Fred Itua, Abuja
Senate Ad-hoc Committee on Operations of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) said it has uncovered “monumental fraud” in its operations.
The committee, in a 34 page report submitted to the Senate, yesterday, said it discovered over-bloated onshore and offshore charges by NAHCON, levied on intending pilgrims, in addition to state welfare boards.
The charges, the report said, make the Hajj fare to be on the high side without recourse to the functions of the Utilities and Charges Commission Act.
The alleged “fraudulent charges” the report said, “escalates the cost of the pilgrimage.”
The lengthy report, which was presented by the chairman of the committee, Senator Adamu Aliero, for consideration and approval, noted that “NAHCON agreed that the $1.33 paid by each pilgrim is a caution deposit to cover any damage to the tents, but, it is not all the $99,750 (N30,423,750) paid by the 75,000 Nigerian pilgrims in 2017 that would be spent on repairing the damaged tents.
“There ought to have been details of how such funds are expended every year, but, the Commission could not avail any detail to the committee.”
The report said $73.37 paid by 75,000 pilgrims amounted to $5,502,750 paid to the commission as tent facilities, which overlapped with monies already paid and the $73.37 paid by each pilgrim was for the provision of bedding materials in Muna and Arafat.
The committee said in the report that it could not ascertain the veracity of such payment.
“Evidence of payment and acknowledgement for receipt of the same as well as the identification of recipients was not availed to the committee. Every year, $13.34 is paid by pilgrims to the Ministry of Hajj as deposit.
“In 2017, $1,000,500 was paid by the 75,000 pilgrims who performed Hajj.”
The report also said the commission is under the impression that it is not among the public agencies listed in the Second Schedule of the Utilities and Charges Commission even when the Second Schedule (j) of the Act states “such other public utilities as may be determined from time to time by the Commission.”
“For instance, in 2017, Onshore Charges, such as administrative fee, Hajj development levy, yellow card and registration forms paid to the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria by the 75,000 Nigerian pilgrims that went through the states pilgrims welfare boards amounted to N712,500.000.”
It said State Pilgrims Welfare Boards charge administrative and other charges which amounted to N1,474,875,000.
The report said each pilgrim was further charged $1.33 as tent security deposit.
“This appears to be duplication considering that $322.37 paid by each pilgrim should have been inclusive of tent security,” the panel said.
Reading the document, Ekweremadu said, would enable senators make meaningful contributions when consideration of the document resumes.
Deputy Senate President, Ike Ekweremadu, who presided at plenary, asked senators to read the report. He described its contents as “weighty.”