AHURAKA YUSUF ISAH covered senate committee’s proceedings, as well as Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar’s submission and accordingly writes that there is more that meet the eyes than the probe of alleged corruption in the 2017 Hajj Fare packages.
Senate had on June 7, 2017 mandated its Committee on Foreign A airs to investigate what it described as exorbitant airfare of over N1.5 million xed for the 2017 intending pilgrims and the feeding regime by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON). According to the Senate, the probe will help expose any sharp practice therein and make appropriate recommendation concerning its ndings. Senate which has been silent on the ndings of its Foreign A airs Committee constituted an Adhoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics, Feeding O shore and Onshore of Nigeria Pilgrims to probe alleged corrupt practices in the determination of the 2017 Hajj Fares.
On January 18, 2018, NAHCON Chairman, Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar appeared before the Adhoc committee; insisting that there was no malpractices, extortion or corruption whatsoever in the NAHCON under his watch. He said, the astronomical 2017 Hajj fare increase was as a result of the sparked increase of exchange rate from $197 in 2016 to $305 in 2017.
The commission, Mukhtar said rather refunded $18.6million to the pilgrims for the services they paid for but not provided to them during 2016 and 2017 hajj exercises.
However, rumour is making round that certain member of the upper chamber fueling the idea of the probe ostensibly to hatch evidences, real or otherwise to cause NAHCON leadership change in order to install a protégé in this commission some people consider as only next to petroleum industry in riches.
What NAHCON Chairman Told The Senate…
The 2017 Hajj came with a lot of challenges. Part of the challenges was the debate of the hajj fares, which generated a lot of controversies, comments, public discuss and so.
That was also brought before you in the National Assembly, Senate and House of Representatives alike. Committees were set up to look into this in the House of Reps and Committee of Foreign A airs was also mandated by the senate to look into it. We made several appearances before the committee of foreign a airs and most of the stakeholders that appeared before you also appeared before the committee of foreign a airs. We did similar appearances before the House of Reps and nally we went to Hajj. We are pleased to note that after the Hajji, the matter was brought again for discussion.
However, I want to say there is nothing in the 2017 hajj fare that connotes extortion or corruption in the hajj package, judging from the following statistics;
Allocation for Nigeria was 95,000 comprising of 75,000 for those under government and 20,000 for those under private tour operators.
15,650 were able to attend under the tour operators and 65,502 participated under the government making it a total of 81,182 participants of the 2017 hajj.
Permit me to take you back a little to the historical analysis of the hajj fare; In 2003, the exchange rate was $128 dollars, 2004-$128, 2005-$128, 2006-$120, 2007-$120, 2008-$145, 2009-$135, 2010-$135, 2011-$135, 2012-$145, 2013-$146, 2014-$150, 2016-$197, 2017-$305.
As for the air fare, in 2003, it was $750 from the north and $800 from the south, 2004; 800(north)-950(south),,2005; 900(N)-950(S),, 2006; 1200(N)-1250(S),, 2007; 1300(N)- 1350(S),, 2008; 1700(N)-1750(S),, 2009; 1500(N)-1550(S),, 2010; 1500(N)-1550(S),, 2011; 1600(N)-1650(S),, 2012; 1700(N)- 1750(S) up till 2016.
The slide presentation on the issue of air fare is to show how dynamic, the cost of air ticket has been. The column for feeding and accommodation also di ers. This is to show that whatever gure the commission comes up with is based on the forces and reality at that material time.
Between 2009 and 2017, we tried to show the complete hajj package; in 2009 the BTA was 507 with the exchange rate of $135, 2010- 516 ($145), 2011-630($145),, 2012-649($145),, 2013-672($146), 2014-723($150),, 2015- 798($160),, 2016- 1m($197), and in 2017- 1.5m at an exchange rate of $305.
The point here is, out of the total component that makes up hajj fare, 98% are the dollar cost. In 2009 the total dollar component was 3,404. 95,, 2010-3,484,, 2013-4,234,, 2014- 4,451,, 2015-4,671,, 2016-5,026,, but in 2017, it reduced to 4,725 which means the commission has reduced the total dollar component of hajj in 2017 with almost $300 compared to 2016.
No single component of the hajj fare was increased by 1 dollar. The bottom line here is that the increase of the 2017 hajj fare was as a result of the increase of foreign exchange rate from $197 to $305. Meaning that if a pilgrim that performed hajj in 2016 for 1 dollar, the same pilgrim would have attended for less than 1 dollar in 2017 as it has been reduced with about $300; but the exchange rate however led to the increase in the fare.
