Pilgrimage To Mecca Or Jerusalem: What Federal And State Governments Should Do
The issue of whether or not governments at all levels should use taxpayers’ money to sponsor few individuals wanting to observe yearly pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem has been a thorny one. Sometimes ago, there was also a debate on whether or not to scrap the Pilgrims Board because governments at all levels spend huge amount of money sponsoring people to these countries whether they are qualified or not. But now that there is a new government, what should be the position of Federal and state governments on religious pilgrimage? Should other states toe the path of Kaduna and Nasarawa governments, which have stopped further sponsorship of people going to Mecca and Jerusalem? What should government do instead to assist genuine adherents desirous of travelling to these countries for prayers? What should government do with the money usually budgeted for pilgrimage every year? CHRIS IREKAMBA took the matter to some clerics.
Some People Go On Pilgrimage More As Tourists Than As Pilgrims’
(Most Rev. Emmanuel Egbunu, Bishop of Lokoja Diocese (Anglican Communion)
OVER the years, voices from both faiths have spoken against government’s sponsorship of pilgrimage, which they believe should be seen as a personal religious exercise. But despite government sponsorship, many people have undertaken pilgrimage on personal sponsorship or other private arrangements, which I’m aware, are being encouraged by Christian groups. I am not sufficiently informed on Muslim initiatives, but like I said, private sponsorship is already happening on both cases.
Government sponsorship was often done for political rather than religious reasons. Of course, government-sponsored pilgrims pray for the nation and their respective states in those holy places, but so do those who have gone under private arrangements. While it would be easy to advise on withdrawal of such sponsorship in view of our present harsh economic realities and free up funds for other critical aspects pertaining to welfare of citizens, the major challenge to contend with is that of transparency and trust. Would the government say one thing and then go on to do something else to favour one faith against the other?
Fairness and neutrality in religious issues is of critical importance, and we are in a country where so many things have been done through the back door. For instance, even benefits meant for the less privileged are hijacked by those that have access to such funds. See what has happened to our laudable scholarship, pension, agricultural, housing and other schemes. The system would need to be sanitised for the ideal to come into play. Those wishing to compensate religious devotees who have been their political aides can build that into their own budgets since their allowances can accommodate such things. It is obvious that some go more as tourists than as pilgrims.
Government can assist with diplomatic issues and ensure that those undertaking such religious exercises are able to do so with minimal hassle, and that cases of contravention of laws of those other countries or absconding are prevented. This means that the pilgrims’ commissions and our diplomatic staff in those other countries should harmonise efforts, as they have been doing for the welfare of pilgrims. Government can also assist in the area of foreign currency exchange so that pilgrims can obtain foreign currency at favourable rates since they are not business people. Government may then sponsor medical staff and spiritual guides like Pastors and Imams to accompany the batches to cater for the physical and spiritual needs of the pilgrims.
Things like education, healthcare delivery, agriculture, power and communication should receive more input depending on what the policy-makers determine as top priorities. Many Nigerians are suffering for lack of basic necessities. When these are provided, they will pray for those in government more fervently. I believe God answers all genuine prayers wherever they are offered — whether in Nigeria or in the Holy lands. May God guide us.
Federal And State Governments Should Stop Their Sponsorship’
(Archbishop Joseph Imariabe Ojo is the General Overseer and Presiding Bishop of Calvary Kingdom Church, CKC, Lagos-Badagry Expressway
TO me, the issue of government sponsorship of pilgrims should be left to both the federal and state to decide. I think it is absolutely unrealistic for any state government, which has been unable to pay salaries for several months to embark on sponsorship of pilgrims. They should put their priorities right. You and I know that the people going for these pilgrimages are almost 100 percent the same every year. And the Holy Book of the Muslims, if what I am told is correct, says at least once in a lifetime. If the present administration is sincere about corruption, they should know that this is one area there is high level of corruption. It is our humble suggestion that the federal and state governments should stop their sponsorship. Or help to some extent only those that are not financially buoyant and have never been there. This practice is done only in Nigeria and that is why it has become a lucrative business for both the Muslim and Christian leaders. No wonder it has become a political weapon in the hands of political office seekers, too.
