The State, CBN and Pilgrimages

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If there was any search of how Nigeria’s robust fortune had been mismanaged in the past, one such example would be in the use of tax payers’ money to sponsor pilgrims to the so-called “Holy Lands”

Six years ago, I had written a similar article condemning the federal and state governments as they indulge in sponsorship of pilgrims to either Israel, Rome, Saudi Arabia or Mecca.
In the said article, I had queried the connection between a man’s personal religious concern with the larger business of public governance.

But despite that article, many (though fewer) states continued the odious practice of sponsorship of pilgrims to the Holy Lands. This is more prevalent in the northern part of the country where pilgrimage sponsorship is seen as a political tool and gesture to curry and retain political favour from the masses. These are the same states that are unable to execute major developmental projects for the benefit of the larger public.

It was thus relieving when the President Mohammadu Buhari administration, at inception, announced the cancellation of sponsorship of pilgrimages.
But the nation was aghast and taken aback penultimate Thursday when the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued a circular directing banks and other authorized dealers to sell the US Dollar to pilgrims at N197/$1, with the added instruction to banks that commissions should not be charged… all in the name of Pilgrims’ Travel Allowance (PTA).

See it: In the circular titled, ‘2016 Hajj Operations: Purchase of Pilgrims’ Travelling Allowance.’

It said pilgrims would be entitled to a minimum of $750 and a maximum of $1000 at a “concessionary exchange rate” of N197 to a dollar. No commission should be charged to such pilgrims

This is the same CBN that is groaning under the weight of forex scarcity , turning around to subsidize forex demand for the unproductive venture of Hajj pilgrimage. There is no greater example of a captain who has lost control of the ship. It is such a dump policy that cries to the high heavens.

Did this CBN not ban the importation of some 41 items considered unimportant, just to conserve forex demand? Did this CBN not initially ban the BDCs as a way of controlling the circulation and demand of forex? Has this CBN not been groaning under the weight of low capacity to provide forex to the real sector? Is this CBN not aware that companies and businesses are closing down and laying off workers because they cannot access foreign exchange that will enable them continue their businesses? Does this CBN not know that many Nigerian students are stranded overseas because their parents and guardians are unable to source forex to pay for their studies and even accommodation abroad?

Does this CBN not know that the shrinking of the economy is partly caused by the draught of its forex regime?

Pray, did the Quoran (through Istita ‘ah) not recommend that those who want to go for Hajj must have the physical and financial capacity to do so?
How can Godwin Emefiele, the CBN Governor knowing all these, open his eyes and offer to subsidise the cost of religious flight of fancy called pilgrimages? What is the economic wisdom in this venture?

For Heaven’s sake, those who want to go on pilgrimage should find their ways to wherever. The state should be left out of it. Is it that the Nigerian government is so idle that it has to concern itself with groups of individuals who want to go and pray and sing in some foreign land? I even think the bureaucratic body of government-funded Pilgrims’ Board should be disbanded. How does the pilgrimage venture increase the nation’s GDP? How does it generate growth and development for the nation? Of what use is the Hajj commission and all the shenanigans that follow it?

I am convinced that if all the past years of government’s involvement in pilgrimages has not directly or indirectly led to a better and greater country, then the government must divorce itself from the religious frivolities associated with pilgrimages, be it of Christians or of Muslims.

If government will not subsidise productive sectors with concessionary dollar sales, then it has no business whatsoever with subsidizing Hajj pilgrimage or any pilgrimage for that matter.

It is even more perplexing to note that the many years of pilgrimages of both Christians and Muslims has neither increased productivity nor even sincerity of service to the nation. There is no evidence to support the expectation that those who frequent these Holy Lands from Jeddah to Jerusalem are not involved in the many instances of corruption plaguing the nation. Put differently, the pilgrimages have not produced holier and more dedicated and corruption-free work force or citizenry.
Last year, Nigeria’s Hajj pilgrims hit 200,000, higher than half of the rest of African Hajj pilgrims.

It is sad that Nigeria has the propensity of embarking on large number of pilgrimages, year-in, year-out. It got to a height that even the Saudi Arabian government had recommended that pilgrims who had come to Mecca five times should be barred from further coming to the Holy Land. But Nigeria, in its typical culture of vagrancy, refused to keep to that policy from Saudi Arabia. That way, you see some pilgrims going for Hajj almost every year, most times at government’s expense because they are connected to political power hub. That is why many think that the pilgrimages are jamborees.

At other times, it is out of sheer desperation and undue religious zealotry. Or how else can one explain cases where some Nigerian pilgrims in 2014, get stranded in Mecca as to start begging for alms to enable them come back to their homes.

It is however relieving to note that following the uproar of the public on the CBN double-standard policy, the decision to sell dollars to pilgrims at concessionary rate may have been reversed as the circular to that effect was pulled down from the CBN website last Wednesday.
The inclination to grow and support the health of the Nigerian economy should be uppermost in the policy direction of the CBN, not inane and unrewarding programmes.