By Levinus Nwabughiogu
ABUJA-As against the public outcry trailing the concessionary foreign exchange (Forex) rate of N197 to $1 granted to the intending Muslims pilgrims for 2016 Hajj operations, the Presidency has risen in defence of President Muhammadu Buhari, saying the situation was unfounded.
The presidency also stated that Buhari has not at any time shown religious predilection to Muslims as against the Christian pilgrims.
Recalling that Christians pilgrims enjoyed a concessionary rate of N160 to $1 in 2015, the seat of power said that the current criticisms were mischievous attempts to discredit the president.
The presidency reaction was conveyed through the Senior Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, Mallam Garba Shehu in an exclusive chat with Vanguard.
Shehu who revealed that Muslims and Christians alike had always gotten the same and equal treatment from the government in every pilgrimage explained that the Hajj Commission never asked for concession and was never given any.
He pointed out that what the Commission requested was to be given Forex at the prevailing exchange rate which was N197 to $1 at the time of the appeal.
He said: “The Hajj Commission did not ask for concessionary rate and was not given a concessionary rate. They asked to be given Forex at the prevailing exchange rate and at that time, it was N197 to $1 and they entered into contract with intending pilgrims that they will pay at the given rate. So, no wrong had been done. People are just being mischievous by dwelling on this thing.
“It is not also true that the president is favoring Muslims. Every year in this country, Muslims and Christians have always paid the same rate. This also applied to Christians when they got their rate at N160 as CBN has explained.
“There was no concession given to Muslim pilgrims. They didn’t ask for concession and they were not given any. They asked for the prevailing exchange rate and approval was given on the basis of that.”
Shehu’s position was however a response to inquiries made by Vanguard prompted by exclusive spotting of a letter from the Hajj Commission to President Buhari.
Captained “Request for official exchange rate for 2016 Hajj transactions” with reference number NAHCON/AU/16/Vol.XXVI/907, the letter dated March 18, 2016 was routed through the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, OSGF.
It made a specific request of concessionary rate “at the prevailing official exchange rate of N197 to $1 for the 2016 Hajj dollar related components.
“I have the honor to write on the above matter. Sir, you may recall that during 2015 Hajj, Government granted approval of N160 to $1 for dollar related component of Hajj transactions based on the Commission’s request.
“In view of the current global economic realities and need to take off the financial burden of providing concessionary rates on the government, the Commission had sensitized stakeholders and States Boards at two different meetings held on the 11th January and 10th of March, 2016 over the challenges of enjoying consessionary exchange rates for Hajj transactions which was all agreed that it is unrealistic at this material time.
“Therefore, the Commission is considerably sensitive to limit its request to Government for the use of prevailing official exchange rate of N197 to $1 for the 2016 Hajj dollar related components.
“Sir, if our request meets Mr. President’s kind consideration and approval, the Commission shall compute the 2016 Hajj fares accordingly without financial implication to the Government on subsidy support or concession on the foreign exchange as was the practice.
“Mr. President is kindly requested to approve the use of the prevailing official exchange rate to N197 to $1 to be used for all dollar related component of 2016 Hajj”, the letter signed by one Barr. Abdullahi Mukhtar Mohammad read.