The Niger Governor said it was the only benefit some residents were getting from government.
The Niger State Government said on Friday it spent about N5.1 billion to subsidise both Muslim and Christian pilgrims from the state during the last six years.
The Commissioner for Religious Affairs, Shehu Haruna, announced this in Minna during the official opening of Tunga Juma’at Mosque.
He said that the money was spent on the provision of hotel accommodation for the pilgrims in the Holy land.
“The money was used to secure accommodation for pilgrims close to the Grand Mosque in Mecca so that they could perform their religious obligation with ease,” he said.
He added that part of the money was spent on “operational duties” for Muslim and Christian pilgrims in the Holy lands and in Nigeria.
Gov Babangida Aliyu, who defended the amount, said it was the only way some people would benefit from the government. Mr. Aliyu has been Niger Governor for the past six years.
He cited Fulani herdsmen as some people in the state who did not benefit from the provision of amenities by government.
“They do not benefit from the government electricity, housing, roads and other infrastructure; they only benefit directly from government through subsidy on pilgrimage,’’ he said.
While the Niger Governor defended the huge expenditure of religious pilgrimage, his Kano State counterpart has stopped the spending.
Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso said Kano State has saved over N1 billion by not subsidizing or sponsoring religious pilgrimage.
“When we took this decision, many people shouted and even prayed against us. But we have saved money, which we spent on education, transportation and health,” the Kano Governor said.
“There is nowhere Islam allows for the removing of public funds to sponsor individuals on pilgrimages,” he added at the 30th memorial anniversary of Aminu Kano in April.
Despite their divergent views on use of state funds for religious pilgrimage, both Mr. Kwankwaso and Mr. Aliyu share a lot in common.
Both men are members of the Peoples Democratic Party, are currently undergoing their last term as governor, and are believed to be eyeing the Nigerian presidency come 2015.
The Edo State Governor, of the opposition Action Congress of Nigeria, also recently condemned the use of state funds for religious pilgrimage saying his administration would not do such.
Proliferation of Jumaa mosques
Mr. Aliyu also appealed to traditional rulers to check the proliferation of Juma’at Mosques in Niger State by regulating where they were to be sited, to ensure cohesion and unity among the Muslim Ummah. He said that government was prepared to enforce the traditional rulers’ position on the matter.
He warned that government would demolish any Mosque built illegally in any part of the state.
He said that government would spend money to fund the completion of Mosques and Churches provided the owners adhered to laid down rules of constructing such structures.