Anxiety over global rise in 2023 Hajj Fare, threat to Intending Pilgrims in Nigeria
Nigeria contingents’ already maxing preparation for hajj 2023 in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia may soon be inundated with unsuspecting shock in the rise of fare considering the global upsurge essentially among major participating countries.
The annual ritual to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia is one of the five pillars of Islam and considered sacred for Muslims to strive hard to fulfill. This year’s hajj will be held between May and June 2023.
Although the spiritual endeavor is mandatory for healthy and wealthy Muslims once in a lifetime, the trending fare increase globally is beeping glaring threat to Millions of underprivileged Muslims who are equally nursing to embark on the rewarding journey.
The oil-rich Kingdom plays host to over 3 million visitors across the globe on the annual pilgrimage, with the huge trust of meeting basic human provision of accommodation, transportation, feeding and security among top human priorities.
Although the custodian of the kingdom had declared full-blown capacity to accommodate millions of pilgrims after its clinical conquest of post-covid-19 protocols, the rising cost of fare constituted another impediment that would limit the number of potential participants.
For Instance, Indonesia pilgrims intending for the 2023 hajj will endeavour a significant about 30 percent increase fare at IDR 49.8 million (US$3.281.13) against IDR 39.89 million made during 2022 hajj, reliable data indicated. Indonesia has the highest number of participating pilgrims globally with no less than 220 thousand pilgrims allocated for 2023 exercise.
Similar data shows Bangladesh government places raise in the cost of 2023 hajj by TK 59,000 equivalent to (US$560,99) while Malasia cost of hajj 2023 rose to RM31,000, an increase of RM2,368 when compared to RM28,632 per pilgrim paid in 2022.
Pilgrims in Pakistan are expected to pay a 68 per cent increase for the 2023 hajj, despite the introduction of ballot selection of pilgrims. However, about 25 per cent of the Pakistani population are allowed to make payments on dollar equivalent. Though, more costly, dollarized pilgrims are offered automatic seats and also exempted from taking part in the balloting process.
In Singapore, available records indicated a recent announcement of an increase of $1,5000 in hajj cost for this year. The cheapest hajj package in Singapore for 2023 hajj is pegged at $8,490, equivalent to N3,909,475 per pilgrim while an average package price per person stands at $14,150 N6,515,480.70.
In Africa, the situation is not different. Just recently, Ghanaian government pegged final hajj fare for the year 2023 at GHS75,000 (US$6,500) against GHS 39,000 pilgrims paid last year. In Tunisia, pilgrims will pay US$9,884 against (US$5,279) paid in 2022 while intended pilgrims from Morocco are expected to pay US$7,698 as against (US$6,337) paid in 2022. Pilgrims from Egypt are charged an increase of US$6,910 against (US$4,375) paid in the previous year.
Rational Behind Rising Cost
While dissecting the dynamics of global economic reality and unfolding the transformation mantra of the Saudi government, an international tour operator, Alh. Mudashir Abubakar told The Guardian that the global upsurge in the Hajj economy is not unexpected.
Although, Alh. Abubakar opined that peculiar economic challenges across the country could have also played critical impact, the hajj expert stressed that no participating country could be insulated from the general hike.
According to him, “The increase in the 2023 hajj fare globally was mainly due to exchange rates (the rising power of dollar vs the hajj participating countries currencies), the universal rise in air tickets because of the high cost of aviation fuel. But most essentially, the peculiar strength of local currencies against the dollar tells much. We all know how power the American currency plays globally and most significantly in the hajj business.
“Again, the Saudi Arabia government has introduced some charges and increased the existing one. That’s also added up to the global increase. For instance, the increase of Value Added Tax (VAT) by 15 per cent from 5 per cent, the high cost of accommodations especially in Makkah, increase in cost of service in holy sites like Mina, Muzdalifa and Arafat, increased in the number of pilgrims from 1 million last year to over 3 million expected to perform this year’s hajj”.
Impact of cost of hajj on Nigeria Pilgrims
Although the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), the agency entrusted with management of hajj and umurah in the country, is yet to release the final fare for hajj 2023, there is growing anxiety that local pilgrims will not be immune to the global trend.
Ostensibly, NAHCON has recently directed participating pilgrims to make up a sum of N2.5 million initial deposits with their state boards, the same amount charged during the year 2022 hajj. What’s however close to the reality is the possibility of an increase in the fare. With the economic reality in the country, several Muslims including those that deposited the initial payment may find it difficult to level up.
Another stakeholder in the hajj industry, Alh. Abdulmaliq Hassan believed Nigerian pilgrims, especially those whose deposits have stayed about three years with state pilgrim’s boards, would suffer the impact. Hassan worried that many intended pilgrims who have not prepared for any exigency left alone the possible hike in the fare might lose another opportunity this year.
“It will definitely have an impact on Nigeria pilgrims because hajj is performed in Saudi Arabia. Nigeria pilgrims will pay the same services fee like other hajj participating countries. Remember, of the total components that make up hajj fare, about 98 per cent alone are billed in dollars. So there is no two ways to the fact that we are equally susceptible.
“I believe we should rather be discussing or envisaging the extent or degree of impact, if you ask me. If you don’t forget, as at last year, a dollar exchange to naira at what rate? And then, hajj fare was pegged at around N2.5 million. Today, you and I know the exchange rate. That alone is devastating enough. We can only pray that NAHCON gets a substantial number of pilgrims for 2023 even when the Saudi government has returned the 95,000 allocation”. Hassan noted.
He added: “For example in 2019 the Dollar Component of the fares is $4,834 (N1,479,442) 97.9% hence the dramatic effect of any shift in exchange rates on the final fares that may be announced”.