HAJJ: We charge not N70,000 but N50,000 for yellow fever vaccination – Lagos Board

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FILE: A batch of Nigerian pilgrims boarding a flight for onward airlifting to Saudi Arabia.

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*Fact-checks and house position

By KEMI KASUMU and OTHER CONTRIBUTORS

Four days after our publication with headline, “Despite paying over N6m, Lagos pilgrim coughs out N70,000 for yellow fever vaccination” dated Monday May 6, 2024, copy of a rejoinder written since the following day on Tuesday May 7 has just been received this morning of Thursday May 9.

The rejoinder, signed by Saheed Onipede, the Secretary to the Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, denied charging the N70,000 he claimed was reported against it by “defenderngr.com” meaning to write thedefenderngr.com website address of The DEFENDER Newspaper online.

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READ ALSO Despite paying over N6m, Lagos pilgrim coughs out N70,000 for yellow fever vaccination

The Board Secretary, however, confirmed that his management actually charged N50,000 for the yellow fever vaccination a pilgrim must take to be issued the yellow card required as part of his or her travel documents for this year’s Hajj being a major pillar of his or her region of Islam.

According to the Board Secretary, “The attention of the Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board has been drawn to the story published by the defenderngr.com on the above subject matter.

“The Board wishes to state unequivocally that it never charged the pilgrims N70,000.00 for the medical screening as claimed by the medium. What was charged for the exercise is N50,000.00 (Fifty Thousand Naira only).”

Justifying the N50,000 charged he said, “The cost covers taking blood and urine samples of every pilgrim to test for the followings: Malaria fever, Typhoid fever, Blood pressure, Blood sugar, Cholesterol, Diabetes, Pregnancy test, Epatitis B, HIV/AIDS, Sexualy Transmitted Diseases (STDs), etc. as well as vaccination against diseases such as yellow fever, oral polio and meningitis in order to ascertain their health status in fulfillment of the requirements for issuance of the yellow card for International travel.”

He continued, “Before now, intending pilgrims were usually asked to go to the State owned General Hospitals and the Lagos State University Teaching Hospital (LASUTH) to carry out these tests. It was however discovered that some of them will not actually go for the tests in the accredited hospitals but come up with fake results and when they get to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia within weeks, their real health status will come out due to the rigours of the Hajj exercise coupled with the very hot weather conditions of the Kingdom.

“It is in respect of this discovery, that the Board decided since 2022 to centralise the screening exercise, by bringing medical personnel from LASUTH and Port Health Service (PHS) a department in the Federal Ministry of Health for the compulsory screening in a Hall close to our office and ensure that their Certified True Copy (CTC) of the results are issued.

“In addition, medical doctors are assembled in the same Hall to study each result and administer appropriate drugs for anyone found suffering from one disease or the other. The doctors also follow-up with them to the holy Land to monitor and manage them throughout the duration of the spiritual exercise.

“The Board wishes to state that the money charged for the screening was not a deliberate act to fleece or cause untold hardship to the pilgrims. It is a well known fact that prices of goods and services had skyrocketed because of the present economic situation of the country, hence, the ₦50,000.00 charged to take care of every necessary logistics surrounding the exercise.

“And also wishes to clarify that at no point did it collect ₦70,000.00 in any Local Government Area neither was the money paid into any personal account as erroneously claimed by the writer. All the pilgrims paid the money by raising a ‘Bank draft’ from their respective banks in favour of the Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board and official receipt of payment was issued by our accounts department accordingly.”

Mr. Saheed Onipede then spoke to the conscience of the writer saying, “In view of the above, we wish to appeal to the writer to try to do a balance report in the future by getting facts and figures from the other side before rushing to press. Acting on the complaints of only one pilgrim out of about two thousands, clearly showed that the writer was only interested in bringing the state to disrepute and damage its integrity and enviable image.

“We must at this juncture commend the pilgrims for paying the money willingly and appearing for the screening as scheduled with unshakable trust in the State Government to provide them a comfortable and conducive atmosphere to perform a rewarding and acceptable Hajj rites in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia.

“The State Government has secured a befitting hotel accommodation closer to the Haram in Masfalah area of Makkah for the pilgrims. The cost of sacrificial ram, Ihram clothe, ziyyarah (visitation to historical sites both in Makkah and Madinah) and provision of breakfast and dinner in our local delicacies, etc. have been taken care of by the state government, among other things.

“These commitments have earned Lagos State the enviable position it presently enjoyed in Hajj administration among others in Nigeria and had received many meritorious award in this regard over the years,” Saheed Onipede, the Board Secretary, said in the 7th May, 2024 rejoinder.

Fact-Checks

The DEFENDER published the report on Monday May 6, 2024. When it received the complaint, it got in touch with Spokesman of the Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board both in calls and text message stating clearly the purpose for the calling and messaging but the Board neither returned the calls nor replied to the message until it was time to go to press.

