Uneasy Calm over 2017 Hajj fare amidst NAHCON’s reforms

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By Muhammad Ajah
What will the Hajj fare for the 2017 Hajj be? Without any atom of doubt, this is the most resounding question going on in the minds of Muslims in Nigeria, especially the intending pilgrims who have deposited huge sums with their respective state boards in anticipation of the announcement of the final fare by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). Expectations are high that the 2017 Hajj fare will be much higher than last year’s, apparently because of forex related issues. But what would have happened if NAHCON’s reforms for 2017 Hajj were not fearlessly and doggedly pursued and achieved? 
With the current economic situation in the country, it is not yet clear how much the government would concede to the Hajj fiscal transactions. And for information, over 90 percent of funds for Hajj are transacted in foreign currencies: the US dollars and the Saudi Arabian Riyals. But the dollar is the actual computation and transaction currency.   
I was in a midst of people who speculated the 2017 fare. Though it was all about speculations, I was impressed with the submission of one. He analyzed the current economic reality in the country and the instability in the forex market. Summarily, most of the discussants believed that the fare may go beyond N1,500,000.00 (one and half million naira). One of them recalled that NAHCON had promised to beat down the fare despite inflation. That made me go into analysis of the past Hajj fares and the effect NAHCON’s reforms may have on the final fare to be announced in due course. 
The truth is that Hajj fares have been on the increase from the past years. Since the establishment of NAHCON, government has always given concessionary exchange rate to fiscal transactions for pilgrimages to Makkah and Jerusalem. For Hajj, its fare components are air-carriers, feeding in Makkah, Madinah and Masha’ir, united agents fees in Saudi, tent security deposits, tent C cost, ministry of Hajj deposits, feeding at Saudi airports, administrative charges for NAHCON and state boards, annual Hajj development levy, passport attachment, yellow card fee, naira equalization of dollar account, the BTA and 1% bank charge, among others. The cost of Hajj fare included suitcases and uniform to be used by the pilgrims, but the duo is determined by the state boards, agencies and commissions. NAHCON prequalifies the manufacturers and suppliers of suitcases.
Between 2009 and 2016, Hajj fares have increased by over a hundred percent, of course, because of the determinant force – the US dollar. For instance, in 2009 hajj fares were: for northern departure zones: N470,737.38 (minimum), N509,788.23 (medium) and N551,891.93 (maximum), while pilgrims from the southern zones paid N477,558.88, N541,605.73 and N588,709.43 respectively. In 2016, with the concessionary rate of N197 to US$1, the fares were: for northern departure zones: N998,248.92 (minimum), N1,047,498.92 (medium) and N1,145,998.92 (maximum), while pilgrims from the southern zones paid N1,008,197.42, N1,057,447.42 and N1,155,947.42 respectively.  
However, inquiries showed that from 2010 to 2015, the increment from one Hajj to the other was below N100,000.00. It was in 2016 that the Hajj fare increased by over N200,000.00. Pilgrims in 2015 Hajj paid as follows: for northern departure zones: N754,476.59 (minimum), N798,476,59 (medium) and N897,476.59 (maximum), while pilgrims from the southern zones paid N766,556.59, N806,556.59 and N905,556.59 respectively.  
In 2012, Hajj fares were based on concessionary exchange rate support of N145. A breakdown of the 2012 Hajj fares showed that pilgrims from the northern zones paid N613,644,52 (minimum), N649,894,69 (medium) and N727,769,69 (maximum), while pilgrims from the southern zones paid N620,967.19, N657,217,19 and N732,092.19 respectively.  
Further inquiries showed that the increase from 2013 to 2014 Hajj fares was not drastic. In 2013, pilgrims from the northern departure zones paid N636,496.52 (minimum), N672,996.52 (medium) and N750,996.52 (maximum), while pilgrims from the southern zones paid N643,869.52, N680,369.52 and N758,369.52 respectively. But the 2014 Hajj fares with President Goodluck Jonathan’s approved exchange rate of N150 to one US$1 were: for northern departure zones: N636,061.77 (minimum), N723,561.77 (medium) and N897,476.59 (maximum), while pilgrims from the southern zones paid N639,636.77, N731,136.77 and N809,136.77 respectively. The above analysis of 2015 and 2016 Hajj were computed with the US$750, US$750 and US$1,500 Basic Travel Allowances.
As for the 2017 Hajj, the official exchange rate at the parallel market is N305 to US$1. The federal government has not yet announced its position on the concessionary rate. But with all the Hajj components and inflation, there is little doubt that the fare will not be higher than previous years. Yet, amidst this glaring truth comes the effect of the reforms achieved by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) to ease the exercise and make it affordable.
NAHCON has transformed accommodation arrangements for 2017 Hajj and has saved the state and federal governments a lot of money. The commission negotiated downwards the cost of all accommodations in both holy cities of Makkah and Madinah. The commission is now dealing directly with the landlords and has eliminated the chains of agents who used to be responsible for the high cost of accommodations for Nigerian pilgrims.
This means that whatever the 2017 Hajj fare would be, Nigerian pilgrims will pay between 500 to 900 Saudi Riyals less for accommodations in Makkah and 614 Saudi Riyals less for accommodations in Madinah. Generally, over US$12.3 million would be saved from Madinah, while over 18 million Saudi Riyals would be saved from Makkah. Pilgrims stay eight days in Madinah and the rest of Hajj seasons in Makkah and its neighbourhoods of Mina, Muzdalifah and Arafah. There are also aggressive negotiations to reduce the cost of air fare for this year’s Hajj. On the other hand, investigations show that the costs of some services in Saudi Arabia especially the transport within the holy sites and fire-proofing of Arafah tents have increased by over 200 percent.    
Whatever the 2017 Hajj fare would be, I pray Allah (SWT) makes it easy for the Muslims to afford. Hajj is a call by Allah and whatever it may cost, Allah will make ways for the Muslims to observe it. Why not!  In the past, Muslims used to travel with difficulties by all archaic transportation means and for several months to and from Makkah for Hajj. Now, it is a matter of cash and health. And till the end of the world, Allah willing, there must be amongst men those who will answer His call with His bounties on them.  May the 2017 Hajj be affordable, hitch-free and rewardable. Ameen.
Muhammad Ajah is an advocate of humanity, peace and good governance in Abuja. E-mail[email protected].

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