…to save additional N1.39B from Nigeria 2021 hajj suspension
Nigeria will save at least N142 billion (about $296M in foreign exchange) from the decision by the Saudi authorities to restrict all other countries from participating in the 2021 hajj to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Hajj, a mandatory religious activity for Muslims, is taken seriously by thousands of Nigerian Muslims who partake in the spiritual exercise every year. It lasts from 5 to 6 days and comes up on the 8th to 12th or of dhu al Hijjah (the last month of the Islamic calendar).
According to the Saudi Arabian authorities’ directives, only 60,000 vaccinated pilgrims who are nationals of the country will take part in this year’s hajj barring pilgrims from other parts of the world from performing the pilgrimage in order to curb the spread of COVID-19.
Saudi Arabia as at 21st of June 2021 has recorded 475,403 cases of COVID-19 and 7,691 deaths since the outbreak of the virus.
Counting the cost
For two years (2019/2020), the Saudi authorities allocated 95,000 slots for Nigerian pilgrims for the hajj. Yearly, intending pilgrims pay an average of N1.5 million in three instalments to their state pilgrims board. This brings the total sum for the 95,000 pilgrims to N142 billion.
Also, an intending pilgrim in Nigeria can embark on the journey through licensed tour operators who charge based on different packages. A check on a tour operator website (Hajj Mabrur) showed that the operator charges N1.65 million for its economy package which includes accommodation, breakfast, basic customer support for 3 weeks while it charges N2.05 million for standard package, N3.25 million for its executive package for a duration of 2 weeks, N4.05 million for premium. A package for the 2 weeks and N4.75 million for Premium B package.
Saving from the statutory allocations
Also, Nigeria will also be saving at least N1.39 billion which was allocated to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria in the 2021 budget.
Apart from the overhead costs totalling over N617.4 million, the National Hajj Commission was billed to spend a total of N130 million on general travel and transportation. This would have included N20 million for local travel and transport for training, in addition to N50 million for other similar trips during the year.
About N10 million had been set aside for international travels and transport for training and N50 million for other overseas travels and transport during the year.
Other allocations to the hajj commission are N25 million for consulting and professional services, in addition to N15 million for financial consulting, apart from another N25.4 million for general financial charges, including insurance premium.
About N10 million had also been budgeted for refreshment and meals for the Commission; N15 million for honorarium and sitting allowances; publicity and advertisements (N20 million); welfare packages N70 million; monitoring activities and follow-up (N30 million).
To meet these, Nigeria’s apex bank, the Central Bank of Nigeria usually allocates foreign exchange at a subsidized rate for the intending pilgrims.
In the meantime, the National Hajj commission of Nigeria has assured the intending pilgrims that their deposits would be refunded without delay.
The spokesperson quoted the chairman of NAHCON Alhaji Zikrullah Kunle Hassan as saying that “As in the previous year, those pilgrims who request for refund of their Hajj deposits will be granted such without unnecessary delay. As for those who would still wish to roll-over their funds, the Commission strongly urges them to wait for further advice and decisions by the board.”