President Goodluck Jonathan will on Friday depart Lagos on a brief pilgrimage to Israel, his office said in a statement on Thursday.
The statement issued in Abuja by Reuben Abati, the Special Adviser to the President on Media and Publicity, said Mr. Jonathan would visit Christian Holy sites during the pilgrimage.
According to the statement, he will join other Nigerian pilgrims in a prayer session for the well-being and progress of the country at an Inter-Denominational Service in Jerusalem on Sunday.
The president, who will be accompanied by the Chaplain of the Presidential Villa, Obioma Onwuzurumba, and his principal aides, is expected back in Abuja on Monday.
Mr. Jonathan’s office did not specifically identify the aides accompanying him on the trip but the President is known for travelling with outsized delegations on foreign trips.
Mr. Jonathan’s trip to Israel, which is his second in 12 months, is coming about four months to the 2015 presidential election in which he is most likely to run as the candidate of the governing Peoples Democratic Party [PDP]. The Independent National Electoral Commission [INEC] has fixed February 14, 2015 for the next presidential election.
During his last visit, Mr. Jonathan met with President Shimon Peres and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as well as with members of the Israeli Parliament, the Knesset.The president had on October 23, 2013, embarked on a similar trip which he combined with an official visit to Israel.
The talks between the President’s delegation and Israeli government focused on the enhancement of bilateral relations between Nigeria and Israel.
Mr. Jonathan later undertook a tour of some locations in Israel revered by Christians because of their association with the earthly mission of Jesus Christ.
This time, his close aides told PREMIUM TIMES, his mission to Israel is entirely spiritual.
“As you know, the election is approaching and the president needs all the prayers and spiritual blessings he can get,” one of his aides, who asked not to be named because he was not authorised to speak on the matter, told PREMIUM TIMES. “He is going to fervently pray for success in the coming election and for peace to reign in this country.”
The aide said the President has become especially spiritual of late and that it was not a surprise that he was going to commit himself to God as he stands for reelection.
During his last pilgrimage, Mr. Jonathan visited Jerusalem where he led other Nigerian pilgrims in a special prayer for the numerous challenges facing Nigeria.
Leading the intercessory prayer session at the Chapel of Dominous Flevit (where Jesus wept), the President particularly prayed for God’s intervention in the current political and security challenges in Nigeria.
Other pilgrims at the time, who led in different prayer points, included Governor Jonah Gang of Plateau; Minister of Agriculture, Akinwunmi Adesina; Abuja Christian leader, Israel Akanji; and a lawmaker, Ndudi Elumelu.
The president also visited Mount Olives, Garden of Gethsemane, Bascillica of Agony and Mount Zion where he also prayed alongside other pilgrims at the Upper Room (where Jesus had the last supper with His disciples).
Other places he visited included David City, The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, the last place where Jesus was kept a night before he was crucified.
The president and other Nigerian pilgrims also walked down the Palm Sunday Road to the Chapel of Dominous Flevit.
He also visited the Jerusalem Old City, The Wailing Wall, Golgotha, Pool of Bethesda and other holy sites.
It is not clear whether he plans to revisit these holy sites this time.
Eight governors, seven ministers and three members of the National Assembly accompanied the President to Israel for that pilgrimage.
The governors were Theodore Orji of Abia; Peter Obi of Anambra; Godswill Akpabio of Akwa Ibom; Martin Elechi of Ebonyi; and Emmanuel Uduaghan of Delta; Gabriel Suswam of Benue; Jonah Jang of Plateau, and Liyel Imoke of Cross River.
The ministers included the supervising Minister of Foreign Affairs, Viola Onwuliri; FCT Minister of State, Olajumoke Akinjide; the then Minister of Information, Labsran Maku; and the then Minister of Aviation, Stella Oduah.
Members of the National Assembly in the presidential pilgrimage at the time were the Senate Committee Chairman on Power, Philip Aduda, and Paul Paulka.
The president’s office is yet to release the names of officials accompanying the President on this year’s pilgrimage but PREMIUM TIMES sources say no fewer than 70 travel documents were processed for the trip.