Hajj Pilgrimage: Criticism Trail Senate’s N200/$ Forex Discount
The Senate has recommended the concession of N200 to $1 by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to intending pilgrims embarking on the 2017 Hajj, to bring the cost of the pilgrimage down to a bearable level.
This is in spite of the CBN’s benchmark of N305 to $1, for the 2017 Hajj operations, approved by the federal government.
The Senate also urged the government to extend concessions on naira-dollar exchange rate to the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) once every year for pilgrimages.
If the government consents to the request, it means the allocation of foreign exchange for those planning to embark on the pilgrimage would be subsidised by about 37 per cent.
Currently, the naira exchanges at about N315 to the dollar in the official window, as against about N365 to the dollar at the parallel market is.
The request ignores the provisions in the approved Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, covering all expenditure plans for 2017, and the Appropriation Act, which was earlier approved by the lawmakers, prior to the assent by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Following the adoption of the report by the committee on foreign affairs on “Extortion of Pilgrims” by the National Hajj Commission, a former governor of Kebbi State, Adamu Aliero, APC-Kebbi, had requested, as matter of urgency, concession of N200 to the dollar once every year, for those going on pilgrimages.
Economists have criticised this step saying conceding to such request would spell disaster to the economy. They say it will definitely distort the market and create another confidence crisis.
Director of the Centre for Social Justice, Eze Onyekpere said from this development, it was very clear the National Assembly members have lost touch with reality of the Nigerian situation.
“They do not seem to understand the state of the country’s economy. It is unthinkable that those who are supposed to make laws for our country are making such ridiculous demands, which is selfish to the extreme.
“Giving concession to those going on pilgrimage and ignoring the proposals in the medium term expenditure framework and the budget benchmark in the Appropriation Act is a crazy proposition.
“Anybody who makes such sentimental and senseless request should not be taken seriously. Pilgrimage is a personal thing. Anyone going to seek one’s salvation should look for his private money to fund his trip.”
“Asking government to subsidise such trips violates the right of other Nigerians not interested in such jamboree,” Mr. Onyekpere said.
“Asking for subsidy for pilgrimage at a time government is looking for funds to revive our industries and create jobs for the people smacks of shallow thinking. This is the real tragedy”.
Last year, the Central Bank was embroiled in a similar controversy when it approved the allocation of foreign exchange to those on pilgrimage at a rate lower than the prevailing rate.
Presiding, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, also inaugurated an ad hoc committee to further look into allegations of extortions in pilgrimages.