- N1.5m initial deposit, biometric data capturing threaten deadline
The fear being nursed by intending pilgrims over possible exclusion from the 2018 Hajj rites has worsened as the March 31 deadline given by the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia for them to complete their registration looms.
This apprehension, New Telegraph gathered yesterday, is particularly worsened by the hike in initial deposit for the pilgrims as well as the threats posed by biometric data registration craved by Riyadh.
“The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) has hiked initial depot to be paid by intending pilgrims for 2018 Hajj to N1.5 million. The problem now is that this exorbitant amount is expected to be paid on or before the March 31 deadline, which is next week Saturday,” an intending pilgrim, Sheik Rozaq Jibril, told this newspaper, adding that the “mandatory biometric data capturing demanded by Saudi Arabia is another threat.”
Hajj, Jubril said, is not a Jamboree; it is “a religious rite – one of the five pillars of Islam. Now, many of us who aspire to go and perform this rite are now afraid of the challenge posed by these issues.”
Saudi Arabia had included the biometric data capturing as a part of conditions for all intending pilgrim to participate in this year’s Hajj rites, a move that has been seen by many as a threat, due to time factor and availability of centres, to thousands of intending pilgrims in the country.
President Muhammadu Buhari had also met with top officials of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON), tasking them to resolve the matter before it gets out of hand.
The President raised his concern recently over the hardship being faced by Nigerian intending pilgrims over the new biometric policy when NAHCON Chairman, Barrister Abdullahi Mukhtar, briefed him on the 2018 hajj, and the new policies introduced by the Saudi authorities.
A group, which calls itself Independent Hajj Reporters, had also, in a reaction to the confusion, said that centres for the newly-introduced compulsory data capturing of intending pilgrims should be established in all the 774 local governments across the country. “About 80 – 85 percent of pilgrims from Nigeria come from rural areas and are mostly farmers.
To successfully capture the biometric data of all hajj pilgrim requires having data capture centres in all the 774 local governments,” the National coordinator and publicity secretary of the group, Ibrahim Muhammed and Abubakar Mahmoud, respectfully, said in a statement.
Reiterating the March 31 deadline, Executive Secretary of the commission, Alhaji Abubakar Nalaraba, maintained that prospective pilgrims will pay the initial depot of N1.5 million on or before the date.
Blaming the new biometric data capturing policy by Saudi Arabia for the hike, Nalaraba who led other officials of the commission on a visit to Emir of Lafia, maintained that Saudi authorities have introduced some taxes and innovations which have made the hike in fares imperative.
The visit, he added, was part of state-wide advocacy to educate intending pilgrims on new innovations introduced by Saudi authorities for the Hajj.
The introduction of taxes and other innovations, he reiterated, raised the tentative Hajj fare from about N1 million paid in 2017 to N1.5 million, insisting that the collection of the fares would end on March 31, 2018.
Intending pilgrims that succeed in completing the payment, Nalaraba said, would go for bio-metric data capture in seven centres across the country, with those from the state having theirs in Abuja.
“For now, we are instructed to receive N1.5 million; last year the total hajj fare was N1, 545, 000, but this year we are instructed to collect N1, 500, 000 from intending pilgrims pending the final approval,” he said.
The Emir of Lafia, Dr. Isa Mustapha-Agwai, however joined other intending pilgrims to urge NAHCON to reduce the fares.
The emir made the call when he received officials of Nasarawa State Muslims Pilgrims Welfare Board at his palace in Lafia.
The astronomical fares being charged, he warned, would deprive Muslims in the country from performing a very important religious obligation, which is one of the five pillars of Islam.
Mustapha-Agwai advised NAHCON to engage the Presidency and Saudi authorities to reduce the fares to enable more Muslims partake in the holy pilgrimage.
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