When the Saudi Arabia Government announced the introduction of new taxes in December 2018, only very few people were left with the notion that there would be an increment in 2019 Hajj fare.
As its cliché, when the Saudi sneezes, the Muslim world catches cold, especially when it’s a matter concerning Hajj. Thus, the Muslim global community rose in protest against the move, which not only affect the locals but also the ripple effect it would have on cost of services.
And before anyone could say Jack Robinson, the kingdom through the Ministry of Hajj also announced increment in the cost of transportation services to the Hajj is thereby giving a seal to the notion that the cost of Hajj will shoot up.
Many countries have decried the Saudi government approach to exploring Hajj and Umrah both religious obligations of Muslims for commercial purposes. They viewed the idea as an attempt to shutting down the number of pilgrims making it to Hajj and thereby make it impossible for an average Muslim to perform his /her religious duties.
One of the backlash of the Saudi decision was the protest March in Cameroon where the country’s Islamic Association denounced the increase in Hajj expense in the country. It took the intervention of the country’s Minister of Territorial Administration, Paul Atanga, to pacify and assuage the concerns of the Muslims in the country explaining that the cause of the increase in the nation’s Hajj fare was due to Saudi Government increase charge in transportation service from 360 to 650 Riyal.
In Nigeria, even long before the announcement of the 2019 Hajj fare, rumours and speculations were rife that there would be astronomical increase in the Hajj fare. In fact, there were already mounting storms that intending pilgrims would pay through their noses. This perhaps might have explained why some unscrupulous social media platforms posted an outrageous figure of N1.8 million as 2019 Hajj fare even when the commission has not deliberated or concluded on the Hajj package.
This fake leak exposes one thing: to cause disaffection among the Muslims against both the commission and the government. Unfortunately, it missed the mark as the commission was not only able to retain last year’s fare but also in some cases reduced the price considerably.
How then was the commission able to achieve that feat in spite of the prevailing price increment in Saudi or what was its magic wand?
One of the devices used by the commission which has since proven to be a master stroke is upholding the tactics of negotiating directly with landlords instead of through proxies. While the second is signing a pre-contract agreement with service providers before the Hajj season kicks off which can be likened to putting a hot knife in a butter.
It should be pointed out that the commission’s technical or negotiating team in collaboration with the state’s chief executive secretaries met with Makkah landlords. The 9-member committee headed by Alhaji Yusuf Adebayo Ibrahim, the commissioner in charge of policy personnel management and finance (PPMF), negotiated the accommodation rate for 32 states in Makkah where it succeeded in getting lower rates for 28 states and retained the old rates for three states.
The team recorded the same feat in Madina where it was also able to persuade the accommodation Providers -Al-Andalus Company, Elyas Company and Al-Zuhdy – to suspend the implementation of the service charge, thereby giving the commission a leverage to pay the same as last year. Thus while the Cameroonian government has agreed to subsidise its pilgrims to calm down the effects of the imposition of service tax and hike in transportation, the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria employed its ingenuity to mitigate the spiral effect on the Hajj fare.
Similarly, the commission approach to engaging the airlines on a long term contract to lock down the airline has also paid off. It ensured that the airlines and the commission maintained the status quo against the backdrop of no shock increase in cost of service in the aviation industry. The upholding of the status quo had helped to stabilise the fare to the consternation of many Nigerians especially the cynics and critiques of the commission who were ready to pounce on announcement of Hajj fare above what was paid last year even when it was crystal clear that such hike was not from the commission.
Now with states announcing their fare for 2019 Hajj, Pilgrims can breathe a sigh of relief that and be well pleased that the commission has been able to mitigate the spiralling cost of Hajj fare and thus able to take the knife off the throat of many state governors some of who would have been forced to cough out additional money to augment the cost of Hajj in their respective states at this austere time.
Ubandawaki is of Information and Publication Unit of NAHCON, Abuja.