By Ismail Omipidan

The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), are at loggerheads over the high cost of this year’s pilgrimage to Mecca.

NSCIA, under the leadership of its President-General and Sultan of Sokoto, His Eminence, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, has joined other stakeholders in hajj affairs in the country to protest exhorbitant fares set by NAHCON for this year’s hajj.

The NSCIA, which is saddled with the responsibility of superintending the affairs of Islam and Muslims in Nigeria, has called for an urgent review of the NAHCON Act.

The NSCIA equally wants the Federal Government to hands off sponsorship of pilgrims, adding that if given the opportunity to manage hajj affairs, pilgrims would certainly pay lower than the over N1 million being charged for this year’s hajj.

Following the release of the 2017 hajj fare by NAHCON, which pegged the fare at about N1.5 million, stakeholders insisted the fare is “ridiculously high.”

In a statement signed by its Director of Administration, Ustaz Isa Okonkwo, a copy of which was made available to Daily Sun, the Council said: “The position of NSCIA on hajj remains as: Whatever concession is given any other Nigerian travellers (including non-Muslim pilgrims) is due and should be accorded to Hujjaj (Nigerian pilgrims to Mecca).

“Nigerian Muslims do not demand any other special concessions since hajj is a religious duty for which we are responsible.

“The federal government of Nigeria should hand off hajj-matters (except consular and security) to the NSCIA. It is government’s involvement that is responsible for the high cost for obvious reasons.

“The committee set up by the NSCIA, under the leadership of Gen. A.B. Mamman, to work out the modus-operandi of transfer has not been given the required support (particularly in the area of statistics) by NAHCON.

“Hajj should not be commercialised at the expense of the masses who struggle to fulfill their religious obligation, hence the need to explore the cheapest cost for a comfortable and safe-hajj performance.

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“The NAHCON Act is due for an urgent amendment to remove the wrong notion that Muslims rely on national purse for the performance of their religious obligation.

Ramadan Mubarak to all Muslims on Umrah, Itikaf and elsewhere.”

Regardless, in its response, NAHCON insisted the NSCIA was “fully” involved in negotiations that led to the 2017 hajj fares.

The commission refuted NSCIA’s statement that it was not consulted before the fares were announced.

NAHCON said the rise in the fare was due to the high exchange rate of naira to the dollar. It also said about 98 percent of the hajj component is in dollar while only two percent is in naira.

While dollar exchanged for N197 last year, the exchange rate for this year is fixed at N305 to the dollar.

It is “of the view that hajj-fare can be less than it is, if all parties are genuinely consulted for an appropriate solution and strategy.”

Speaking at a media parley organised by the FCT chapter of Nigeria Union of Journalists, (NUJ) in Abuja, yesterday, Secretary to the commission, Mohammed Tambuwal, said that position could not be that of the NSCIA.

He said the NSCIA has a member K.K Oloso in the NAHCON Board who “Is a professor of Arabic and Islamic Studies in the University of Ibadan, and he was part of the committee that fixed the hajj fares”.

Mr. Tambuwal also said apart from the NSCIA, a representative of the Jama’atu Nasril Islam also sits on the board and was also part of the negotiating team on the fares.