The Afenifere Renewal Group [ARG] has warned the federal government of Nigeria against its policy of subsidising pilgrimage.
In a statement released over the weekend by its Publicity Secretary, Kunle Famoriyo, the Yoruba socio-political group, 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.”
ARG said that religion is personal and should not be given priority when there are more fundamental and higher priority issues to expend the country’s scarce foreign exchange on.
Last August, outrage greeted Federal Government’s approval that dollar be sold to intending pilgrimage at N160/$1 at a time the official rate was around N197. Again, the government has now ordered that dollar be sold to intending pilgrims at N197/$1 at a time the market rate is averaging N400/$1.
ARG contended that this “religious subsidy” policy is “needless, leaves room for sharp practices, and it is in bad taste considering that the forex policy is deemed to have been somewhat been liberalised.”
“For example, importers of pharmaceutical products and textbooks do not benefit from a government special rebate, considering that these are more essential needs. Education has also been adversely affected by the forex crisis with more Nigerians affected than those going on pilgrimages,” the statement said.
“Already, thousands of Nigerians studying abroad are being recalled home because their sponsors could no longer afford the fees. Also, We know that overseas education is a private choice but so also is religious pilgrimage. If any of the two deserves government intervention, it is education, unequivocally.”
“This ‘religious subsidy’ policy sends a wrong message about the touted independence of the Central Bank of Nigeria, which does not portend well for the economy at a time Nigeria is desperate about shoring up its Foreign Reserve.”
“This policy is more damaging to a larger Nigerian population that depends on stable forex policy and strengthening of the Naira. This is clearly a wrong priority and it must stop.”