Presidency: Buhari Impartial to Muslims, Christians Enjoyed Similar Concession

•  NAHCON: FG has not granted foreign exchange waiver to pilgrims
By Paul Obi in Abuja  with agency report 
Following the outcry over the concessionary exchange rate of N197 to the dollar granted to Nigerian Muslims embarking on this year’s hajj pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia, the presidency has refuted allegations that the Muhammadu Buhari administration is partial to Muslims, adding that Christian pilgrims to Jerusalem also enjoyed the same concession last year.
This came as the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) yesterday clarified that the federal government did not grant any FX waiver to Muslim pilgrims.
The commission’s spokesman, Alhaji Uba Mana, made the clarification in a statement issued in Abuja, reported the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN).
“NAHCON wishes to draw the attention of the public to the fact that the federal government has not given any foreign exchange waiver to Nigerian pilgrims performing this year’s hajj.
“If there is one thing that the government did for the Nigerian pilgrims, it was to allow the exchange rate prevalent at the time of payment of Hajj fares in February, when the current flexible exchange rate was not in action, to subsist.
“It is therefore wrong and mischievous for some persons or media organisations to peddle unfounded claims that the federal government gave the Nigerian pilgrims a waiver,” he said in the statement.
Despite the shortage of foreign exchange in the country and the fall of the naira on the parallel market, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) last week announced the federal government’s approval of N197 to the dollar for intending pilgrims travelling for the 2016 hajj in Saudi Arabia.
However, the president’s media aide, Garba Shehu, said the policy was not partial, adding that the N197 to the dollar was approved before the current foreign exchange regime came into effect.
He also said that the CBN had confirmed the approval as far back as March this year, but failed to notify the public at the time.
He added that Buhari had not at any time shown any form of bias towards Muslims over Christian pilgrims.
Recalling that Christian pilgrims enjoyed a concessionary rate of N160 to the dollar in 2015, Shehu stated that the wave of criticism following the CBN’s announcement last week was targeted at discrediting the president.
He maintained that Muslims and Christians always get the same treatment from the government in every pilgrimage, explaining that NAHCON never asked for a concession and was never given any.
He pointed out that what the commission requested was to be given FX at the prevailing exchange rate which was N197 to the dollar at the time of the request.
He said: “NAHCON did not ask for concessionary rate and was not given a concessionary rate. They asked to be given forex at the prevailing exchange rate and at that time, it was N197 to $1 and they entered into a contract with intending pilgrims that they will pay at the given rate.
“So no wrong had been done. People are just being mischievous by dwelling on this thing.
“It is not also true that the president favours Muslims. Every year in this country, Muslims and Christians have always paid the same rate. This also applied to Christians when they got their rate at N160 as CBN has explained.
“There was no concession given to Muslim pilgrims. They didn’t ask for a concession and they were not given any. They asked for the prevailing exchange rate and approval was given on the basis of that.”