Arabia began issuing visas to intending pilgrims.

We won’t accept further hike – pilgrims

Ibrahim Haruna Shuaibu, an intending pilgrim, said he completed his payment of N4.6 million a couple of months ago but had not received any updates from the pilgrims’ board since then.

“By now, I expected that the reduction in fares would be made following President Tinubu’s directive to the Hajj Commission. I have been waiting to hear from the commission, but there has been no communication from the board about the preparation.

“We were also told that state governors will subsidize dollars for us, but up till now, the Plateau State Pilgrims Board has not informed us about that. Nobody is talking to us,” he said.

Ibrahim said they were not expecting any increment in the fare even with the hike in the dollar price, but if the Hajj Commission deemed fit to make any increment, it would not be easy.

He said, “I will look into my pocket, and if the increment does not go beyond my reach, I will go ahead to add up because pilgrimage is worth embarking on,” he said.

Another intending pilgrim, Auwal Kasimu, expressed concern that the Hajj Commission and state pilgrims board were not providing them with any information.

“We are left in the dark because since we made our complete payment, no single piece of information has come to us from the board. It is good news that the government is planning to reduce the fare, but we have yet to receive any news about that.

“I don’t want to hear about any increment. If they do not reduce, why should they ask us to add up because we made payments months ago? But in the event of an increment, one will only look at his pulse to see whether to add up or not,” he said.

Meanwhile, it was reported that President Tinubu had on Sunday, February 11, 2024, promised to support pilgrims.

Speaking when he received a delegation from the Global Tijaniyya Movement, led by Khalifa Muhammad Mahe Niass, at the Presidential Villa in Abuja, the president said his administration will support plans and efforts to give ease and succour to hajj pilgrims.

In a statement released by the handlers of the president, they quoted him emphasising the importance of spiritual endeavours in nation-building, underscoring his administration’s commitment to supporting religious activities.

They highlighted the need for collaboration between political and spiritual leaders to advance the nation’s interests and promote unity among the people.

The statement, however, did not mention the kind of support that would be given to the pilgrims but in an updated version, the statement said President Tinubu said his administration was revolutionising agriculture to make Nigeria self-sufficient in food production and a net exporter of agricultural products.

While intending pilgrims are complaining of the high Hajj fare and short notice, it is to be seen whether this will have impact on this year’s pilgrimage exercise.

NAHCON on the other hand, assured the public of its commitment to ensuring a smooth and successful Hajj pilgrimage for all participants despite the challenges posed by foreign exchange factors.