Some Nigerians who made the call in separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) across the country stressed the need to tap available resources to generate more revenue.
Some of the people interviews were of the view that country like Israel and Saudi Arabia were earning so much from religious tourism with huge numbers of people visiting the countries to perform pilgrimage.
According to some of the respondents from all the state capitals, the three tiers of government need to look inward and consider religious tourism to diversify the economy of the nation with the dwindling fortune of oil.
The Ogun State Chairman of the Christian Wing of the State Christian Pilgrims Board, Mr Ojo Akinwale, said religious tourism could become a veritable source of revenue if well harnessed by various religious organisations and government.
Religious tourism such as the annual Ojude-Oba, which has its roots in Islam, could be developed and packaged to generate more money for the country.
“The state is known as the gateway state through which religion came into Nigeria.
“We have the first Church as well as the first Bible in Nigeria kept in Ake; all these and more are some of the things which will arouse the interest of Christian pilgrims.
The Holy Ghost Congress of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Mountain of Fire and Miracles’ Prayer City, Deeper Life Christians Camp, the Synagogue of All Nations, among other located along the Expressway also usually pull a lot of crowd from within and without.
Alhaji Kamal’din Akintunde, National President, National Council for Muslim Youths Organisation (NACOMYO) in Ogun, also expressed optimism that religious tourism could be used to promote Nigeria’s economy.
He said that the Federal and State governments must take advantage of festivals such as the annual Ojude-Oba, which has its roots in Islam to generate more money for the country.
“Our government must provide good buses for transportation and we need to establish hotels that would be of international standard and charge tourism rates which are usually lower than the normal rates.
“Our Consular offices or missions in other countries must be alive to their responsibilities to ensure that travellers who are susceptible to diseases are immunised and our hospitals here must be of international standard, “ he said.
The Deputy Chief Imam of llorin, Alhaji Abdullahi AbdulHameed, on his part, called on the government to turn the Sheik Alimi Mosque in Ilorin into a tourist centre.
The cleric told the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in llorin that government can earn more revenue from some of these religious activities.
Prof. Lanre Badmus of the Department of Islamic Studies, University of llorin, however, called on the Federal Government to sustain sponsorship of a medical team to the holy land during pilgrimages.
Badmus, who was a Federal Commissioner with the National Hajj Commission, made the call while speaking with NAN, stressed the need for government to look inward.
In Ado-Ekiti, local religious pilgrimage is fast receiving a boost. Investigation by NAN indicated that no fewer than three of such religious tourism sites are in different parts of Ekiti presently.
His Muslim wing counterpart, Alhaji AbdulGaniyu Komolafe, also said it was part of government’s social responsibility to help its citizens fulfil their religious obligations.
In his suggestion, Rev. Bulama Bulus, Secretary of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), advised the government to ensure a thorough screening of people embarking on pilgrimage.
He told NAN that such a measure was desirable as a substantial number of intending pilgrims travel to the Holy land to engage in dubious or business activities.
Malam Muhammad Bashir, an Islamic cleric in Hadejia, Jigawa, urged the Federal Government to provide special subsidy on Hajj to enhance participation in the religious activities.
He said that the exorbitant fares being charged by the Pilgrims Commission was making it difficult for Muslims to perform their religious obligations.
Also commenting, Alhaji Ibarhim Musa, an official of Jigawa Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board, said that the state government had been doing its best to assist its pilgrims by providing decent accommodation, feeding and transportation while in the holy land.
Alhaji Rabiu Bala, a staff of a Travels Agency in Dutse, said that their business had been flourishing in the past few years.
“We gain more during the Lesser Hajj exercise due to high number of pilgrims who visit Saudi Arabia, especially during the Eid-el Maulud and Ramadan fasting periods.
“Air ticket, accommodation and visa fees are much lower than Hajj fares during that time, thereby attracting substantial number of customers,” he said.
However, Faith-based tourism is becoming a major a major flank of the economies of many nations, with benefitting countries raking in massive revenues from such activities.
Some of the stakeholders told NAN that so much money is sunk into that aspect of tourism, with many saving for years, to be able to embark on the journey.
NAN also found that some states, individuals and corporate bodies, had continued to sponsor pilgrims to faith-based tourism.
While the individuals do it in obedience to the religious injunction to help the poor, other corporate organisations do that as part of corporate social responsibility.
On their part, government bodies and politicians sponsor supporters as part of political patronage in the effort to curry favour during elections.
Some Nigerians, who usually visit Holy lands like Mecca, Medinah and Saudi Arabia, found that some of the visitors do take advantage of the visit to make brisk purchases.
Hajiya Larai Hayatudeen from Jos told NAN that she travels to Saudi Arabia every year for the Muslim pilgrimage with the intention of using that opportunity to purchase items for sale in her jewellery shop.
“I usually buy a lot of things and try to sell them off on return to Nigeria.
“I usually make a lot of profit; the only problem is that sometimes some people will purchase items and will keep postponing the date of payment which can be frustrating,” she said.
