Senate probes N1.5m hajj fares, feeding policy

Edwin Akwueh, Abuja

The 2017 Hajj programme has come under intense scrutiny, as the Nigerian Senate on Wednesday set up an Ad-hoc Committee to investigate the exorbitant airfare of over =N=1.5million as fixed for the intending pilgrims and the present feeding regime by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria,(NAHCON).

According to the Senate, the ad-hoc committee’s probe is geared towards exposing any sharp practice therein and making appropriate recommendation concerning its findings to the Red Chamber within one week.

Senate’s resolutions followed the motion raised by Senator Ibrahim Abdullahi Danbaba, under Point of Orders 42 and 52 of the Senate Standing Rules on matter of urgent national importance.

He affirmed that the 2017 hajj fare packages lack competitiveness when compared with the package offered by the Private Tours Operators, added that they are unfair and unrealistic.

It also urged the federal government to immediately direct the Commission to review the hajj fare downwards to “a realistic, and fair amount affordable by pilgrims in this time of recession and economic hardship”.

NAHCON has so far approved 2017 hajj fares of 21 State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Boards, Federal Capital Territory, FCT and the Armed Forces.

Senator Danbaba therefore stressed the need for an urgent intervention on the matter “in order to save the Nigerian intending pilgrims from unfair hajj seat pricing, bearing in mind the zero tolerance stance for corruption of the present administration”.

He observed that NAHCON is responsible for the regulation and control of all matters concerning the welfare of Nigerian pilgrims, including but not limited to approval of annual Hajj fare packages payable by intending pilgrims; adding that the Commission, had on May 29 released the approved 2017 Hajj fare packages for 23 states.

According to him, the approved fare packages for the 23 States so far released which include Sokoto, Kano, Kaduna, Ogun, Osun, Anambra, Edo, Plateau, Adamawa, Bauchi, Oyo, Benue, Kebbi, Yobe, Niger, Zamfara, Ekiti, Kwara, Gombe, Nasarawa, Taraba, FCT and the Armed Forces averages about =N=1,550,000 only per pilgrim.

“The approved Tour Operators in Nigeria which are profit making businesses are offering cheaper Hajj Packages to intending pilgrims,” he added.

“For instance, HASHA Travel & Tours is offering a package of N1, 250,000.00 (One Million two Hundred and Fifty Thousand Naira Only) inclusive of $500. 00 pocket money per Pilgrim. This is about N300, 000.00 lower than the average package approved by the Hajj Commission. The Airfare charged by the Tour Operator is $1,000.00 per Pilgrim compared to the $1,650 charged by the Hajj Commission”, he said.

He added that the senate was also aware that “the NAHCON negotiates and provides accommodation for all Pilgrims at Madinah, Minna and Arafat on behalf of all States. It also takes responsibility for feeding arrangements at Madinah, Minna and Arafat”.

Senator Danbaba further observed that “the cost of feeding the pilgrim which is inbuilt in the fare packages constitutes a burden on the pilgrim since his or her right of feeding is circumscribed”.

He was also worried that “apart from the imposition of the meals which are not standard and served at the right time, the peculiarities of the feeding behaviour of pilgrims are not taken into account”, adding that “consideration is not given to pilgrims with specific ailments e.g. diabetics”.

“The charge is 15 SR (Fifteen Saudi Riyals) per meal twice a day for 35 days at Makkah and Madinah and Minna and at the Airport which translates to about N113, 000 only per head. One of the issues that arise here is that there is no mechanism for refund for missed meals or where the pilgrim spends less than the 35 days in the holy land”, he added.

The lawmaker also informed the house that the intending pilgrim is being asked to pay for a package which is bloated with charges that are unfair and unnecessary, “especially about N20, 000.00 only in some cases is charged as administrative charges and Development levy per head”.

Nnenna.O