• Sunday, July 14, 2024
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BusinessDay

Stop dollarisation of Hajj in Nigeria, group urges FG

Airlifting of passengers to Hajj next year at Ibadan Airport feasible, says GM

The Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHOUN), the umbrella body for private tour operators involved in the airlift of Muslim pilgrims to Saudi -Arabia, has called on President Bola Tinubu’s administration to prevail on the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to stop the dollarisation of pilgrimage in the country.

The body is also demanding that the administration intervene in the issue of arbitrary charges of exchange rate above the market rate on Nigerians performing for Hajj and Umrah by NAHCON, as well as 2% transfer charges payable to Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) by each pilgrims.

The association made the call in a statement jointly signed by Abdulateef E. Yusuf, president of the body, and Nasir C Mohammed, general secretary, which was made available to BusinessDay, weekend in Kano.

In the statement said to be a review of the just concluded Hajj exercise to Saudi Arabia, the group noted with dissatisfaction the current trend in which its members are being forced to pay arbitrary, and excess charges because of the instability of the Naria by both NAHCON, and the CBN.

The body condemned what it described as the non-transparent manner in which NAHCON allotted a large proportion of the hajj slots meant for Nigerians to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and the National Assembly, which created a back door market opportunity for staff of the commission.

“Association for Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria is the umbrella trade body for all the tour operators involved in the organization of Hajj and Umrah for all the Nigerian Muslim Population. After the review of the Hajj 2024 and collation of reports from all members of NEC found it imperative to address the general public after it of the Hajj operations and submission of the Association`s report on the hajj to our regulator, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria.

“For the record we want to start by appreciating our service provider the Itrha Alkhar for the improvement noted on the Muna accommodation at the camp D, which we notice was better than what it was last year. The group however, observed that there was inadequate toilet facility with only one toilet provided to service about 2000 pilgrims.

“The refusal by the NAHCON to remain within its regulatory purview as a regulator and umpire in the Hajj project. The commission has turned itself into operator, directly participating and gaining monetary return in any aspect of the operation.

“We also noted that the Commission`s refusal to try another Mutawwif, despite the failure of the current one for several years, in spite failing to get the right result. It is what mentioning that last year, a search was conducted and two new Mutawwif were recommended to the commission, despite this move, we are forced to work with the same old one.

“Based on this development, we wish to inform the Commission that we have resolved as a body to resist any future arrangement whereby the Commission will continue to the faith of our pilgrims at the detriment of our members.

“Also, we noted that the Commission dragged the legs of our members for over 2 months on the promise that the FG has includes tour operators in the grant of foreign exchange concession to the sector. Based on this information our members waited for almost three months for the approval and when the N90 billion subsidy was graciously granted we were not considered, and also the Commission`s refusal to transfer money into the IBAN account of our members at the right time to enable them complete the Visa processes of our clients.

“This unfortunate situation led to late hour rush and failure of some of our members to get Visas for their clients, as we are talking now a total of over 160 off our pilgrims were unable to perform this year Hajj because of late issuance of Visa. In addition to this, there was also the refusal by the Commission to grant official visa to our members that enable them operate freely in resisted areas, during the Hajj.

“The nontransparent manner in the allotment of Hajj slots to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and National Assembly from the allocation specifically given by the Saudi `s Ministry of Hajj, does created a back door market for the staff of the commission.

“We observed that a large number of our members that delay in the completion of their clients was as a result of the arbitrary charges on exchange rate far above the market rate by the commission. At some point the commission was charging up to N1,580 to a dollar, apart from the 2% transfer charges payable to the CBN.

“The 2% that CBN charged on the total amount transferred by each of our members was a huge swindle on them. For example, each of the 110 licensed tour operator that participated in the 2024 Hajj paid excess charges amounting to N2.75 billion. This was after each of our members had paid over N1.9 billion as service charges to the NAHCON this year alone.

“Each of our member paid $100 per pilgrim, that is why severally we have calling on the Commission to stop the dollarization of Hajj operations, but the Commission had continued to do so at the detriment of the unsuspecting Hujjai”, the statement further disclosed.