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Presidency: No discrimination. Christian pilgrims also bought dollar for N160

Presidency: No discrimination. Christian pilgrims also bought dollar for N160

The Presidency has said that the subsidy on foreign exchange offered to Muslim pilgrims was also made available to Christian pilgrims.

The directive of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) that Deposit Money Banks (DMBs) should sell dollars to Muslims embarking on Hajj pilgrimage at the rate of N197 to the dollar has generated widespread criticism.

The announcement, which was disseminated on Thursday through a CBN circular, noted that the federal government’s special concession could be accessed by 65,167 pilgrims.

“Each pilgrim is entitled to purchase a minimum of $750.00 and maximum of US$1,000.00 as PTA,” CBN said in the circular signed by W.D. Gotring, acting director of the bank’s trade and exchange department,” the circular said.

“The Federal Government has approved that intending pilgrims are to be sold the PTA at a concessionary exchange rate of N197.00 to the US dollar.

“No commission shall be charged by the banks for the sale of the PTA to the intending pilgrims. The Central Bank of Nigeria shall sale the PTA to the designated banks in Lagos and Abuja and the accounts of the respective banks shall be debited as soon as the funds are disbursed.”

Following the circulation of the information, many Nigerians deemed it a reckless action on the part of the government, especially as the economy languishes in the throes of recession.

However, Garba Shehu, presidential spokesman, released a statement late on Friday to clarify that the “exchange rate of N197:00 to a dollar was approved by the president about three months ago”.

Shehu further explained that the approval had come “much earlier than before the new Forex regime came into being”. He maintained that the forex subsidy is non-discriminatory.

“The Chairman of the Hajj Commission has confirmed that it is non-discriminatory. It was approved for Christian and Muslim pilgrimages for this year. The CBN has offered an explanationl” Shehu added.

Indeed, the government did approve a subsidized exchange rate of N160 per dollar for 13,800 Christian pilgrims in October 2015.

A similar CBN circular, signed by O. L. Ahuchogu on behalf of the director, trade and exchange department, was also issued at the time.

It read: “The Federal Government has approved the purchase of a maximum of $1000 at concessionary rate of N160 to the dollar by each intending pilgrim as personal travel allowance.

“Consequently each pilgrim travelling to Israel is entitled to maximum of $750, while those going to Israel/Rome or Greece are entitled to a maximum of $1000″, read the circular containing the concession for Christian pilgrims.”

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