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The politics of religious pilgrimage

By Atasey Henry
15 February 2022   |   3:47 am
Nigeria is a secular state. She has a lot of trademarks that make her fit perfectly into that semantic profundity.

Nigeria is a secular state. She has a lot of trademarks that make her fit perfectly into that semantic profundity. Our diversity is more pronounced in the areas of language, cuisines, dressing patterns, occupations, landscape, weather, religion etc. All of these variables have not in anyway punctured the balloon of our oneness; rather, they’ve extensively fortified the pillars of our uniqueness in a way that further distinguishes us from other countries in any continent of the world.

Of all the attributes listed above, religion is in my opinion the most sensitive issue which in recent years has become one of the wildest thorns on the nation’s flesh. What could be the problem; and why does it seem as though the handwriting on the wall called religion has become synonymous with pretense, discrimination, division, frivolities, and violence? The word in itself and the idea as perceived by many is so intoxicating that they get easily drunk whenever it is mentioned; thus becoming enslaved by its sparks and bubbles. To worsen matters, politics has been infused into the religious fabric; and as such, many opportunist politicians have been catching in on both the thrills and the frill(s).

A couple of months ago, the federal government of Nigeria adopted the Kingdom of Jordan as one of its citizens’ pilgrimage destinations. Well, that’s not what really stirred the pond of my curiosity; what makes it a “big deal” (to me, at least) is that Jordan holds a lot of facts which I couldn’t help but circle my mind around. The country is an Arab nation; dotted with ancient monuments, nature reserves and seaside resorts. It is home to the renowned archeological site of Petra, the Nabatean capital which dates back to about 300 B.C; set in a narrow valley with tombs, temples, and monuments carved into the surroundings of the pink sandstone cliffs. Petra is said to be nicknamed as the, “Rose City.”

Jordan plays prominent role in ancient biblical history, with numerous stories evolving around the Kingdoms of Moab, Gilead, and Edom respectively which lie within its borders. Jordan is an Islamic country, having about 96% of its citizens as Muslims. Nigeria on the other hand is a country of mixed-breed; comprising almost equal proportion of Christians and Muslims. According to reports from News Agency of Nigeria (NAN), and some national dailies of August 9/10, 2021, the pact signed with Jordan has to do with our government’s decision to from henceforth begin the ritual of sending tons of our citizens from the Christian Faith to their land for occasional spiritual engagements. To me, there are a number of flash-points that didn’t add up about this whole “religious liberal fanfare.”

Firstly, and as a Christian, I’m yet to fully come to terms with the rationale behind the government’s choice of Jordan as the destination for an exercise involving those on the other side of the fence; and whether the right for making such a choice is exclusively vested in them, by the reason of they being the sponsor(s). And if the hand of the clock were to be reversed, won’t those at the other end raise eyebrows?

Secondly, is it wise for a country with baggage of debts, both domestic and foreign, whose majority of citizens have been badly injured and dismantled by hardship to be spending hundreds of millions (or billions) of naira annually, to sponsor an event that has little or no direct bearing on the overall well-being of the “average” and every Nigerian?

Thirdly, who are those that usually embark on this juicy journeys… and what are the criteria for picking them? Can anyone without a link in high places get a slot on the list of travelers… or, is praying for the country a duty in which only a selected few are qualified to perform?

Fourthly, is it only across the seas that God can be found and forced to grant us our voluminous petitions which seem to be multiplying by triple digits in milliseconds? Could it be that the voices of “intercessors” do sound nicer while away, to the extent that they could seamlessly command the sun to stand still and dry up the floods of corruption which are almost drowning the entire country?

God is supreme, and to deny His existence or exclude Him from our daily affairs is not only tantamount to gross exhibition of ignorance; but is also very dangerous. People within that category of catastrophic mindset shouldn’t be reprimanded, but pitied.

Be that as it may, there’s a limit to which government as the political and economic flag-bearer of the entire citizenry can get involved in religious matters, especially in a country with diverse “spiritual” beliefs. This is because it is a sacred affair which though is opened to everyone; yet it cannot be forced on anyone. Personal understanding and conviction about its transforming and regenerative potentials are fundamental to its acceptability by people of different socio-cultural orientations.

It is high time that Nigeria should start concentrating mainly on issues that would overhaul the country’s entire deplorable economic mechanisms. The theory of foregone alternative or opportunity cost must not only be kept close to heart; but should also be adhered to, more so because every dime in government treasury is a collective patrimony. Sponsoring people on religious pilgrimages to other countries by government is a misplacement of priority; and an outdated enterprise used as a conduit pipe to siphon money which would’ve been channeled to other more profitable ventures. Without mincing words, state sponsored pilgrimage is nothing more than an excursion and a bilateral jamboree.

Considering the huge logistics involved, which has to do with making provisions for visas, air tickets, hotel accommodation, feeding etc. for a large group of “worshippers” from both the “Christian” and “Islamic” faiths respectively; this wasteful tradition is nothing but a cruel display of administrative recklessness by a country that is at the lowest rung of development ladder.

Let’s begin to think of, and quickly put in place the structures that would also attract other countries in their numbers to come and boost our socio-economic fortunes. Our foreign trips are way too many, and most times do not bring us anything other than tainted tales and tantalizing pictures.

Of course, the government can, and should encourage and support every cause that is centered on promoting sound moral principles; so as to engender unity and love among the citizens irrespective of tribal or religious differences. But they should do so on the sidelines; and not to shoulder the whole responsibility as if it’s a constitutional mandate.

Atasey Henry wrote from FCT Abuja.