GOVERNMENT SPONSORSHIP OF PILGRIMAGES
Recent indications that the Federal Government may stop sponsorship of both Christian and Muslim pilgrimages to Jerusalem, in Israel, and Mecca, in Saudi Arabia, respectively, are welcome. The reports indicated that the government is favourably disposed to accepting the recommendation of the Stephen Oronsaye Committee on cessation of sponsorship of pilgrimages to the two Middle East nations.
The Committee hinged the recommendation on its finding that the Federal Government expended N6.449 billion on sponsorship of the personal spiritual exercise between 2007 and 2011 even though Nigeria is a secular country. The amount does not include what the 36 State governments and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, expend on pilgrimages annually.
We support the recommendation of the Oronsaye Panel on cancellation of government sponsorship of pilgrimages. The recommendation is in tandem with Section 10 of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria 1999, which states that the Government of the Federation of Nigeria or of a State shall not adopt any religion as state religion. Sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages by the government clearly flies in the face of this prohibition of state religion by the constitution.
This is more so when there is clearly a plethora of other religions to which Nigerians subscribe, including the traditional African religion. Exclusion of other religions from this government patronage contravenes Section 15, subsection 4 of the constitution, which further states that the State shall foster a feeling of belonging and involvement among the various peoples of the Federation. It is good, therefore, that the government has reportedly resolved to stop further allocations to pilgrimages.
Since the secularity of the Nigerian State is not in doubt, government has no reason to sponsor personal spiritual exercises and we encourage the government to stop the discriminatory sponsorship, henceforth. The amount that has been committed to the pilgrimages over the years is too high, and there have been no visible benefits regarding moral regeneration of beneficiaries of the scheme, who are mostly government officials. Instead, Nigeria is a victim of moral turpitude of public officers and their cronies who benefited most from the scheme.
The decay in public infrastructure and the need to save public funds for developmental purposes such as health and education, which will be enjoyed by all Nigerians, make the cessation of sponsorship of pilgrimages imperative.
This step is long overdue from the federal and state governments and the Goodluck Jonathan administration will be taking a right step by ending the controversial practice.
Another reason for our support for ending the sponsorship of the spiritual exercise is the way it has been brazenly politicized. It is another tool for political parties and governments in power at all levels to reward their cronies to the detriment of the general public. There are no clear-cut criteria for determining those to be sponsored for the exercise. This leaves much room for nepotism.
There is no reason at all for government to get involved in matters of religion. Funding of pilgrimages for privileged and selected few over the years violates the nation's constitution, so government's reported disposition to stoppage of the illegality is welcome and worthy of support by all well meaning Nigerians.
The president should go beyond this reported disposition towards ending the sponsorship to actually stopping the wasteful practice. A pilgrimage is a personal affair. It has brought nothing positive to bear on the administration of the country and the moral life of Nigerians. There is no clear difference between those who have gone on these pilgrimages and those who have not.
From all indications, therefore, these annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Mecca are nothing but seasonal outings that have no real value for Nigeria. Let Nigerians who want to visit Jerusalem and Mecca sponsor themselves. Let the rich among our population sponsor those without the funds for the exercise. The Federal and State governments, on their part, should muster the moral courage and political will to stop the wasteful expenditure on pilgrimages.