N24 Billion Hajj Subsidy: THE FACTS BEHIND THE TWISTED STORY

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By Ibrahim Muhammed
National Coordinator
Independent Hajj Reporters
08037024356

“Just because something isn’t a lie does not mean that it isn’t deceptive. A liar knows that he is a liar, but one who speaks mere portions of truth in order to deceive is a craftsman of destruction.”
― Criss Jami

Curiosity got the better part of me after reading a story published by Punch Newspaper titled “NAHCON Denies 24 billion Naira Hajj Subsidy”

I immediately began to make inquiries to know the facts behind the obvious sentiment-induced headline. Firstly, the newspaper deliberately took advantage of people’s malaise in reading full stories with such a screaming headline about the Federal Government approving N24 Billion to Nigerian Muslim Pilgrims for Hajj 2024.

Buried in the Punch Story is the fact that the approval is for a payment meant to settle 2023 Hajj Airlift liabilities. It is not a Hajj subsidy, rather an outstanding payment to 2023 Hajj Air carriers due to differentials in the exchange rate approved when the airlift contract was signed and when the last tranch of payment was due.

Before the 2023 Hajj, The Federal Government had approved an exchange rate of N460 to the US dollar for Nigerian pilgrims. The 2023 Hajj fare including the Air ticket was then computed based on the approved exchange rate. When it was time for payment of airfare to airliners, the exchange rate rose to N750 to a dollar after the Government floated the naira. The then CBN Governor refused to pay the airliners because the dollar rate had increased to N750 to a dollar as against the N460 to a dollar earlier approved before the 2023 Hajj.

The question is this: who is to settle the airliners difference because the 2023 Hajj pilgrims had paid their fare based on a government-approved exchange rate and had returned home after performing the hajj?

The then NAHCON board had insisted that CBN should honor it’s obligations and fill in the gaps. It is an issue that has been in the public domain. The airlines’ money kept hanging for long. After a series of arguments and reconciliation, this present administration accepted to pay the airliners the dollar equivalent of what is obtained in their contractual agreement with NAHCON before 2023 Hajj.

It is important to understand that Nigerian Hajj Pilgrims have paid for the naira equivalent then. So, what is the underlying motive behind the screaming headline that the Government of President Ahmed Tinubu has approved the sum of N24 Billion naira for Nigeria’s Hajj pilgrims? The said N24 Billion is the differential between the approved dollar rate then and the current dollar rate.

Commendably, Tinubu’s government was magnanimous in settling the former agreement that was entered before the commencement of the 2023 Hajj. Leaking Government documents to activate religious sentiments and biases will serve no one any good.

The newspaper report also said NAHCON denied the approval which is another case of twisted story. It reported that the Deputy Director information at the commission said he was not aware of such information and that the Chairman of NAHCON will address the press on the issue. That is not a denial by NAHCON.

We should be wary of half-truths and twisted stories.