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Government Will Continue To Sponsor Pilgrimages – Jonathan



Credit: NAN

Credit: NAN

President Goodluck Jonathan said on Thursday in Abuja that the Federal Government would continue to sponsor holy pilgrimages in spite of criticisms in some quarters.

He stated this when he received the report of the Federal Government’s delegation to the 2013 Christians Pilgrimage at the Presidential Villa.

The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the reports was submitted by an 11-man delegation led by the President of the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor.

”Nigeria is a secular country and the popular wish of the majority is for government to keep supporting pilgrimage,” Jonathan said.

He, therefore, said that his administration would not deviate from the popular wish of the people for sponsorship to pilgrimages.

“Let me assure that government will continue to support our movement to the holy lands.

“Nigeria is a religious country and that is the only thing we have and that is why certain things we do other may criticise us but our people believe that, that is the best thing to do.

“As long as we believe that that is the best thing for our people, we have no hesitation to do what the people believe is right.”

The president faulted some state governors for lopsided sponsorship of pilgrimages and assured that the Federal Government would address the challenge of zero-sponsor of pilgrimage by some states.

He specifically directed the Vice-President to take up the matter with the affected governors.

“We believe that in all the 36 states, there is no State that we do not have people from different faiths, Christians and Muslims.

“Luckily myself and the Vice President were both governors before and we knew what we did in our days as governors.

“States funds are general funds and the country is a secular society.

”Whether you are a Christian governor or a Muslim governor you are spending money that belongs to all Nigerians.

“Assuming your state is 99.99 per cent Christians and even there is only one Muslim there, he has to be protected.

“At the same time, even if your state is 99.99 Muslims and there is only one Christian, that Christian needs to be protected.”

Jonathan said that the 2013 Christian Pilgrimage exercise was spectacular because he personally participated in it along with some state governors and ministers.

He said his decision to make the position of the leader of government delegation to pilgrimage permanent has paid off.

The president said the grey areas in both Christians and Muslims pilgrimages had been reduced because of the consistency in the leadership structure.

He said they had been able to manage the challenge of pilgrims absconding, assaults on pilgrims and petty crimes.

Jonathan assured that the Federal Government would look into the report and the recommendations.

In his remarks before presenting the report, Oritsejafor said that 27 states, including FCT, participated in the exercise.

He said 14,833 pilgrims were transported to the State of Israel and Greece.

Oritsejafor, however, said that Kano, Katsina, Rivers, Sokoto and Zamfara states did not sponsor any pilgrim during teh exercise.

He said that no Nigerian Christian pilgrims absconded during the 2013 exercise, adding that it was also concluded within the sme year without a spill over to 2014.

The CAN president the 2013 exercise was special because it was the first time a serving President of the country led a high-powered delegation on holy pilgrimage to Israel.

He said the exercise also witnessed the signing of BASA between Nigeria and Israel which would make flights easier for intending pilgrims and facilitate strong business tie between both countries.

Oritsejafor said that the delegation recommended that the President should prevail upon various ministries and departments responsible for the execution of the BASA with Israel to conclude all arrangements, to make the next pilgrimage take full benefit of the agreement.

The delegation, according to him, also recommended that the embassies in Rome and Tel-Aviv should be properly funded for the missions to effectively function as pilgrimage host.

He said the delegation also recommended that the state governments, especially those in the North-West zone, be further encouraged to sponsor Christians on pilgrimage.

He suggested that Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission should encourage indigenous airlines to participate in future exercise.

Oritsejafor also urged the Federal Government to provide necessary screening machines at various pilgrims’ camps to reduce the difficulties faced by pilgrims at point of departure.

He also recommended the introduction of an annual award programme where recognition would be given to States, organisations and individuals for outstanding record of sponsorship of sizeable number of pilgrims.

Oritsejafor equally urged the President to make the pilgrimage an annual event because of its “immeasurable spiritual benefits”.

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