The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has said decisions taken by President Muhammadu Buhari and the reforms introduced by the commission has saved Nigeria pilgrims over N83 billion during Hajj operations in 2017 .
This was revealed by the Head of Public Affairs at NAHCON, Fatima Usara, during an interactive session with journalists at the commission’s head office Abuja on Tuesday.
Mrs Usara said the decision by Mr Buhari to abolish the practice of dollar concession alone saved Nigeria N75 billion in 2017.
The practice in the past was for presidents to give concessionary exchange rates for pilgrims going to Hajj.
For instance, while the official exchange rate of $1 to the naira was N190 in 2016, President Goodluck Jonathan had earlier granted a concession which reduced the exchange rate to N160 for $1, the government therefore, subsidised each dollar with N30.
Mrs Usara said Mr Buhari abolished the practice and also granted NAHCON approval to fix a flat BTA for all pilgrims.
“Because of the concession, and because there were three types of Hajj seats at then, which were minimum, medium and maximum, often differentiated by BTA, one person will pay for say 200 persons and then connived with a financial institution to collect the subsidised BTA and then give the pilgrims pittance. It therefore, became an illegal business venture for some people,” she said.
She also said the management of NAHCON led by Abdullahi Mohammed came into office at about the same time with Mr Buhari in 2015 and one of the first decisions he took after meeting with the NAHCON chairman was to abolish the practice of federal government’s sponsorship of a delegation to hajj annually.
She said decision alone saved the government N1.6 billion annually.
Also, she said NAHCON in 2017 decided to abolish the use of middle men in securing accommodation for Nigerian pilgrims in Saudi Arabia.
Instead, she said the commission deals directly with home owners which saved the country over $14 million.
In the same vein, the NAHCON spokesperson said another reform introduced in 2017 regarding Hadaya (sacrificial animal) has saves pilgrims N1.6 billion.
She said the reform sees the introduction of Jaiz Bank to work in conjunction with Islamic Development Bank to collect monies meant for the purchase of sacrificial animals from the pilgrims and issue them coupons.
“Upon payment a coupon is given to the pilgrim and his phone number is collected and he will receive an alert on when the Hadaya will be carried out and when it is done,” she said.
She said the commission decided to introduce the new measure because pilgrims had been shortchanged in the past whereby some people posing as agents receive payments for the Hadaya but would eventually fail to carry it out.
Carrying out the Hadaya sacrifice is one of the most important component of Tammatu Hajj, the type of Hajj in which pilgrims combine Hajj and Umrah and which most Nigerian pilgrims undertake.
Mrs Usara said if not for the new scheme Nigerian pilgrims “would have been defrauded of N1.6 billion.”
Mrs Usara said NAHCON in 2016 refunded N1.5 billion to pilgrims for services poorly rendered to them, adding “due to improved services in 2017” the figure refunded to pilgrims came down to N527 million.
Mrs Usara said as the commission continues preparation for Hajj 2019 it is already fully utilising the Hajj development levy collected by upgrading Hajj departure centres in some states across the country.
She also said the commission intends to kick start the Hajj saving scheme introduced earlier in 2018, while a Hajj training institute meant to train Hajj managers, intending pilgrims and the general public.
She also said NAHCON is heading towards “self-funding to reduce the burden on government.”
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