Questions: So, why do we have less numbers of Nigerians going to 2018 hajj than previous years? What are the causative factors? This year, the hajj fare id hovering around N1.4 million while that of 2017 was above N1.5 million; then why do we still have fewer numbers of pilgrims despite the above positive differences in the monetary aspect?
Daily Trust newspaper seems to have provided answers to this puzzle in the its incisive lead story of Monday titled “Hajj patronage drops despite lower fare."
In 2017, over 70, 000 Nigeria pilgrims performed hajj through states Muslim pilgrims welfare boards and agencies leaving a short fall of 6, 691 in the 75,000 allocation given to states pilgrims boards.
The number of Nigerian pilgrims that will perform this year’s hajj may likely fall within the range of 50,000-55,000. This is predicated on the assumption that as at the time of writing this piece, some states are still registering pilgrims.
Reflectively, 2017 hajj comes with its challenges which affected the number of pilgrims transported to Saudi Arabia. The heated debate over the increase in 2017 hajj fare; occasioned by the corresponding increase in exchange rate almost prevents late registration of pilgrims.
Daily Trust further listed factors that leads to the short-fall to includes: “the compulsory payment of SR 2,000 introduced by Saudi Arabia Riyals for pilgrims who have performed hajj in the last four years” because “according to statistics, over 70 percent of Nigerian pilgrims in the last five years are repeaters.
A repeater in Nigeria this year will have to pay N1.7 million as opposed to N1.4 million paid by first timers. the exchange rate of N360/$1, The minimum deposits N800,000 and N1 million fixed by states pilgrims boards, Halting of sponsorship by local, states and federal government and the farmer herders crises.”
Aside the above factors, the number of pilgrims that perform hajj has been on the decrease globally in the last 10 years. A report in the Saudi Gazette Newspaper dated 16th September in 2016 said that: “The number of foreign and domestic pilgrims has come down during the past 10 years. In 2007, more than 1.7 million foreign and 746,511 domestic pilgrims performed Hajj, making a total of more than 2.4 million Hajj pilgrims.
"In 2012, more than three million pilgrims performed Hajj, the highest in the last 10 years.”
However in 2016, 1,325,372 foreign and 537,537 domestic pilgrims performed Hajj, making a total of 1,862,909 pilgrims. This is the least number of pilgrims in the last 10 years.”
The above statistics show that the decrease in hajj pilgrims cut across 165 hajj participating countries and the trend seems to be ongoing.
For example, Indonesia as the most populous Muslims nations got the highest hajj seat allocation in the last 10 years. There are 220, 200 Indonesia pilgrims that performed 2016 hajj – the highest number of foreign pilgrims in the last 10 years.
However, Indonesia has experienced the same shortfall when her currency, Rupiah fell for dollar between 2011 to 2015. By then, 1 dollar exchange for19, 395.75 Indonesia rupiah.
In 2011, 199, 085 Indonesians performed hajj but the figure fell to 192, 029 in 2012. In 2013, It further dropped down to 154, 055 and in 2015 Indonesia pilgrims depleted further to 154, 046 pilgrims.
It is noteworthy that Indonesia, Malaysia operates minimum of three years hajj rolling plan that allowed intending hujaj in those country to begin making payment three year in advance. This has ease their plan in terms of filling up their quotas, providing accommodation and other logistics for their pilgrims in the Holly land and ultimately evading possible exchange rate crises as experienced recently.
Here, it is important to note that VAT affects the commodities and consumables that pilgrims will purchase In Saudi Arabia. Many Umrah pilgrims who visited Saudi Arabia prior to the announcement of this year hajj fare by NAHCON were discouraged from paying for hajj again due to the additional costs of 2, 000 Saudi Riyals and increase in the prices of goods and services in the Kingdom. Also, the skyrocketing of aviation fuel worldwide has compelled airliners to jerk up the cost of air fare thereby affecting the cost pilgrims’ ticket to and from Saudi Arabia.
As a way out, NAHCON and other hajj stakeholders need to vigorously and urgently commence the full implementation of its recently approved hajj saving scheme to create flexibility in the payment of hajj fare.
The whole structure of hajj operations has been fully offloaded online thereby leaving no chances for a nano-second delay in the implementation of hajj plan. Our continued reliance on annual preparation and operating yearly calendar on hajj activities has left us behind.
Ibrahim Muhammad is the National Coordinator, Independent Hajj Reporters