On Thursday May 9, the multi-lingual online newspaper was shared (apparently by a third party) copy of a rejoinder discovered had been written since May 7 wherein the Board, through its Secretary, Saheed Onipede was now reacting in form of a rejoinder schooling Our Reporter how to do his job despite that his Board failed to provide information required for the balancing but waited for the time its rejoinder would mature.

One, the Board, by its rejoinder, did not deny anything but only confirmed report by OUR REPORTER which said the state at its Old Secretariat office venue charged N50,000 while at Ikeja Local Government venue N70,000 was being charged per pilgrim’s yellow fever vaccination forbthe issuance of a yellow card.

Two, complaint of one pilgrim is enough to be given a fair hearing as against postulation by the Board Secretary because, under the law, it was gathered, he has such fundamental human rights to be heard and be allowed freedom of self-expression and where he believes he is not well treated, he has the rights to complain – directly or indirectly – and his complaint must be given a listening ear and properly addressed not dismissed.

Three, “after all, in nearby Ogun State, the same yellow fever vaccination is done for N20,000. If the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON), accordingto what you rightly reported, has not inflated Hajj fare of one state above another, Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board needs more to do to convince Nigerians about its justification of N50,000 vaccination. As for the N70,000 it should not criminalise the writer but tell us whether somebody denied a pilgrim the vaccination over inability to pay N70,000 or not,” a respondent asked to react to the rejoinder said.

House Position

Since the business of a journalist, in addition to balancing, is to ensure the public is fed with only the truth that is constructive not only to the people in government but also the people they govern, the state pilgrims board is urged to put his house together and check how its programmes and activities are being implemented by its officials instead of trying to stop the media practitioner from doing his job.

The referenced publication

Titled, “Despite paying over N6m, Lagos pilgrim coughs out N70,000 for yellow fever vaccination”, The DEFENDER had published that:

“There is an underground grumbling among pilgrims in Lagos State over the state Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board’s decision to allow charges of between N50,000 and N70,000 before intending pilgrim is given vaccination for yellow fever and issuance of yellow card required to qualify for travel.

“While yellow fever vaccination is part of the requirements, many believe it should not be done in a way that makes pilgrims, who want to go and fulfill a major pillar of their religion, go through hardship to access. Two thousand pilgrims will be airlifted to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia this year for the Holy Pilgrimage.

“A pilgrim, who would not like to be named in print, had visited the Old Secretariat venue of the injection Monday morning but had to turn back because he could not afford the cost imposed on him to be administered the vaccination.,” the online newspaper published.

It reflected the complaint of the complaint ofvthe complainant saying: “I was asked to pay N50,000 to take the injection but, sincerely speaking, this Hajj I am embarking upon is a sponsored one by somebody I do not know because he does not want to be known for doing the good work of aiding a fellow Muslim in the performance of his worship towards Allah. Hajj is if you have financial capacity and when someone willfully sponsored you, it is a financial capacity that he has aided you to afford,” said the pilgrim.

He continued that, “Now, somebody who has paid over N6 million, this Pilgrims Welfare Board in Lagos State can afford to let the money be wasted because I cannot afford to obtain the process for taking vaccination of yellow fever and obtaining a yellow card due to lack of extra cost being imposed. I do not think this is fair, especially when it was even as higher as N70,000 at the Ikeja Local Government venue of the injection,” he complained.

Also from the reporter’s comment, The DEFENDER published: “When contacted for clarifications on the development, Spokesman of the Lagos State Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, Taofeeq Abayomi, could not be reached as neither the whatsapp voice call nor message sent to his telephone was returned as at the time of filing this report.

“However, an enquiry sent to the National Hajj Commission (NAHCON) in Abuja indicated that the development is strange to the official Hajj operation arrangement in Nigeria making only Lagos State the only body to explain.

“It was gathered that it is indefensible, under whatever reason, for Lagos State to take such decision, to impose between N50,000 and N70,000 charges for yellow fever vaccination and issuance of a yellow card per pilgrim amidst untold hardship that intending pilgrims go through to pay over N6 million either by self or sponsors for Hajj this year.

“This development has been described by many as unusual.

“Another source in Lagos said the state pilgrims board had on March 9 this year gathered journalists and gave a reason for charging N50,000 an explanation that did not go down well with some notable Islamic leaders in the state but who could not talk because no journalist was ready to pick a criticism of it.

“At the implementation stage, the pilgrim, who was not comfortable with the cost now even increased to N70,000 at local government level, informed this globalised multi-lingual online newspaper on Monday,” the publication stated in details.

The source contacted at Hajj House, Abuja, who thanked The DEFENDER for drawing attention of the authority in Abuja to the development, said: “I will forward this to the Chairman insha Allah.”


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