By Omoh Gabriel
Nigerians spent a total of N34.63billion in 2008 on pilgrimage to Mecca and Jerusalem. Of this amount the Muslim annual ceremony to Mecca cost the nation a total of N29.7073billion in 2008n while that of Christians to Jerusalem cost the national economy N4.93billion. Figures obtained from CBN, the federal and states pilgrims board showed that in October 2008, a total of 84,878 Nigerians went to Mecca to perform the yearly Hadj operations in which a total of N29.7073billion was spent on a total package of N350,000 per person. Tickets for the airlift of the Muslim pilgrims amounted to N24.275108billion.
IN December a total of 17,000 pilgrim were approved by the federal government to perform the yearly Christian pilgrimage to Jerusalem at a cost of N290,000 per person. Tickets for the air lift of the Christian pilgrims amounted to N174million. This brings the total amount spent on air tickets for the two pilgrimage to the Holy-lands in 2008 to N24.449billion. In the 2008 Hadj operation, the federal government approved a total of $1,500 per pilgrim as against the $1,000 approved for their Christian counterparts. This brought the total amount spent on Personal Travel Allowance to N10.188billion in 2008.
A breakdown show that Nigeria spent a total of $127.317million in foreign exchange or N16.885billion in 2008 to finance both the Muslim and Christian pilgrimage. Data made available to Vanguard show that in October 84,878 Nigerians perform the 2008 Hadj to Mecca as approved by the federal government and a maximum of $1,500 was approved as personal travelling allowance for each of the Muslim pilgrims thus resulting in total foreign exchange procurement of $127,217,000 for the Muslim pilgrims.
Available data also show that in December a maximum of seventeen thousand (17,000) pilgrims undertake the 2008 pilgrimage to Israel. The federal government approved a maximum of $1,000 per Christian Pilgrims giving a total foreign exchange procurement of $17million for the pilgrims in 2008.As a result both exercise gulped a total of $144.317million in foreign exchange from the nation,s external reserves holding.
According to a circular to all banks and the general public released on Wednesday 30th December by the CBN and signed by Mr. B Musa Acting Director Trade and Exchange Department the Government said it has also approved the purchase of a maximum of US$1,000 by each intending Christian pilgrim as Personal Travel Allowance (PTA). The PTA it said can be purchased at the prevailing naira/dollar exchange rate on the day of the purchase in any of the 14 designated banks. It was the same circular that the bank sent out in October during the Muslim pilgrimage to Mecca.
The banks approved by the CBN according to the CBN to handle the foreign exchange needs of both the Christian and Muslim pilgrimage are Afribank Plc, Bank PHB, First City Monument Bank, FinBank Plc, First Bank Plc, Fidelity Bank Plc, GTBank Plc, Intercontinental Bank Plc, Oceanic Bank Int‚Äôl Plc, Union Bank Plc, UBA Plc, Unity Bank Plc, Skye Bank Plc and Zenith Bank Plc.
The recent circular titled ‚ÄúYEAR 2008 CHRISTIAN PILGRIMAGE: PURCHASE OF PILGRIMS TRAVELLING ALLOWANCE‚Äù gave the state by state break down of the official number of pilgrims allocated to the 36 states in the federation and the Federal Capital Territory.
The breakdown of the Christian pilgrims showed that Taraba has 363 and 1,730 Muslim pilgrims; Kogi 242 Christians,830 Muslims; Osun 728 Christians, 1000Muslims; Bauchi 316 Christians, 3,650 Muslims; Niger 60 Christians, 4,330 Muslims; Adamawa 61 Christians, 2,200Muslims, Borno 46 Christians, 3,060 Muslims; Yobe 167 Christians, 2,730 Muslims; Cross River 155 Christians and 50 Muslims. Others are Ondo 220 Christians, 355 Muslims; Ogun 764 Christians, 1,530 Muslims; Nasarawa 255 Christians, 2,200 Muslims; FCT 450 Christians, 2,820 Muslims; Kaduna 1,492 Christians, 8,030 Muslims; Kwara 470 Christians, 2,541 Muslims; Gombe 219 Christians, 2,502 Muslims; Lagos 1,006 Christians, 3,800 Muslims; Oyo 656 Christians, 1,500 Muslims; Eonyi 350 Christians, 60 Muslims; Delta 460 Christians, 100 Muslims; Rivers 2,422 Christians, 450 Muslims; Ekiti 266 Christians, 280 Muslims; Benue 426 Christians, 500 Muslims; Enugu 274 Christian, 50 Muslims; Abia 536 Christians, 50 Muslims. Other states allocation are Anambra 134 Christians, 100 Muslims; Kano 8 Christian, 7,000Muslims; Imo 237 Christians, 80 Muslims; Bayelsa 1,672 Christians, 180 Muslims; Edo 350 Christians, 300 Muslims and Akwa Ibom 400 Christians, 60 Muslims.
The CBN circular state ‚ÄúThe designated banks are required to sell the permissible amount of the PTA to intending pilgrims whose names and passport numbers are included in the pilgrims‚Äô master list. No pilgrim should be denied the travel allowance on the ground that he/she has no Tax Clearance Certificate. In view of the time constraint associated with the pilgrimage exercise, the Chairman or the Secretary of each State Pilgrims‚Äô Board, after due identification, may be allowed to sign for and collect the PTA on behalf of the intending pilgrims in his/her State on presentation of the approved list and valid passports of the pilgrims listed against his/her state.
‚ÄúIn accordance with the Israeli Government‚Äôs Policy, visa shall only be issued to the pilgrims at the point of entry, that is, at Ben Gurion Airport, Tel Aviv, Israel on arrival. It should also be noted that the pilgrimage will be by chartered flights. Therefore, in view of paragraph 5 above, air ticket and visa requirements for the purpose of procuring the stipulated PTA have been waived. However, an endorsed copy of each pilgrim‚Äôs passport should be retained by the bank for record purposes‚Äù.
The CBN further said ‚ÄúThe fourteen (14) designated banks are advised to contact the Director, Foreign Operations Department, Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja for details in respect of the purchase of United States Dollars (US$) to cover their sales to the intending pilgrims.
‚ÄúA schedule showing the list of the States assigned to each of the designated banks for the purposes of procuring the PTA is attached. The designated banks shall render returns in respect of actual sales to the Director, Foreign Operations Department, Central Bank of Nigeria, Abuja, within two (2) weeks from the end of the exercise (i.e. from the date of the last departure flight from Israel). Designated banks are enjoined to ensure compliance with the provisions of this circular as infractions of any requirement or abuse of any waiver shall attract appropriate penalty‚Äù.