The Nigerian Senate was heavily criticized by Nigerians on Thursday for asking the federal government to direct the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, to supply dollars at N200 to those going on pilgrimage either to Saudi Arabia or Israel.
If the government consents to the request, it means the allocation of foreign exchange for those planning to embark on the pilgrimage would be subsidized by about 37 per cent.
The naira exchange rate is at N315 to a dollar officially, against it being N365 at the parallel market. The request ignores the provisions in the approved Medium Term Expenditure Framework, MTEF, covering all expenditure plans for 2017, and the Appropriation Act, which was earlier approved by the lawmakers, prior to the assent by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo.
Following the adoption of the report by the committee on foreign affairs on “Extortion of Pilgrims” by the National Hajj Commission, a former governor of Kebbi State, Adamu Aliero, APC-Kebbi, had requested, as matter of urgency, concession of N200 to the dollar once every year, for those going on pilgrimages.
“The committee strongly recommends the concession of N200 to $1 for 2017 Hajj, to bring down cost to the bearable level,” Mr. Aliero said, after claiming the CBN had been offering FOREX at that rate to some unnamed businesses.
However, a cross section of Nigerians who spoke to PREMIUM Times on Thursday criticised the recommendation, as insensitive and thoughtless.
For Tope Fasua, an economist and Chief Executive Officer, Global Analytics Consulting Limited, conceding to such request would spell disaster to the economy.
“It will confirm that what happened last year was deliberate. It will definitely distort the market and create another confidence crisis.
“I hope it’s not true for it will show we are not serious as a country,” he said.
The lead director, Centre for Social Justice, CENSOJ, Eze Onyekpere, said from this development, it was very clear the National Assembly members have lost touch with reality of the Nigerian situation.
“They do not seem to understand the state of the country’s economy. It is unthinkable that those who are supposed to make laws for our country are making such ridiculous demands, which is selfish to the extreme.
“Giving concession to those going on pilgrimage and ignoring the proposals in the medium term expenditure framework and the budget benchmark in the Appropriation Act is a crazy proposition.
“Anybody who makes such sentimental and senseless request should not be taken seriously. Pilgrimage is a personal thing. Anyone going to seek one’s salvation should look for his private money to fund his trip.
“Asking government to subsidise such trips violates the right of other Nigerians not interested in such jamboree,” Mr. Onyekpere said.
For Chief executive, Pan Africa Development Corporation, Odilim Enwegbara, the request is laughable.
He said the only reason one can discern in this request is that the lawmakers may be looking for cheap funding for their forthcoming vacation. Otherwise, they should know they are not in charge of monetary policy, and cannot direct the CBN to do such a thing, he said.
“Even if they had such powers, the CBN is not in control of the exchange rate of the dollar. By virtue of the CBN floating exchange rate policy, the exchange rate is determined by market forces. Any intervention by the CBN is illegal.
“In any case, on what basis are they asking the CBN to allocate dollars for their private religious venture?
“If indeed it is true businesses are given dollars at N200, it is because they are adding value to the economy. What value is pilgrimage adding to the economy? The Senate should be called to order.”
“The National Chairman, Young Democratic, YDP, Ezekiel Nyaetok, said: “I think the tragedy of our nation is shortsightedness of our leaders and their penchant to go for cheap popularity, by emphasising what is clearly not sustainable.”
“Where the country is today, makes more sense to ensure that such spiritual exercises, if at all, should be local. This is a time for serious introspection and sober reflection.
“As much as possible, pilgrimage should be localised, at no cost whatsoever to government. Pilgrimage adds absolutely nothing to the solution to our present situation.
“Asking for subsidy for pilgrimage at a time government is looking for funds to revive our industries and create jobs for the people smacks of shallow thinking. This is the real tragedy I am talking about.”
Last year, the Central Bank was embroiled in a similar controversy that it approved the allocation of foreign exchange to those on pilgrimage at a rate lower than the prevailing rate.
On Thursday, when the CBN was contacted to seek its reaction to the allegation that it approved dollars to businesses at lower exchange rates, its spokesperson, Isaac Okorafor, did not answer his call. He did not also respond to the text message sent to him.