Save 2024 Hajj preparations from imminent collapse, CSO urges Tinubu

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With Sunday’s announcement by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) of an upward review of Hajj 2024 fares, a Civil Society Organisation (CSO) has described it as imperative for governments at both the federal and state levels to provide intervention.

According to the CSO, Hajj 2024 may witness the lowest Nigerian contingent ever or Nigerian pilgrims may miss the opportunity of a lifetime to perform this year’s hajj.

This was contained in a statement issued by the National Coordinator, Independent Hajj Reporters, Ibrahim Mohammed on Monday.

It said NAHCON had earlier in December 2023 fixed a fare of N4.9 million per pilgrim based on an exchange rate of N897:00 to a Dollar.

“However, authorities at both the state and the federal governments could not meet with deadlines set by Saudi Arabian authorities to remit operational funds for Hajj services despite extensions given because NAHCON was waiting for the Federal Government’s promised intervention to grant lower forex rates equivalent to the number of registered pilgrims from Nigeria.

“With the approved timeframe for visa processing ticking away, NAHCON on Sunday, therefore, announced that due to the failure to meet obligations as and when due, it has no option but to ask the about 50,000 intending pilgrims that have paid the initial fare of N4.9 million to now pay additional N1.918 million on or before March 28. 

“As a Civil Society Organization with ears to the ground when it comes to Hajj matters, we are sure that over 90% of those who paid the initial deposit of N4.9 million cannot afford to raise additional N1.9 million within four days. 

“It has, therefore, become imperative for us to call on the state governors and the Federal Government to come in and provide immediate succour to the pilgrims by providing additional payments as a form of subsidy. 

“Currently, NAHCON is on the verge of missing out on the deadline of 29th April set by Saudi Arabia’s Ministry of Hajj and Umrah to process visas for Nigerian registered pilgrims – there will be no hajj without a visa. 

“For example, it will take states’ Muslim pilgrim’s welfare boards a minimum of one week to make announcements in their various states for pilgrims to be aware of the new increase. Over 65 per cent of those who have registered for the 2024 hajj are farmers and it will take an additional one week for those who have the means to be able to raise the N1.9 million increase announced by NAHCON. 

“If the pilgrims were able to pay the additional increase, then States Muslims Pilgrims boards will need a few days to transmit the collection to the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for the apex bank to begin the process of transferring the said sum to NAHCON’s International Bank Account Number (IBAN) in Saudi Arabia. It is only after this that payments can be made to Saudi based service providers. 

“With visa processing scheduled to close 35 days from now and the airlift of pilgrims billed to commence in 45 days, President Bola Ahmed Tinubu should come to the rescue and provide the needed support without asking pilgrims to pay an additional increase for 2024 hajj. 

“Anything short of this will see Nigeria travelling to Hajj 2024 with less than 10,000 pilgrims out of the allocated 95,000 slots with a potential risk of Nigerian pilgrims missing out on 2024 Hajj”. 

“Independent Hajj Reporters (IHR) had on several occasions called on all relevant authorities to take firm decisions and implement them because we foresaw what is happening now. 

“We first raised the alarm on the 8th of July 2023 via a press statement titled “CSO urges NAHCON, states to commence registration of 2024 Hajj pilgrims in earnest” when the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah announced the commencement of Hajj 2024 operations even when Hajj 2023 was not concluded.

“This was followed by another Statement dated 6th December where we pleaded with the Federal Government to grant concessionary exchange rates for 2024 hajj pilgrims”. 

Meanwhile, the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah had released new Hajj policies and intimated all Hajj participating countries about changes to Hajj operations especially as it relates to the choice and engagement of service providers, payment for such services and the issuance of visas which now comes much earlier than before. 

“We are, therefore, appealing on behalf of all Nigerian Muslims that emergency interventions are provided so that pilgrims who have at least paid the initial deposit of N4.9 million are not denied the chance to fulfill this all-important religious obligation,” IHR said.

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