I have been to Jerusalem on pilgrimage at my own expenses. That is how it should be. The government should help by ensuring there is a direct flight from Nigeria to Jerusalem, instead of going through other countries as it is with the Muslim pilgrims. The money should be used to fix our roads and create jobs for our youths.
‘Government Should Not Be Sponsoring Individuals On Pilgrimages’
(His Grace, Most Rev. Alfred Adewale Martins, Archbishop of Lagos)
THE fact of the matter is that pilgrimages are personal acts of devotion; personal act of efforts to develop on the faith and such ought to be taking care of by concerned individuals. A situation where monies are being put into sponsoring pilgrims who are undergoing personal acts of worship and devotion is unfair to the rest of the population.
In other words, I think it’s a right step that state governments are taken by not paying for people who want to embark on pilgrimages. I believe it is in line with what we stand for as a nation, which does not take a particular interest in one religion. I think it’s okay.
Naturally, it is the duty of every government to ensure that wherever its citizens go, they are well taken care of, as well as ensure their safety and that they are being well treated by the host government so that in all things, their rights and privileges in those countries are respected. And I believe they ought to be able to facilitate the journeys of such persons going for the pilgrimage.
If there should be any concession at all, I think it should be in terms of offering foreign exchange to people at a rate that is affordable instead of going to the black or parallel market to buy foreign exchange. I think it is in this area that government should offer support and assist pilgrims. In my estimation, government should not be sponsoring individuals going on pilgrimage. I think it has become the trend because over time people have, as it were, been engaged in other kinds of activities that put pressure on government to spend money in this way.
The money that would have been used to sponsor pilgrims can be channeled into education, roads, energy, healthcare, building infrastructures and making life better for the people. Government should put money in the area of housing for the generality of the people so that Nigerians will have opportunity of living better and more decently.
‘Government Should Not Be Doing Everything For Us, But They Can Give
(His Eminence Dr. Samuel ’Emeka Kanu Uche, Prelate, Methodist Church Nigeria (MCN)
CHURCHES and mosques should be in charge of pilgrimage. What government can do is give a little subvention. But the issue of planning for pilgrimage, going and returning should be left in the hands of the believers. What government can do is to create an enabling environment. But then there are poor people who might not be able to sponsor themselves until they die. Only such people should be assisted by government to go on holy pilgrimage; but those who can afford it should do so and save taxpayers’ money.
Government should not be doing everything for us. Credible church leaders and Islamic clerics should be able to identify poor people in their midst. Government can help those by providing logistics. Asides those, all expenses should be borne by those wanting to embark on the pilgrimage.
I support what Kaduna and Nasarawa State governments are doing by saying that they are not going to sponsor those going on pilgrimage to Mecca or Jerusalem. But it should not be total withdrawal. There should be a commission that arranges these things because it has to do with diplomatic relationship between two countries.
What I’m saying in essence is that government should create an enabling environment for those who are travelling, for instance, in the areas of issuing of visa, passport and the purchase of foreign exchange. Intending pilgrims shouldn’t have to go to the Bureau de Charge; rather government should sell to them at a lower rate.
I don’t think federal government sponsors Muslims or Christians. I’m only aware that it allows business people to sponsor Muslim faithful; so it is not directly by the government. Also, Christians who have money can also sponsor their own people.
For instance, official government rate sells at N187 per dollar, while alternative markets sell at N245. So, going by government rate, will alleviate the masses’ suffering. That is what I mean by creating an enabling environment and logistics support. Something that will make things easier for people going on pilgrimage without them suffering. But the logistic support I’m talking about does not mean financial support.
