By Ikechukwu Okaforadi and Musa Adamu
The Chairman of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), Alhaji Abdullahi Mukhtar, has defended the alleged high cost of hajj fares for Nigerian pilgrims to Saudi Arabia in 2016 and 2017, saying it was largely caused by high exchange rate of the naira to the dollar.
The NAHCON boss explained this yesterday while appearing before the Senate Ad- Hoc Committee on Accommodation, Logistics Feeding etc, Onshore and Offshore of the Nigerian Pilgrims on series of petitions written against the Commission by some stakeholders in the hajj operations.
According to him, the hajj fare which was N1.5million last year was as a result of the increase in the official exchange rate of the naira to a dollar from N198 it was in 2015 to N297 it was in 2016 and N305 it moved to in 2017.
He, however, added that the commission in line with the wish of the Senate Ad- hoc committee, would do everything possible to see to lower fare this year through reduction in some service charges.
“Aside some other variables, major determinant of hajj fares is the value at which our own naira exchanges for a US dollar.
“Years past, when the naira exchanged for a dollar at lower rate, hajj fares were in radius of hundreds of thousands Naira but for a year like 2017 when the exchange rate got up to N305 to a dollar at official rate, the hajj fare moved to N1.5million since all the service charges are to be paid either in dollar or riyal.
“The commission is nevertheless making all possible efforts in bringing about lower hajj fare for the Nigerian pilgrims through reduction in some of the service charges,” he said.
The NAHCON boss had earlier in his response to allegations leveled against the commission said no single money collected from service charges during the 2017 Hajj operations went into individual pocket.
He specifically declared that the commission did not in any way indulged in extortion of pilgrims and wondered where a petitioner got the N3bn he referred to.