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Urgent Call: Why Nigeria must remove subsidies on religious pilgrimages

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In recent years, Nigeria has taken significant steps towards economic reform, including the removal of subsidies on essential commodities like petrol and electricity. However, one area that remains largely untouched is the subsidy provided for religious pilgrimages. This article delves into the need for subsidising pilgrimages and argues why they are no longer sustainable in the current economic climate.

Read also: Fx subsidy for pilgrimage is misuse of national resources, say OPS, others

President Bola Tinubu recently approved N90 billion as a subsidy for the 2024 Hajj operation; the cost of the Christian pilgrimage is yet to be fixed. Before then, thirteen state governors had spent N14.84 billion to sponsor no fewer than 4,771 people on religious pilgrimages, investigations by Punch have shown.

The practice of subsidising religious pilgrimages in Nigeria traces back several decades, primarily aimed at facilitating the journey of Muslim and Christian pilgrims to holy sites in Mecca and Jerusalem. These subsidies were initially introduced as a gesture of support for religious freedom and spiritual fulfilment; however, over time, they have evolved into a significant financial burden on the economy.

Read also: Reactions trail Tinubu’s Christian Pilgrim board appointments

The cost of subsidies:

Subsidising religious pilgrimages comes at a considerable cost to the Nigerian government, with billions of naira allocated annually to sponsor thousands of pilgrims. These funds could instead be redirected towards critical areas such as education, healthcare, infrastructure development, and poverty alleviation. In a country grappling with economic challenges and social inequalities, the allocation of resources to religious pilgrimages should be questioned.

Unsustainability:

The current economic reality in Nigeria makes it clear that subsidising religious pilgrimages is no longer sustainable. With the removal of subsidies on gasoline and electricity, it is imperative to adopt a similar approach towards other forms of subsidies, including those on religious pilgrimages. Continuing to allocate scarce resources to fund pilgrimages undermines efforts towards fiscal responsibility, economic diversification, and sustainable development.

Economic rationality:

From an economic standpoint, subsidising religious pilgrimages does not align with rational resource allocation. It perpetuates a culture of dependency on government handouts rather than promoting self-reliance and entrepreneurship. Moreover, it creates opportunities for corruption and mismanagement of public funds, further eroding trust in government institutions. The government must reinforce the idea that religion is a personal matter.

Social justice:

Subsidies for religious pilgrimages also raise concerns about social justice and equity. While a select few benefit from government-sponsored pilgrimages, the majority of Nigerians struggle to access basic services and opportunities for socio-economic advancement. Eliminating these subsidies would signal a commitment to fairness and equality, ensuring that resources are allocated based on genuine needs rather than religious affiliation.

The way forward:

It is time for Nigeria to prioritise economic pragmatism over political expediency by urgently removing subsidies on these religious pilgrimages. This requires bold leadership, public dialogue, and concerted efforts to foster a more inclusive and sustainable society. Instead of relying on government subsidies, religious organisations and individuals should explore alternative funding mechanisms to support pilgrimages, such as voluntary contributions and private sponsorships.

The removal of subsidies on religious pilgrimages in Nigeria is not only a matter of economic necessity but also a step towards fostering transparency, accountability, and social justice. By reallocating resources towards sectors that benefit the broader population, Nigeria can chart a path towards prosperity and progress for all its citizens. It is time to embrace change and prioritise the common good over narrow interests.

Ime Olufunmilayo Enang; Executive Director, BusinessDay Centre for Social and Economic Advancement.