Hajj 2022: Pilgrims To Pay More As Naira Tumbles

Advertisements

Prospective pilgrims to Saudi Arabia from Nigeria would most likely pay more this year because of the deteriorating value of the naira, Daily Trust reports.

Advertisements

This is even as there is anxiety among stakeholders and intending pilgrims over the 2022 hajj as about 150,000 pilgrims may compete for about 45,000 slots, being the expected seat allocation by the Saudi Arabian authorities for Nigeria. There was no hajj in 2020 and 2021 following the COVID-19 pandemic, which ravaged the world with several countries locking down to contain the spread of the virus. Therefore, some of the thousands of intending pilgrims who paid for the spiritual journey in 2020 and 2021 said they hope to perform the hajj exercise this year in addition to those hoping to pay also. 

Advertisements

Respite came the way of many Muslims, especially intending pilgrims around the world when the Ministry of Hajj and Umrah of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia announced about 10 days ago that one million pilgrims would perform the 2022 Hajj, out of which 85 per cent would be allocated to external pilgrims while the remaining percentage would be for Saudi residents.https://90fa4479b0018395164060265b3d6d58.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

Advertisements

The one million is 50 per cent less than the usual figure of two million pilgrims that performed the exercise pre-COVID – 19.

Pre-COVID, Nigeria used to get 95,000 slots for both states and the private hajj operators.

But with the reduction in the number by Saudi authorities, stakeholders say the slots would be 50 per cent or less than the usual 95,000 slots implying that Nigeria might get between 45,000 or 50,000 slots for both states and the private tour operators.https://90fa4479b0018395164060265b3d6d58.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-38/html/container.html

It would be recalled that about 65,000 performed the exercise in 2019 comprising 45,450 for states and 20,000 for the private tour operators. 

With the 65,000 benchmark, stakeholders envisage a backlog of 130,000 intending pilgrims or more to jostle for the slots being expected from Saudi Arabia.

It was also learnt that the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) is planning towards 50,000 or less as most countries are doing because of the reduced slots from Saudi.

Hajj is one of the pillars of Islam, which every Muslim with the financial wherewithal is required to perform at least once in his lifetime.

Price hike imminent

Findings by Daily Trust revealed that many intending pilgrims have been contacting both the state pilgrims’ welfare boards and the tour operators over the 2022 hajj without getting concrete information on the modalities.

But our correspondent learnt that the hajj fare for this year may be between N2.5m and N3m based on the current economic realities.

The major components of hajj fare include airfare, accommodation in Makkah and Madinah and the Basic Travelling Allowance (BTA), among others.

Daily Trust reports that hajj fare in 2019 was around N1.5m, which is the current price of Umrah (lesser Hajj). At that time, the official exchange rate was N306 to a dollar but now the official rate is N416 and N580/N585 in the black market.

Also, it was learnt that many Umrah pilgrims paid as much as N500, 000 for visas when it used to be N250, 000.

Another source told our correspondent that virtually all the service providers in Saudi Arabia have doubled their prices.

“Definitely, the cost of accommodation has gone up, the cost of the tent in Mina and Arafat will not be the same and all this would determine the cost of hajj fare,” the informed source said.

Also, the cost of air ticket is going to be high considering that many airlines have recently hiked the fare in the domestic markets due to the high cost of aviation fuel known as Jet A1 and the general increase in operational cost.

The cost of airfare alone in 2019 was $1,650 for the southern part of Nigeria; $1,600 for the North and $1,550 for Maiduguri. But this year, it could be between $2,500 (N1.04m) to $3,000 (N1.2m).

Also, while the N270,000 was exchanged to get a BTA of $850, about N353,600 would be required this time around to get the same $850 at the official exchange rate of 416/$.

‘Preparations on hold’

By this time before COVID, preparations for hajj would have reached a crescendo. NAHCON would have signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with service providers in Saudi, sealed contracts with the air carriers while the states would have also advanced with their arrangements.

However, as of the time of filing this report, stakeholders say preparation is currently on hold because there has not been any official communication from Saudi.

