• When economics is crossed with religion it results in – maybe – ‘technical recession’?
It is age-old wisdom that economics and religion, never are the twain to mix. And the simple reasons are that while the one is about rigour and reason, the other is about faith and acceptance. To yoke them in statecraft therefore is the perfect recipe for crisis. This is the trouble with governments’ – both federal and states – continued funding of religious pilgrimages to such holy places like Jerusalem and Mecca.
There has been widespread uproar around the country over the recent announcement that current hajj pilgrims will procure their basic travel allowance (BTA) at a highly subsidised exchange rate of N197.00 to one dollar. This is at a time when official rate stands at about N287.00 to a dollar and parallel market has gone as high as N400.00 per dollar.
Last week, the Federal Government had begun the airlift of no fewer than 80,000 pilgrims to Saudi Arabia for this year’s hajj to Mecca and Medina. The subsidy, therefore, lies somewhere between the official and parallel market rates of the dollar to naira exchange rates.
If we multiply the difference by 80,000 we get an amount that some analysts have computed to be in the region of N8 billion. But the special BTA rate is not the only dent to the treasury arising from religious pilgrimages. Many governments at all levels award cash gifts of various sums to both Muslim and Christian pilgrims as some form of political patronage. There are also other costs relating to logistics, airlifting, accommodation, travel documents, welfare, security and several hidden and unforeseen costs.
The enormity of the frittering of public funds through what is mainly a personal religious obligation will become apparent if governments take a careful note of the total cost of each year’s pilgrimage and compute same over the last 10 to 20 years. It sure would amount to tidy sums which could go a long way in filling the infrastructure gap in the country, for instance.
If government’s foreign exchange policy in respect of the pilgrimages flies in the face of economics, the response of the Central Bank of Nigeria to public outcry is, to say the least, unbecoming of a country’s economic hub.
Apart from stating that about the same rate was granted to Christian pilgrims, CBN in a release sought to justify its action by noting that it was a futures arrangement. But the reasons fall flat on the face of both logic and economics. One, it does not matter whether it is Christian or Muslim pilgrims, official funding of religious pilgrimages is something akin to committing an economic crime.
Second, at a time of acute forex scarcity when industries are shutting down for lack of foreign exchange for essential raw materials, doling out cheap fund for non-economic purposes beggars believe. Further, major oil marketers that import petroleum products for local consumption have recently threatened that they could not guarantee the current fuel pump price if they cannot source forex at official rates.
According to the marketers, government has been unable to facilitate their sourcing of forex at the official rate of N287 to a dollar. They are left with buying at the ‘black market’ price of about N400 to a dollar; it is therefore nigh impossible to maintain the government-dictated price of N145 per litre, they say.
Government had been bedevilled by acute scarcity of foreign exchange, especially in this dispensation as a result of the sharp drop in the price of crude oil, Nigeria’s main export. Even President Muhammadu Buhari bemoaned this sad fate recently when he declared plaintively that Nigeria was poor. The Minister of Finance, Mrs, Kemi adeosun, had also earlier noted that the country’s economy was in what she described as “technical recession”. In the face of all these, it seems preposterous that the same government would grant such huge foreign exchange rebate to pilgrims.
Just as the Kaduna and Lagos State governments have done, we expect all governments and more especially, the Federal Government to immediately make a declaration nullifying government sponsorship of any form of religious pilgrimages, going forward.
We say never again must government spend public funds on religious pilgrimages The Nation