There are strong indications that the allocated 95,000 seats for Nigerian pilgrims in the 2024 hajj may remain unfilled, as reported by Daily Trust Saturday.
The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) set December 31 as the deadline for remitting hajj deposits, emphasizing the importance of this date for estimating participant numbers and facilitating negotiations with service providers in Saudi Arabia and Nigeria.
However, the combination of the high cost of hajj and the early closure of payments has resulted in a low turnout of intending pilgrims. Although the commission has not officially announced an extension of the deadline, it is reported that fewer than 25,000 pilgrims have paid the deposit so far.
Late allocation of 20,000 seats to private tour operators on Monday has further complicated the challenge, delaying the preparation of these companies. The initial suspension of approved companies by NAHCON, due to grievances from those not selected, also contributed to the delay.
The economic challenges facing Nigeria, with 99% of hajj payments made in dollars, have led to a 682% increase in hajj fares over the past decade. The minimum hajj fare, traditionally around $6,000, has been affected by the volatility of the Naira against the dollar. The NAHCON has requested a deposit of N4.5 million pending the final fare announcement.
While the commission has stressed the need to conclude preparations early due to a new policy by Saudi Arabia, intending pilgrims are facing difficulties meeting the financial requirements. The NAHCON aims to complete accommodation and holy sites contracts by February 2024 for visa issuance starting March 3.
Despite the low turnout, the commission has not officially decided on a deadline extension. State Pilgrim Welfare Boards and private tour operators are advocating for an extension, citing the 67% increase in fare and the timing, which coincides with the period when many pilgrims are sponsored through Ramadan-related activities.
Prospective pilgrims express reluctance, citing the prohibitive cost of hajj. Some individuals are considering alternatives like Umrah due to the significant increase in expenses for the pilgrimage.