This is not the best of times for the Chairman of the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) NAHCON Chairman, Jalal Ahmad Arabin, who assumed office late last year with myriads of challenges relating to performance of the annual Hajj exercise which he inherited. There have been a lot of genuine complaints from intending pilgrims over the exorbitant cost of Hajj fare.

In October last year, NAHCON had initially pegged the fare deposit at N4.5 million which it stated was “in tandem with the dollar rate that will determine the final cost of the coming Hajj”. This would enable it to bargain with the authorities of Saudi Arabia to cover the cost of feeding, airline fares, accommodation, among others. But as the value of the naira fell further to dollar, the money was jerked up to reflect the current reality.

Subsequently, the Hajj fare was increased to N4,699,000 and N4,899, 000 for intending pilgrims travelling from the northern and southern parts of the country, respectively. This is even at a discounted rate because this announcement came after the commission said it succeeded in reducing the cost of prices of vital services such as flight tickets and accommodation through a negotiation with service providers in Saudi Arabia, otherwise, the price would have amounted to about N6million per pilgrim.

The problem is that, going by the currently economic reality in the country, where millions of our citizens are finding it difficult to feed and earn a decent living, while thousands of intending pilgrims did struggle to meet up with the deadline, others would never be able to meet up. That is where the problem lies.

Even the House of Representatives recently tried to intervene by requesting that the federal government should subsidise the Hajj fare. Though there have been arguments repating to the legal implications of any government sponsoring either Muslims or Christians to the Holy Lands.

It is quite an unusual time indeed, especially for the intending pilgrims that are finding it difficult to meet up. But it is imperative to state that it is not the fault of NAHCON. The crash of the value of the naira occasioned by the bad economic situation is primarily to blame. The commission has to follow the dollar equivalence of naira of the cost of services in Saudi Arabia, which will be ultimately shouldered by the pilgrims.

Interestingly, that is behind the fact that there have been inherited several complaints by intending pilgrims across the states of the federation relating to difficulties in obtaining forms, partly as a result of clumsy official bureaucracy or licensed agents.

We would, therefore, suggest that there is a need for sustainable and inclusive engagements between NAHCON and all intending pilgrims in terms of public enlightenment so as foster greater mutual understanding. Beside that, there is a need for more support for and collaboration with the commission towards a hitch-free preparation and eventual successful 2024 Hajj operation.

We also agree with suggestions for the establishment of trust funds for both Muslim and Christian pilgrim agencies in order to provide critical funding and logistical interventions where necessary.