A move by the Nigerian government to offer a concessionary dollar exchange rate for haj pilgrims has caused controversy in the country. As Sonia Legg reports, critics say the government's priority should be to boost the country's contracting economy.
A slump in oil revenues has hammered Nigeria's public finances and the local currency. Last week the naira hit an all time low of just under 351 to the dollar - on the black market the rate is 400. So a decision to give Muslims going to Mecca for the haj a preferential rate of 197 has split opinion. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DEPUTY IMAM, 1004 CENTRAL MOSQUE, AHMED, SAYING: "It's very very good, we like it, Muslim we enjoy it. Is very good." The government offered the preferential rate months before the currency was devalued. Even with it - it's thought fewer Nigerians will make the annual pilgrimage. (SOUNDBITE) (English) MOSQUE COMMITTEE MEMBER, AYO SALAMI, SAYING: "Compared to last year I think because of the dollar exchange rate and all of that, I think the ability of people to go willingly from their own personal resources will be impacted negatively, so you potentially might see a reduction." The amount of cash haj travellers can exchange has been reduced. But with the country in the midst of an economic crisis many don't think the concession is appropriate. (SOUNDBITE) (English) ECONOMIST, BISMARCK REWANE, SAYING: "If their commitment was made in March, that was only available in the first quarter of this year. You cannot use a pricing policy of the first quarter and apply it in the third quarter of the year." There's one sector that hopes that isn't the case. Travel agents say bookings to Mecca have fallen - even with the preferential rate.