The question is, how do one determine all this Prices? I am pleased to note that the aviation company that appeared before you particularly the Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), serve as our guide on so many issues. They assume the technical committee that provides technical advice on all matters including our adverts on issues of air carriers. They participate fully in the entire screening exercise.
We envisaged the issue of the dollar would be high in 2016 when government gave the exchange rate of $197, as at that time, we made submission to government seeking for appropriate exchange rate to use, suddenly when the hajj was approaching, the exchange rate increased.
However, members of the public were unaware that we have long applied during regime of the previous exchange rate and consequently deposited certain amount in the CBN for the transaction. Curiously, they assumed that we were given special treatment, resulting into so much heated discourse on why government should give special consideration on religious matters. I recall that the governor of CBN and I were on the press almost on regular basis to explain to Nigerians that it wasn’t so. Thereafter, CBN came up with a policy statement which was widely circulated that any religious matters or pilgrimage, would be funded at the prevailing o cial exchange rate, meaning there would no longer be any preferential treatment.
Thereafter, in 2017 e orts were made to see if there would be anything lower than the o cial exchange rate because we assumed if all variables were same, without any increase, having o cial exchange rate higher than what it was in 2016 would lead to a public outcry. However, there is nothing we could do about matters outside our purview and power.
In summary, the cost increase in 2017 was brought about by the issue of foreign exchange. I would buttress that the cost of accommodation in Mecca handled by the state in 2017, the total amount paid on behalf of the state to the service providers by the commission when compared to that of 2016, has a reduction of $4.3 million. In Medina also, the total amount paid in 2016 compared to 2017 has a reduction of $14.3 million.
The cost of air ticket was also reduced depending on the departure points. In most northern departure points, $50 were discounted after renegotiation by the commission with the airlines and representatives of the state headed by Professor Kamil Koyejo Oloso because we want to make sure that there is reduction in the fare, we created another third share of the cost of air ticket from the Maiduguri and Yola departure centers. We argued that they were closer to Saudi Arabia in terms of ying time compared to other Northern states. The airlines went further to discount a $100.
Lagos departure and the southern departure centers that used to cost $1,750 in the past was discounted with $50 which means there is reduction in the cost of air ticket and accommodation. But the exchange rate has usurped the savings and as such, the impact was not felt directly by the pilgrims. If today, the exchange rate of hajj becomes $197 as it was in 2016, Nigerians pilgrims would be paying less than 2016 Hajj fare package.
I recommend that what we should pursue is what would make our economy better, our currency stronger, higher value of the naira, to even appreciate ahead of the dollar and that would make total cost of many things to go down.
Aside the Hajj fare, on the services rendered, I am sure you would agree with me that you cannot manage 81,000 people and their o cials without complaints. Quoting from the Holy Quran “Indeed human being is an ingrate even to his lord’’
It is not possible to serve everybody as a regulatory agency to the same satisfactory level. As coordinators of the state and private tour operators, we take full responsibility for whatever happens, but we do that with all sense of belief that we would stand before the Almighty and account for our actions. Not only human beings and that our focus makes us work 24 hours to ensure that where people are not served, where we receive complaints, we address it immediately.
That is why after every hajj, in the last 4 to 5 years, we have introduced advert in the national dailies and local radio stations calling for people with complaints to make a written submission to us and according we address it. We set up various committees in hajj to monitor the services being rendered for example. And in 2015 we refunded Nigerian pilgrims N1.5 billion for services not rendered or poorly rendered. We even published in the national dailies and advertised in local stations advising the pilgrims to go to their respective pilgrim’s welfare board and collect what is due for them which the pilgrims appreciated as they were not expecting it.
In 2016, we refunded over N500 million and in 2017, we are refunding about N773 million for services not rendered.
On the eve of our movement to Arafat, the commissioners and I went ahead of the pilgrims to Arafat ground before their arrivals to inspect the facilities, and we found out that the desert coolers were not e ective and drew the attention of the authorities which thereafter was still not e ected. We therefore complained after the Hajj and about 2 million Saudi Riyadh was refunded which we gave to the states as refund.
Similarly, we went round all the Nigerian tents to nd out about their welfare and found out that some of them were not adequately accommodated. Consequently, we did a head count and found that about 5,002 Nigerian pilgrims were unaccommodated. We thereafter
The vapour created by the proposed amendment to the 2010 Electoral Act (as amended) by the House of Representatives, is yet to evaporate and another law targeted at the country’s electoral reform is being proposed.
