The federal government has deplored the refusal of six northern states including Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Jigawa, Yobe and Kano to sponsor Christian pilgrimage from their states despite having significant percentage Christian population.
The Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Anyim Pius Anyim, disclosed this during the official submission of 2014 Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NPC)’s Report by the Chairman of the Commission, Primate of Anglican. Communion, Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh, and appealed to them to have a change of heart.
Anyim assured that government would continue to persuade the state governors to do the needful, saying that “Christian pilgrimage is not tourism but a religious exercise that will benefit the individuals and the state.”
He commended the commission for a job well done, adding that the pilgrimage project has taken a dimension that nobody expected before.
He said: “It has Easter, family, presidential and now the youth component. Pilgrimage is not sight seeing, tourism or excursion, the presidential pilgrimage alone has created diplomatic access. For the youth pilgrimage, the more young people are involve the more our country will be better.
“I am happy that the number of self sponsorship has increased by 50 per cent, this is something that couldn’t have been imagine years back. It will be government’s interest that the self sponsorship increases as that will help government cut down its expenses also.
“Today, we no longer talk of abscondment, this year we had zero mortality, these are all things to be proud of and we congratulate you for this.
“I am astonished that the BASA agreement has not been activated, but I promise to work with the Executive Secretary of the Commission to get it resolved as soon as possible,” he added.
“On the late payment by some states, you will need to do more on sensitisation, the states involved should be notified on time as most of them I’m sure were part of the presidential pilgrimage hence did not have time to clear the payment before leaving.
“On the states that did not sponsor Christian pilgrims from their state, there should be a continuous efforts to persuade them from NCPC, government will also continue to its best,” Anyim assured.
The former Senate President also promised to ensure the Nigerian house project in the State of Israel materialises, assuring also that the 2015 calendar would be approved as soon as it gets to his desk.
Also speaking on the non-sponsorship of Christian pilgrims in their state, Okoh said the commission was not indicting them but only making appeal.
“Some states in the North are yet to yield to sponsor pilgrims from their states, six states in the north did not participate in the 2014 pilgrimage,” he said.
The affected states are well known for sponsoring large contingent of Muslim pilgrims annually but are yet to consider the Christian component of their respective populations.
Speaking further, the primate also made case for the Nigerian House in Israel to come on stream.
He said though it has been in the pipeline for past six years it was yet to materialise, urging that it will make things easy especially for those on the presidential component of the pilgrimage.
Okoh commended the SGF who has made official communication easy, adding that this contributed to the success of the exercise last year.
While urging the federal government to approve the commission’s 2015 calendar of activities, Okoh said the commission has introduced youth pilgrimage which will commission in this year.
According to him, “Youth pilgrimage is an addition to what we already have – Easter pilgrimage, family pilgrimage and the general pilgrimage in October. It will encourage young people and they will be exposed to trainings during the period.”
To help the commission remain solvent and self-sustaining, Okoh said the commission is going into partnership with the National Lottery Commission to encourage people win slots to participate in any of the pilgrimage component of the commission.
“We are planning partnership with National Lottery Commission to further enhance our drive in sustenance. As soon as all things are in place the details would be made available to the public, it will help people also win slots to go on pilgrimage,” he said.
Meanwhile, the report presented by Okoh contained the successful conduct of the 2014 pilgrimage to Isreal, Rome and Greece.
He said during the exercise, no single mortality was recorded neither was there any case of abscondment, while self-sponsorship increased by 50 per cent.
According to the clergy, a total of 23 states plus the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) took part in the pilgrimage in 2014.
He said: “We made progress in the year 2014 pilgrimage, we had 50 per cent increase in self sponsorship. With this development we are no longer afraid of government pulling out of sponsoring pilgrimages. Pilgrim Center was also commissioned and made the coordination of the 2014 pilgrimage easy and a success.
“We covered 27 states in the course of our duty. We met governors and stakeholders, that contributed to the increase in the number of those who participated in the 2014 pilgrimage.”
“Unlike the previous year, we did not record any mortality, none died in 2014, only minor illness and they were all treated and they all recovered very well.
“We were also able to reconnect with the European Union (EU) for the issuance of Schengen visa because of this we were able to move people to Greece and Rome and this was facilitated by the Italian Embassy,” he added.
Okoh who said he was just giving a bird eye’s view of the activities of the commission in 2014, listed some of the major challenges that they were confronted with in 2014 to include the non-implementation of the BASA-agreement hence the was no direct flight to the destination and the issue of insecurity.
Speaking further, decried the fact that despite the early notification of states on the calendar of NPC for pilgrimage, some states were still not able to pay up and those who did was so late in coming.
Okoh regretted that this result