– Following serious criticisms against the policy of the Central Bank of Nigeria to make dollar available to Muslim pilgrims at N197, the presidency has reacted
– The CBN announced the policy in a circular dated August 4 to all authorised dealers in forex and the general public, but this gesture was heavily criticised
– The presidency has said the same gesture to the Muslim pilgrims was extended to Christians on pilgrimage and that the CBN has offered explanations
The presidency has said that Christian pilgrims are also beneficiaries of the subsidy on foreign exchange offered to Muslim pilgrims recently.
The circular from CBN to bank to ease forex for Muslim pilgrims
President Muhammadu Buhari and his administration had, since the announcement earlier in the week, received serious criticisms from rights activist, religious bodies and economic analysts for the policy that has the exchange rate put at N197 to a dollar for Muslim pilgrims while the country grapples with N400 to a dollar.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) had announced in a circular that 65,167 Muslim pilgrims for the hajj Islamic rites should be given special concession.
The CBN circular read:-
“Each pilgrim is entitled to purchase a minimum of $750.00 and maximum of US$1,000.00 as PTA,” CBN said in the circular signed by W.D. Gotring, acting director of the bank’s trade and exchange department,” the circular said.
“The Federal Government has approved that intending pilgrims are to be sold the PTA at a concessionary exchange rate of N197.00 to the US dollar.
“No commission shall be charged by the banks for the sale of the PTA to the intending pilgrims. The Central Bank of Nigeria shall sale the PTA to the designated banks in Lagos and Abuja and the accounts of the respective banks shall be debited as soon as the funds are disbursed.”
The Afenifere Renewal Group (ARG), which is a socio-political group of the Yoruba people, had on Thursday, August 5 also warned the federal government of Nigeria against its policy of subsidising pilgrimage.
In a statement made available to Naijaloaded by Kunle Famoriyo, the publicity secretary of ARG, the organisation said the policy “sends wrong signals about the touted autonomy of the Central Bank of Nigeria” and it is “tantamount to prioritizing religion over the nation’s economic needs.”
In his reaction to the wide condemnation that greeted the policy, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesperson, said:
“The exchange rate of N197:00 to a dollar was approved by the president about three months ago, much earlier than the new forex regime came into being.
“The chairman of the Hajj Commission has confirmed that it is non-discriminatory.
“It was approved for Christian and Muslim pilgrimages for this year. The CBN has offered an explanation.”
The Cable, in its own report, confirmed that the government had approved a specialised exchange rate of N160 per dollar for 13,800 Christian pilgrims in October 2015.
It quoted a CBN circular, signed by OL Ahuchogu on behalf of the director, trade and exchange department, as saying:
“The federal government has approved the purchase of a maximum of $1000 at concessionary rate of N160 to the dollar by each intending pilgrim as personal travel allowance.
“Consequently each pilgrim travelling to Israel is entitled to maximum of $750, while those going to Israel/Rome or Greece are entitled to a maximum of $1000.”