‘What’s Bad In Sponsoring Pilgrims? After All, We Spend Money On Sports And Other Activities’
(Akinbode Abdullah, Chief Missioner, Nasrul-Lahi-L-Fatih Society of Nigeria (NASFAT) Worldwide)
FOR any endeavour or process in life, the most important thing is the meaning and the purpose of that thing. If something is done meaningfully, it is philosophically right, but if the motive is ill, then it is nonsensical and a waste. Sponsoring people to Mecca or Jerusalem is not a waste, if it is done with the intention of coordinating the functions of hajj or pilgrimages to Jerusalem. Monitoring the issuing of visa and passports are crucial and we must have people that can represent our people very well and see to their welfare and wellbeing. People cannot just be left alone, as if they are going to America or London. There must be orderliness. Religious activities usually involve mammoth crowd. So, there should be proper coordination and that is why we have Pilgrims Board. It is the function of the government to sponsor these people, but if it is done to score political point, then to me, it is a waste. We cannot endanger our people’s lives outside the country, we have to protect them. If you allow the pilgrims to go to Mecca or Jerusalem without proper monitoring, people can decide to carry drugs and thereby dent the image of the country. But if you have people coordinating and seeing to their welfare and wellbeing, definitely the dignity of this nation would be sustained and restored.
Nigeria is a religious nation and so, if pilgrims need government’s assistance, they should be given. Government cannot remove its hands from monitoring the activities of Hajj because when anything happens, they will call them Nigerians. After all, the pilgrims pay to the government and the latter should ensure that it delivers its responsibilities.
I support state governments that have probably reasoned they should not sponsor people privately to Hajj. But if they are going there to pray for themselves and the wellbeing of the government and Nigeria as a whole, they should be encouraged. If somebody is doing something on your behalf, won’t you encourage him/her? So, if people go to these holy places to pray for government and the peace of this nation, they are doing what is right. They are doing what is lawful, but if they are not going there to add to the national interest, then it is a waste.
The Americans pray, the British do same, just like everybody else. What can be bad in praying? After all, we spend money on sports and other activities, so why shouldn’t we spend money on God? So, it is the sole responsibility of government to monitor those religious activities.
The governor of a state has the prerogative authority and knows what is right for his people. The people of Kaduna or Nasarawa may not see it from that angle.
It may not operate in the East and would you say that the government in the East should not sponsor people going to Jerusalem? Or that Kano State government should not sponsor people going to Hajj?
If it is done with good intention it is not a financial waste. There is nothing bad in it. We all believe in God and we must assist people to practise their religion but we should not go into wasteful exercise. People should not abuse the privilege or infringe on other people’s right or religion. They should not engage in criminal activities, but once the people keep within the limit, then it is fair. It depends on the policy of the respective state governments and at the federal government level. But government shouldn’t be interested only in collecting money for passport and visa without monitoring the activities of Nigerians going to these countries. It must ensure that things are in order.
We should be very careful, when it comes to the issue of religion, because if people are attending the Olympics or any international tournament just to go and clap hands and the Federal Government sponsors the Fans club and spectators, why can’t they spend money for God?
My own stand is that if government would sponsor people to Hajj or Jerusalem, then they should be clergymen, people who should serve the purpose of fulfilling God’s rules and not just ordinary people.
But at the level we are now, when people are contesting during elections, they go to the church for prayer and we pray for them. One good turn deserves another. So, if after election an individual wins and comes to the church to say “thank you to God” and in doing this, decides to send me to Saudi Arabia/Mecca, what is wrong in that? We clerics have always been supporting the government and if not for that, we wouldn’t have been at the level we are now in this country.
They should not sponsor thugs or people who have no business with religious activities. But if they decide to hands off, then the money should be used for national development and not sport. They should use it to provide qualitative education, establish research centres instead of sending our children to America or Britain. They should spend our money on purposeful things such as electricity, healthcare, good roads, potable water and provide meaningful living for the people, but they should not spend the money on meaningless things. If all this money is put together and used judiciously, Hajj or Jerusalem is not mandatory. It is a religious duty for those who can afford it, but if we are doing it in good faith, God will support us.
‘Government At All Levels Must Avoid Direct Financial Involvement In Religious Matters’
(Pastor Mike Onyeka, Senior Pastor, Victorious People Assembly Int’l Aba, Abia State)
THE Constitution makes Nigeria a secular state. One of the implications of this is that the Government at all levels must avoid direct financial involvement in clearly religious matters.
To that extent I support the stopping of Government sponsorship of pilgrimage for both Christians and Muslims.
Genuine pilgrims can be assisted by discounts in air tickets if Nigeria had a national airline or through concessional foreign exchange allovation for tghe trip properly.