A NAHCON source said, “We don’t know the arrangement yet. We have not signed any contract with any airlines. We have not interviewed any carrier, we have not invited the NCAA to inspect and certify any airline. We have not also signed any contract with GACA (General Authority of Civil Aviation) in Saudi, we have not also signed an overflight agreement with Sudan and other countries. So everything is on hold.”

Speaking with our correspondent, a former President of the Association of Hajj and Umrah Operators of Nigeria (AHUON), Alhaji Abdulfatah Abdulmojeed said the Saudi authorities have to hasten up with the plan.

He said, “Preparation is on hold. Of course, people have heard there is going to be hajj this year but what sort of hajj? So if anybody is preparing, preparing for what? We have not operated hajj post-COVID-19 or during COVID-19, we have not. So any planning you want to base on before COVID-19, you are deceiving yourself because a lot of things have changed, whether here or even there.”

He, however, tasked NAHCON to sustain its policy of first-come, first-served since it is clear that many people would not be able to perform the exercise.

“But what I think NAHCON is doing, which I think is good is to insist on the Hajj Saving Scheme so that you know people who are there. Whether they have been able to meet up with the cost, would be another issue. Those that cannot meet up can wait,” he said.

Also speaking, the Managing Director of An-Noor Air Service, a tour operator based in Abuja, Alhaji Harun Ismail said from the turnout of intending pilgrims for the Umrah exercise, many people would be eager to perform hajj.

However, he observed that the picture is still very unclear as to what would play out.

NAHCON spokesperson, Hajia Fatima Sanda Usara told our correspondent that the circumstances of the 2022 hajj are still unknown as the commission awaits the number of slots to be given to Nigeria, however, said the principle of first-come, first-served basis would be applied.

“Yes, we are going to apply the first-come, first-served system,” she said.

Asked, if there would be any interest on the deposits made by the pilgrims in the last two years, she responded that NAHCON doesn’t keep pilgrims’ money.

“All I know is that by the time the components are stated, NAHCON will announce it for those that have any balance to make up to do so. NAHCON does not keep pilgrims’ money,” she said.

Intending Pilgrims speak 

Some of the intending pilgrims who spoke with our correspondent said they were not unaware of the current economic realities and as such, they were prepared to make up for the balance.

However, they said having left their money with the government since 2019, they should be considered first, to participate in the exercise. 

An intending pilgrim from Kwara State, Abdulwasiu Olaiya said he deposited N1.3m to participate in the 2020 hajj.

“I know that the situation is not the same. The value of the money we paid at that time is not the same at the moment and we were told the money is in the Treasury Single Account (TSA).”

Another intending pilgrim, Alhaja Bola Abdulrasheed said she deposited N1.4m and would try to pay up the balance once the Hajj fare is announced.

“Since we are doing it for the sake of Allah, I don’t think anything is too much to serve God Almighty. We are praying that God will provide the balance when the time comes,” she said.

State pilgrims’ boards not collecting deposits

Findings by our correspondent indicated that most state pilgrims’ welfare boards are reluctant in collecting fresh deposits because of the backlog for 2019, 2020 and 2021.

The Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims’ Board confirmed to our correspondent that it has stopped the sale of forms because of the backlog for 2020 and 2021.

Public Relations Officer of the board, Mr Taofeek Lawal said many people who made deposits for 2020 and 2021 did not collect their money, adding, “We are still expecting slots from NAHCON.”

Also, the Kaduna State Pilgrims’ Board said it has also stopped selling forms to avoid a situation where those who paid would not be able to perform the exercise when it was glaring that the state would not get up to 4000 slots usually allocated to the state. 

PRO of the board, Salisu Sani said, “We don’t have the actual allocation now. We are still waiting for NAHCON to get the communication from Saudi Arabia. In 2019, we had 4000. In 2020, we had 4000 but we don’t have any slot in 2021, but for this year, we don’t think we would get that 4000.

“We stopped selling forms because we have a backlog of pilgrims for 2020, 2021 totalling more than 3000. We don’t want to sell any form because we don’t know the number of slots to be given to us,” he said.

  • Credit: Daily Trust*

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *