Thursday, May 23, 2019

[LABARAI] NAHCON’s successful walk through hajj fare mine

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  the saying goes, when  Saudi  sneezes, all the  Muslim  world  catches  cold,especially when  it’s a matter  concerning  Hajj. Thus, the  Muslim  global  community rose up  in protest against the move, which would 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, announced increment in the cost of transportation  services to the Hajjis thereby giving credence to the notion that the cost of  Hajj will go 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 cut down the number of pilgrims making it to Hajj, thereby making it impossible for an average Muslim to  perform his /her  religious  duties.

One of the backlashes 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’s increase cost of  transportation from 360 to 650 Riyal.

In  Nigeria, even  long  before the 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 storm 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 (One  million, eight hundred thousand Naira)  as 2019 Hajj fare   even  when the Commission had 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  Government. Fortunately, it missed the mark  as  the  Commission was not  only able to  retain last year’s fare but  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  the magic?

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 the landlords instead of through proxies. 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 butter.

It should be pointed out that the Commission’s Technical or  NegotiatingTeam  in  collaboration with with  the  state’s  Chief  Executive Secretaries  met  with Makkah  Landlords. The nine-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 subsidize its pilgrims to ameliorate 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’s 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 the 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  heave a sigh of relief 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.

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