Muslim Rights Concern (MURIC), an NGO, has advised the federal and state governments to stop sponsoring Muslims on hajj as it would be counterproductive on the long run.
The MURIC Director, Prof. Ishaq Akintola, in a statement issued in Lagos on Wednesday, said that Muslim Ummah should determine their destiny by taking care of their hajj fare.
“Every intending pilgrim must be compelled to pay a particular amount to the coffers of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) before they leave for hajj.
“Those going for ‘Umrah’ should pay something higher. As we round up, we reaffirm our belief that it is time to correct misconceptions about hajj among Muslims.
“Hajj is once in a life time; but we ignore this principle and rush to Saudi Arabia almost every year. ‘Umrah’ (lesser hajj) is not compulsory but we force it on ourselves as an annual ritual.
“We must open a new leaf. Gone are the days when anything goes. We must do what is right at all times.
“ Politicians have hijacked it. They sponsor political thugs, hoodlums, riffraffs, mistresses and prostitutes, who may not even be Muslims.
“This category of ‘pilgrims’ become recalcitrant in Saudi Arabia. Some members of the National Assembly seize those privileges meant for hajj officials. This practice should cease forthwith.
“We are poised to monitor the procedure with the aim of identifying NASS members who engage in this immodest behaviour. Enough is enough.’’
The director said that allegations of suspicion and distrust against National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) were products of misinformation.
“Our investigations reveal that 98 per cent of the services rendered by NAHCON in Saudi Arabia are determined in U.S. dollars.
“Although 2016 official exchange rate was N197, recession and the attendant fall of the naira forced 2017 official exchange rate to N305.
“Whereas a pilgrim needed just 4,003 dollars in 2016, his need in 2017 has risen to 4,805 dollars; if we multiply 4,805 dollars by N305, what we will get is N1,465,525 (approximately N1.5m).
“This is why NAHCON has pegged the 2017 hajj fare at N1.5 million. Further investigation has also revealed that air ticket from the North is 1,600 dollars while that of the South is 1,700 dollars.
“The cost of accommodation in Makkah is 933 dollars while that of Medina is 430 dollars. These are easily verifiable.
“MURIC opposes further subsidy for hajj this year for three reasons. Firstly, the Federal Government has already subsidised 2017 hajj because the official exchange rate is N368 whereas government allowed N305.
“Pilgrims would have had to pay N1,768,240 (approximately N1.8 million) at the prevailing bank rate of N368 per dollar, if Federal Government had not subsidised at all.”
Akintola urged Muslim Ummah to have it at the back of their minds that the country is in recession.
He said they must be prepared to make sacrifices as government could not afford to play the prodigal son at a time like this.
“About N34 billion would be needed to subsidise if pilgrims were to enjoy the 2016 rate of N197 per dollar but this cannot be rationalised in the face of the current recession.
“MURIC is, therefore, constrained to tell the 2017 intending pilgrims in particular and all Muslim faithful in general that hajj is for Muslims who have the means.
“This means hajj is not mandatory on those who do not have the money to perform it but it becomes compulsory once a Muslim has the means.
“Does a Muslim who has the money to perform hajj need government’s subsidy or sponsorship? The answer is capital ‘NO’.
“However, subsidies and outright sponsorship of citizens on hajj may be rationalised in an Islamic Republic but Nigeria is not one.”
Akintola noted that Nigeria is among countries with the largest number of pilgrims in Saudi Arabia every year.
According to him, Nigeria accounted for 76,000 of the more than two million Muslims from 183 countries who performed hajj in 2016.
“But how many out of this number contribute anything to the growth, development and welfare of the Ummah back home?’’ he queried.