Damilola Oyedele in Abuja
The Senate has recommended the concession of N200 to $1 by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) to intending pilgrims embarking on the 2017 Hajj, to bring the cost of the pilgrimage down to a bearable level.
This is in spite of the CBNâ€™s benchmark of N305 to $1, for the 2017 Hajj operations, approved by the fedeal government.
The Senate also urged the government to extend concessions on naira-dollar exchange rate to the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) once every year for pilgrimages.
The position of the lawmakers followed the adoption of the recommendations of its Senator Monsurat Sunmonu (Oyo Central)-led Committee on Foreign Affairs, on the alleged extortion of pilgrims by NAHCON.
The report was borne out of an investigation of the circumstances surrounding the present feeding regime and exorbitant airfare as fixed by NAHCON, with a view to exposing any sharp practices.
The Senate however called on the government and its economic team to intensify efforts to improve on Nigeriaâ€™s monetary policy, to guarantee a long and stable relationship of the Naira with other currencies in the foreign exchange market.
â€œFor example, from 2007 to date, a period of 10 years, the exchange rate between the US$ and Saudi Riyals has been SR3.74 to US$1. Subjecting the naira to similar period like the Riyal indicated a serious decline on its value, from N118 to US$1 in 2007, to N305 to US$1 in 2017,â€ the report said, adding that both rates are official.
â€œThe National Hajj Commission did not unilaterally fix the airfare for the 2017 Hajj but engaged the services of experts from the aviation sector, specifically the Nigeria Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), responsible for appropriate pricing of civil fares. The process went through series of negotiations and due diligence. The approved airfare for 2016 Hajj was between $1,700 to $1,750 whilst for 2017 the fares are $1,650 to $1,700,â€ it said
The Senate further called on the federal government to engage, at the highest level, discussions with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia to review the 50 -50 carriage of pilgrims between Nigeria and Saudi Arabian Airlines.
This, it noted, is with a view to providing opportunities for more indigenous Nigerian Airlines to participate in the Hajj operations and give Nigeria varieties in choosing the air carrier.
â€œThe NAHCON should expedite action on the establishment of Hajj Savings Scheme, in compliance with Section 7 (1 and 2) of the NAHCON Act, for all Intending Pilgrims to make it possible for Nigerian pilgrims to save for the annual Islamic rites over a long period. This will cushion the effects of any similar astronomic increase in the foreseeable future,â€ the report added.
Presiding, Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki, inaugurated an ad hoc committee to further look into allegations of extortions in pilgrimages.
â€œWe passed the 2017-2019 Medium Term Expenditure Framework (MTEF) and based on the MTEF, we have passed what should be the exchange rate which is N305 to a aollar. We should make laws that are truly going to guide our people because we have MTEF which says the exchange is N305,â€ he said.
â€œIf with passing MTEF nobody should be given N200, but since businessmen are getting N200, then definitely pilgrims deserve 200 as well,â€ he said.
He said this following an interaction at plenary with Senator Adamu Aliero (Kebbi Central) who claimed that businessmen were receiving concessions of N200 to $1.