Abuja – The signing of a Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) with the State of Israel will top President Goodluck Jonathan’s agenda during his visit to Israel for the 2013 pilgrimage.
Mr John-Kennedy Opara, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), disclosed on Monday in Abuja at a news conference on the commission’s preparedness and the president’s participation.
He said that Jonathan, accompanied by some state governors and other top government officials, would leave Nigeria for Israel on Oct. 23 for the Christian pilgrimage.
Opara said that though the trip would be a spiritual exercise, the president would use the opportunity to finalise discussions and sign the much anticipated BASA with Israel.
According to him, signing of an air service agreement between Nigeria and Israel will among other benefits, reduce significantly the cost of pilgrimage.
“The issue of BASA will definitely come up when the president visits the State of Israel later in the month.
“You will recall that we have been on this matter for quite some time now and this time around, God’s willing, the agreement is likely to be signed,’’ he said.
He said that Jonathan’s participation would raise the stakes in both participation and administration of pilgrimage being the first sitting Nigerian Christian president to embark on holy pilgrimage to Israel.
On the commission’s preparedness, Opara said that logistics and other relevant arrangements were in place ahead of the transportation of pilgrims, which would begin on Oct. 19 at the Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport, Abuja.
He said that a team of officials from the commission and other relevant agencies had inspected the aircraft to be used for the exercise.
Opara said that the commission had the assurances of both the Egyptian and Israeli security authorities on the safety of Nigerians during the exercise.
He allayed fears in some quarters that the heightened tension in the Middle East would jeopardise the safety of pilgrims and undermine the efforts of the commission.
Opara said that the commission would not hesitate to stop the movement of Nigerians to the Sinai and other areas susceptible to attacks in the event of a breakdown of law and order in such areas.
“The coast is clear, we have met with both the Israeli and Egyptian security authorities and they have given us the assurance that the areas to be visited are safe.
“But because safety is our priority, we will not hesitate to stop the movement of our pilgrims to areas that are prone to attacks, if the need arises,’’ he said.
The first batch of 2,000 pilgrims will be transported to the holy land between Oct. 19 and Oct. 26 and the subsequent batches will follow thereafter. (NAN)