The House, on Tuesday, passed a bill for an act, seeking to establish a commission on Electoral O ences. The bill has passed the third reading, and will be sent to the Senate for harmonisation before it is sent to the President for assent.
Having read and listened to arguments for and against the actions of the parliament on the country’s electoral reforms, particularly as regards the proposed amendment to the Electoral Act, it is essential to factor the interest of the nation.
It is important to state however, that those criticising the parliament for coming up with an amendment, especially when the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC) has rolled out timetable for the 2019 elections, are merely advancing an idle argument.
Chief Whip of the House, Hon Alhassan Ado-Doguwa stormed out of the chambers during the consideration of report, claiming thattheongoingamendment isbeingtargeted at President Muhammadu Buhari with a view to frustrate his re-election bid.
This line of thought, in my opinion, is myopic and it suggests that we still have leaders who are yet to be clothed with the regalia of nationalism.
I stated it clearly in the last edition of this column that the proposed amendment, is targeted at reducing the in uence of state governors and presidents on election of lawmakers. I also pointed out that the lawmakers were on a self-surviving mission, as they want elections to the parliament decided mainly on the popularity of candidates and political parties and not the bandwagon e ects from the election of any president or governor.
Been that as it may, it is highly insensitive complained to the relevant authorities which led to a refund of 1.4 million Saudi Riyadh to us.
Same goes with the feeding. We have lots of committees that monitor services including the security team comprising all the security agencies in Nigeria, inspectoral and compliance committees that go round to monitor all services being provided. By that measure, substandard feeding was observed and a total of about 400,000 Saudi Riyadh was refunded for that.
In Mecca, three states were victims of accommodation issues for various reasons which were renegotiated with the relevant authorities by the members of the commission as it wasn’t part of the earlier agreement signed with them. Almost 600,000 Saudi Riyadh was deducted and we e ected the refunds to the state.
The point of all this submission is that we don’t just sit down to disburse funds because XYZ was contracted to render a service and whether the service was rendered or not and we go ahead to pay for it.
We do ensure we satisfy our conscience as to whether the service was rendered or not before paying. That is why we introduced penalty on issues that are not poorly rendered.
That is all on the issues of refunds and complaints. As was said earlier, it is not possible to satisfy 100% of the people. However, analysis of the complaints we do receive are mostly against private tour operators and not the state.
One significant difference between the 2017 hajj fare and the previous hajj fares is that there is no uniform hajj fare in 2017 in Nigeria. No two states have the same hajj fare packages. What we did to ensure there was proper control was to take the provision of the Acts that was given to us and summon every state offcial, the CEO of the state board and his team. I presided over the committee and our own team.
Every team made their presentation pertaining the components of the commission and their own local charges, where the commission was not satis ed, with the local charges, we reject or argue over it and nally come to agreement that is signed and handed over to the state to announce. Without this exercise, the state could have arbitrarily charged whatever they wanted as administration charges and the local component.
It was also through this process we were able to renegotiate the cost of suit case from about N26,000 to N16,000. That shows there is no uniform hajj fare because the services by the state are not the same. Accommodation for Adamawa di ers from Taraba state. Therefore each house/ property was taken on its own merit. The state with the lowest charges was Oyo state.
Importantly, as government has decided that just like every other Nigerian going on a trip, we buy at the prevailing exchange rate, at inter banking rate of N368 or parallel market of N380; and that will give the hajj fare of N1.8million at the inter banking rate andN1.864 million at the parallel market.
Afundamental question being asked severally is the issue of the number of days. The Saudi civil Aviation authority have their counterpart of Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NACA) which is the General Authority of Civil Aviation Authority of Saudi Arabia (GACA). Every year, they bring out hajj instruction in which they clearly give each airline and country its guiding principles in which it is clearly stated that any pilgrim from any country coming with over 30,000 pilgrims should plan their activities of airlift for 30 days, 20,000 to 25,000 for 25 days, less than 20,000 for 20 days.
That is why the tour operators can organize a package of 2 weeks or 20 days but for those through government falls in the category of 30 days. However, it is not anybody’s making in Nigeria that our pilgrims stay for so long, this is due to the infrastructure in the airport. I believe In the future, when the airport gets developed to accommodate a large number of people and also be processed within a reasonable period of time, our pilgrims would spend a maximum of 2 weeks in Saudi Arabia.
We also have a comparative analysis of average number of days spent by Nigerian pilgrims. Some stay up to 42 days but that certainly isn’t what we want, however, we have no control over that. This is not meant for Nigeria, it is a standard regulation for any country going to Saudi Arabia for the purpose of hajj.