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HomeNationalFG under fire over N90bn Hajj subsidy

FG under fire over N90bn Hajj subsidy

The Federal Government has come under fire for its recent decision to subsidise the 2024 Hajj with N90 billion despite allocating only N50 billion for the student loan scheme in the 2024 budget.

Education and legal experts have slammed the decision, noting that spending such a humongous amount of money to subsidise Hajj is a misplacement of priority.

Representing President Bola Tinubu at the flag-off of the inaugural airlift for the 2024 Hajj exercise at Sir Ahmadu Bello International Airport, Birnin Kebbi, on Wednesday, Vice President Kashim Shettima disclosed that the president had ordered the N90 billion subsidy for the 2024 Hajj.

The VP said the president took this initiative given the economic situation of Nigeria, urging the intending pilgrims to pray for peace, unity, and progress in the country.

Shettima said, “Mr President is committed to this year’s Hajj due to the economic situation. He has contributed N90bn billion to subsidise this year’s Hajj exercise to ensure a smooth and successful operation.

You may recall that this year, we had a major challenge in announcing the final Hajj fare for the 2024 Muslim pilgrimage due to fluctuations in foreign exchange rates.

President Bola Tinubu also works round the clock to control the downward spiral of our local currency to bring relief to our pilgrims and other Nigerians.

A move that eventually succeeded in lowering the fare. The president approved the release of N90 billion to subsidise the cost of pilgrimage for this year’s Hajj,” the VP stated.

Recall that a directive by the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria had asked pilgrims to pay an additional N1.9m balance in accordance with current foreign exchange rates, before the deadline of March 29, 2024.

NAHCON, in a statement signed by the Assistant Director of Public Affairs, Fatima Usara, in March 2024, explained that late and non-remittances of fares pushed the commission beyond the deadline given by the Saudi Ministry of Hajj and Umrah, noting, however, that the government intervened by appealing for cost reductions.

Speaking in separate interviews with Sunday PUNCH, stakeholders within the education and legal sectors lambasted the Federal Government for the huge subsidy on religious pilgrimage, saying it reflects the government’s gross insensitivity to the prevailing mass hunger, rising poverty, and wanton underdevelopment afflicting education in the country.

They described the Federal Government’s move as a brazen misplacement of priority.

Former Vice-Chancellor of Dominican University, a Catholic-based institution in Ibadan, Professor Hyginus Ekwuazi, described the Hajj subsidy as a gross misplacement of priority given the wobbling state of the Nigerian economy and the depreciating revenue-generating capacity of the government.

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, he said, “It is not just that it is the Hajj, it is that they are channelling the money into where it should not go at all. Whether it is even the Christian pilgrimage or the Muslim pilgrimage, it is wrong and a crass misplacement of priority. We are all looking forward to the day the government will be able to channel its resources to the right areas, where there is demand. Certainly and most certainly, that won’t be a pilgrimage. It will be education, health, and social welfare. Those are the three cardinal issues.

What will happen next is that the government will try to balance it by putting some amounts into the Christian pilgrimage. So we are looking at the two together. Let’s just not say it is Islamic or for Muslims alone. The implication again is that we already have a wobbling economy. The government is now taking money that is a scarce commodity and putting it where it is unnecessary as it will not address the common good. So the implication is negative.

Also speaking with our correspondent, the National President of the Academic Staff Union of Universities, Prof. Emmanuel Osodeke, said the union would holistically look at all pilgrimages sponsored by the government and issue a statement afterward.

We, as a union, don’t want to be involved in any religious matters. Now, they have paid for Hajj, and I know that they are also giving to all other groups for pilgrimage. But we, as a union, will look at all of them holistically before making our statement known,” the ASUU chair told Sunday PUNCH.

Reacting to the issue, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Chief Awa Kalu, urged the Federal Government not to get involved in religious matters because it is not its duty to subsidise religious programmes.

It’s been discussed for some years now that government should not get involved in pilgrimage or religious matters. I support this. If you want to go on a pilgrimage, gather your money and go. It should not have anything to do with the government,” he stated.

Human rights lawyers have also knocked the Federal Government for the religious subsidy.

Speaking with Sunday PUNCH, a human rights lawyer, Festus Ogun, noted that the Federal Government’s decision reflects both a constitutional and moral aberration as it is not the legal responsibility of a government to subsidise religious pilgrimage because it is a personal affair.

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