The Senate, yesterday, approved the recommendation by its Committee on Foreign Affairs that the Federal Government should grant a concession of N200 to a United States dollar for Nigerian Muslims’ pilgrimage to Saudi Arabia in 2017.
The recommendation was contained in a report by the committee, which was considered by the Senate at the plenary on Thursday.
The Senate, had, on June 7, 2017, debated a motion titled, ‘The Extortion of Pilgrims by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.
The chamber mandated the Committee on Foreign Affairs “to investigate the circumstances surrounding the present feeding regime and the exorbitant airfare fixed by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria, with a view to exposing any sharp practice therein and make recommendation concerning its findings to the Senate within seven days.”
In the report, which was presented by Chairman of the committee, Senator Monsurat Sunmonu, the panel said at the end of extensive deliberations with relevant stakeholders and due consideration of the matter, that subsidy should be granted to pilgrims by the Federal Government.
It reads, “The government should, as a matter of urgency, extend concession on the naira/dollar exchange to NAHCON and to the NCPC once in every year for the pilgrimages to the two Holy Lands (Saudi Arabia and Israel).
“Therefore, the committee strongly recommends the concession of N200 to a dollar for the 2017 Hajj to bring down the cost to a bearable level.”
As part of their findings, the panel said 98 per cent of the entire Hajj operations were dollar denominated, with only two per cent in naira.
The report states, “During the 2016 Hajj operation, the rate of exchange was N197 to $1 as issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria, approved by the Federal Government. In the current year, 2017, the naira suffered a serious setback and exchange in the interbank rate of N365 to $1.
“Nevertheless, the CBN issued a benchmark rate of N305 to $1 for the 2017 Hajj operation, approved by the Federal Government.
“The Hajj operation consists of two components – onshore and offshore. While the onshore constitutes only two per cent of the Hajj components, amounting to N50,665, the offshore is 98 per cent of the operations, amounting to $4,855.14 for the 2017 Hajj.
“In 2016, the total offshore component was $5,076.41, which is higher than the 2017 Hajj offshore operation cost by $221.27. Unfortunately, the savings of $221.27 could not absorb the effect of the shock caused by the devaluation of the naira vis-a-vis the US dollar.”
The panel also stated that NAHCON did not unilaterally fix the airfare for the 2017 Hajj but engaged the services of experts from the aviation sector, specifically the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority, which is responsible for appropriate pricing of civil fares.
“The process went through series of negotiations and due diligence. The approved airfare for 2016 Hajj was between $1,700 and $1,750, while for 2017 the fares are between $1,650 and $1,700,” the committee added in the report.