|The Holy Mosque|
Anyone that listened to the four-man BBC Hausa’s radio program- Ra’ayi Riga on the 9th this month would have no problem unravelling why the title for this piece.
Amb. Usman Darma, a Kano-based veteran international tour operator and Managing Director Darma Air Services professed that this year’s Hajj fare is overly inflated and that it is time he took the bull by the horn to bring to the fore how the Nigeria Hajj Commission has for years been reaping the common man of his years of savings in the name of regulation or coordinating Hajj operation.
Mr. Darma explained that if the Hajj Commission would equitably charge the right fees for the 23 items that all intending pilgrims are required to pay to make up the 1.5 million Naira fare comprising of air fare, accommodation, feeding, suitcase, uniform etc, Nigerian pilgrims would not be made to pay more than 1 million Naira. As a senior stakeholder in Hajj operation, he maintained that he has for years been lifting to the Saudi Kingdom pilgrims with better packages than the ones NAHCON offers Nigeria pilgrims and at cheaper rate. He maintained also that he has picked a copy of the document in which the rate breakdown of each of the 23 items quoted by the commission is addressed and verified further that the rates have been outrageously inflated.
He cited examples of the low quality suitcase which is sold to every Nigeria pilgrim at the N 17,000 and compared its standard with what international pilgrims buy at N7,000 and justified his claims. According to him, each of the 23 items making up the Nigeria’s fare is overrated. I found him reasons cogent reasons.
On the flight fare, Mr. Darma maintained that Nigeria pilgrims should not be made to pay more than USD1000 (as against the USD 1650 they are presently charged). He offered a comparative with Pakistan and Bangladesh one of which is farther from Saudi Arabia than Nigeria but with air fare to Saudi Arabia fluctuating between USD900 to USD1000.
The NAHCON boss in his plausible but faulty defence disputed the above comparative while he said nothing about why Bangladeshis, who are about over 4500km away from Saudi Arabia, are paying USD 1000 to the Kingdom and Nigerians up to USD1700, he daringly on a world-wide radio claimed that Pakistanis pay lesser fare because they are a Gulf Cooperation Country (GCC). He went on to say that flights from Pakistan being a GCC member to Saudi Arabia do not have to pay any over flight fees.
They are by GCC treaty assumed to be flying their country’s air space. He then compared his claim with the story that flights from Nigeria to Saudi Arabia pass through Chad and Sudan air spaces and that they have to pay up to USD 6000 to and fro.
On why Bangladesh pays less, it was only attributed Nigeria’s inflated fare to some imaginary over flight waivers in the case of Pakistan. This is why I deem at this juncture, it will be generous to school both NAHCON boss and others that GCC countries are six monarchies comprising of UAE, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Oman, Qatar and Kuwait. Pakistan is not and has never been part of them. They may feed us another tale but this one cannot stand.
The NAHCON boss himself agreed in his BBC interview with Senator Danbaba and Amb.
Darma that such over flight charges no longer apply between Nigeria, Chad and Sudan.
With regards to accommodation, many experienced stakeholders and travel agency operators who are in the business of securing lodgings for Umra pilgrims observed also the accommodation fee slated for both Mecca and Medina are outrageously inflated. They claim NAHCON is making huge lump-sums through pilgrims. For example, this year’s Makkah accommodation fee per pilgrim is slated by the commission at SR 3500 per room which is the equivalent of USD 933.89.
The stakeholders uncovered two issues with regards to the accommodation secured by the NAHCON; one, the location of the accommodation which is beyond the bridge (Kudai) between Masfalah and Masha’ir, and two, the number of pilgrims NAHCON usually pack in a single room. The Makkah accommodation is more of Masha’ir than Masfalah and that the average accommodation fee per room in that location is not more than SAR 2,500 which is equivalent to USD668.44. This is where they claim pilgrims from Ghana and Niger are also lodged and that their fare is not more than SR 2,500.
They argued further that even at SAR 2,500, the amount should not be taxed per individual pilgrim because no pilgrim is allocated a whole room for himself. The average number of Nigeria pilgrim per room is 5 or 4. The above amount should therefore be divided by 5 or 4 to get the exact fee which every pilgrim should be taxed. So a pilgrim should not pay more than SAR 500 which is the equivalent of USD 133.68 as against the whopping 933.89 (N 284,565) charged by the commission for a bed space in a room of five.
This shows that even if the initial amount manufactured by the commission (i.e. 933) is to be taken as it is, then it should be divided by the number of pilgrims per room and that will go down to USD186 to 233. You can see how mercilessly the amount has been inflated by NAHCON. The amount payable by each pilgrim for accommodation at Madinah is also equally fraught with similar inadequacies.
In the document released by NAHCON where the 2017 Hajj fare is pegged at $4,839 (about N1.5M), the 2016 and 2015 fares were presented to be $5,077 and 4,721 respectively indicating that this year’s fare is comparatively reduced.
The pro-masses stakeholders on this argued that even the previous years’ fares were equally overly inflated and that no reference should be made to them in order to justify this year’s fare.
This will automatically debunk the contention that this year’s fare sores to N1.5m due to hike in dollar exchange rate.
Instead of triggering some investigation that may end up calming the vociferations of about 95,000 pilgrims who have already started filling refund forms because they could no longer afford the overrated fare, our Muslim brothers are advocating the reverse.
Conclusively, I pray that Allah to task any official, principal, agent or puppet directly or remotely responsible for inflicting any kind harshness on the helpless Ummah of Prophet PBUH. May He accept them if He declared upon them repentance.