Like Hayatudeen, Ado Ashana, a business man based in Lafia, who deals in solid minerals, said that he used to pick some light solid minerals for sale to his “special customers” in Saudi Arabia.
He said he would have loved to travel solely for such sales, but noted that it was very difficult to obtain a visa for such journey if one did not attach the faith-tourism intention to the application for the visa.
Ashana said that he had “business friends,” who are resident in Saudi Arabia and were always looking forward to his arrival to perform the religious rites after which he could transact business.
The situation is the same with the Christian pilgrimage that takes the faithful to Israel, Egypt, Cyprus, Jordan and other countries with Holy sites.
NAN discovered that these faith-based visitors either sponsor themselves, or are sponsored by corporate bodies, individuals or government at various levels.
Rev. Bulus Manzo of ECWA Church, Jos, said that he had performed the religious visit to Israel “about five times”, saying that we can promote religious tourism in the country to boost the economy.
According to him, on each occasion, he found that pilgrims usually appeared more interested in purchases, than even the visits to the Holy sites.
He alleged that most of the pilgrims do not listen to explanation by the tourists guides attached to enlighten them over the significance of every site visited.
“Very often, the tourist guide would have to practically drag some pilgrims from some purchases, especially in Jerusalem and Nazareth, where many exotic items are sold.
“Most of the women usually concentrate on jewellery, as well new and second hand clothes.
“When we return to the buses, they hardly seem to discuss what the tourist guide told us but they are usually more interested in the aesthetics of Israeli cities,” he lamented.
Incidentally, the tourist guides do not see the visitors as performing any particularly crucial religious activity.
Mr Tim Danjuma, who travelled to Israel for pilgrimage six years, said he was disappointed that there was no spiritual content in what the tourist guide told them.
“It was strange, in fact, we later found that she was not a Christian and did not believe that Jesus is the Messiah,” he said.
But for the Israeli authority, the content of the activity does not matter so long as the visitors contribute to their economy and sink in millions of dollars in visa fees to their embassies.
Interestingly, faith-based tourism is not limited to international travels as thousands of Nigerians, and even many outside the nation’s shores, visit Barkin-Ladi in Plateau, every April, to attend the RCCG annual northern conference.
During the period, which usually last three days, the hotels in Jos and environs are usually fully booked, while business activities are usually at their peak.
Mrs Talatu Adamu, a dealer in Irish potatoes, said that the period was usually good for her business as many faith-based tourists do make buy many things while in the state.
Adamu noted that such religious tourism is common across the country and should be encouraged to enhance, unity, sales and business activities.
Mr James Sunday, Evangelist in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-days Saint in Bayelsa, said politics in the system was not helping to actualise the essence of religious tourism.
“The government must step-up plans to overhaul the system because even the people going for the pilgrimage are just going to enrich themselves.
“Those ones are not the true believers of the Almighty God, who is our Maker; religious tourism must reflect on the economy and the religious life of the citizenry; pilgrimage is not supposed to be a fun tour.
“Yes, religion and faith are always major businesses but we must work hard to allow it to impact positively on our tourism industry.
“The Federal Government should review the system and allow the church to be the major stakeholder in the system, ranging from policy making for the religious pilgrimage,” Sunday said.
Mr Anthony Oronto, Tourism Expert, also urged the Federal Government to overhaul religious tourism and pilgrimage with a view to bringing sanity into the system.
Oronto, who described tourism as important to nation building, decried the way people have played politics with the country’s pilgrimage programme.
According to him, the essence of pilgrimage is to build faith that can bring change to the nation as well as boosting the economy, but in Nigeria, the case is the other way round.
“The pilgrimage has done well in promotion of tourism but Nigerians must wake up in order to actualise the essence of religious pilgrimage,” he said.
The chief Imam of Uyo Central Mosque, Alhaji Imam Adamu, however, admitted that the spiritual exercise had brought investment to the country through contacts with people of other countries by Nigerian pilgrims.
Adamu disclosed that a total of 72 Moslem pilgrims had been attending the religious exercise annually in the last four years from Akwa Ibom.
Adamu advised government to control the number allowed on pilgrimage yearly to avoid reoccurrence of last year`s stampede in Mecca.
The Akwa Ibom Secretary, Christians Pilgrims Board, Mrs Rose Uko, said that government over the years had been sponsoring over 50 per cent of the pilgrims from the state.
Uko disclosed that in 2011, a total of 1530 people went to pilgrimage from Akwa Ibom and in 2012, a total of 1700 people performed the spiritual exercise.
She further disclosed that in 2013, a total of 1,045 people went and in 2014, a total of 1,035 people went and about 600 pilgrims performed the exercise in 2015.
Gov. Udom Emmanuel announced a week ago that he would sponsor 310 widows from the state to Israel on pilgrimage soon.
He said that the gesture was his appreciation to the widows for supporting him during electioneering.
The widows would be drawn 10 each from the 31 local government areas of the state.
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