The president said the government would build pilgrim camps in airports
President Goodluck Jonathan on Thursday said despite criticisms, the Federal Government will continue to sponsor pilgrims to the holy lands.
Mr. Jonathan also stated that pilgrim camps would be built inside international airports cross Nigeria.
The President was speaking when he received the report of the Federal Government delegation to the 2013 Christians Pilgrimage at the Presidential Villa, Abuja.
The report was submitted by an 11-member delegation led by the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Ayo Oritsejafor.
Mr. Jonathan said that Nigeria is a religious country and the popular wish of the majority is for government to keep supporting the pilgrimage of its citizens. He said his administration would not deviate from doing so.
“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 others may criticise us but our people believe that, that is the best thing to do.
“As long as we believe that is the best thing for our people, we have no hesitation to do what the people believe is right,” he said.
He faulted decisions by state governors who sponsor a particular faith on pilgrimage and leave the others. He also said the federal government would address the challenge of zero-sponsorship of pilgrimage by some states.
Edo and Kano state governors have stopped the use of state funds to sponsor pilgrims. The Edo State governor, Adams Oshiomhole, had said the state would use its funds to provide more basic needs for the people.
Mr. Jonathan said Vice President Namadi Sambo would take the matter up 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 know 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 belong 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 need to be protected,” he said.
The President noted that the 2013 Christian pilgrimage exercise was spectacular because he had personally participated in it, same for some state governors and ministers.
He also noted that the decision to make the position of the leader of government delegation to pilgrimage permanent, has paid off; as grey areas in the exercise for both Christians and Muslims are reducing because of the consistency in the leadership.
He said the government has been able to manage the challenge of absconding pilgrims, assaults on pilgrims, and petty crimes.
He assured that the federal government would look into the reports and the recommendations.
While speaking on the camp for pilgrims, Mr. Jonathan said he was already discussing the matter with relevant ministers and the Federal Government would start budgeting for the facilities to cover all the affected airports.
Explaining the need for the pilgrims camps, the president said the facilities could also be used for other purposes during the time they are not deployed for pilgrimage.
“Pilgrims camps should be built inside all international airports in Nigeria.
“We must build these facilities for both Christian and Muslim pilgrims since many people are being moved about the same time every year, government must take step to provide such facilities.
“Such facilities can also be used for other things during the period they are not deployed for pilgrimage.
“We will discuss with the ministers and we will begin to budget for it so that gradually, we will begin to provide the facilities in all our international airports especially the ones that are being used for this purpose.”
Earlier, Mr. Oritsejafor in a remark before presenting the report said that 27 States including Abuja participated in the exercise.
He said 14,833 pilgrims were airlifted to the State of Israel and Greece. He added that Kano, Katsina, Rivers, Sokoto and Zamfara States did not sponsor any pilgrim.
He said the 2013 exercise was concluded within the year without spill over to 2014 and no one was recorded to have absconded.
The CAN President noted that 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 a bilateral agreement between Nigeria and Israel, which will make flights easier for intending pilgrims and facilitate strong business ties between both countries.
He said the delegation recommended that Mr. Jonathan should prevail upon various ministries and departments responsible for the execution of the BASA with Israel to conclude all arrangements that would 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 them to effectively function as pilgrimage host.
The delegation also recommended that state governments especially those of North-West states be encouraged to sponsor Christians on pilgrimage.
It also recommended that the Nigeria Christians Pilgrim Commission should encourage indigenous airlines to participate in the airlifting of pilgrims.
Mr. Oritsejafor said the federal government should provide pilgrims camp with appropriate screening machines to avoid the difficulties being suffered during departure.
He urged Mr. Jonathan to participate in the pilgrimage annually event because of its “immeasurable spiritual benefits”.