The Afenifere Renewal Group, a Yoruba socio-political group, has warned the Nigerian governmemt against its policy of subsidising pilgrimage.
In a statement released over the weekend by its Publicity Secretary, Kunle Famoriyo, the group said the policy sent wrong signals about the touted autonomy of the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“It is tantamount to prioritizing religion over the nation’s economic needs,” the statement said.
ARG said religion was personal and should not be given priority when there were more fundamental and higher priority issues to expend the country’s scarce foreign exchange on.
Outrage had greeted the CBN’s decision that dollar be sold to intending pilgrims at N197/$1 at a time the market rate is averaging N400/$1.
Public condemnation had trailed a similar directive by the apex bank last year mandating banks to release dollar to the pilgrims at N160/$1 when the exchange rate for around N197/$1.
“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,” the group said.
“For example, importers of pharmaceutical products and textbooks do not benefit from a government special rebate, considering that these are more essential needs.
“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.”
The ARG maintained that the policy did not portend well for the economy at a time Nigeria was 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.”