Some Christian and Muslim clerics across the country have expressed divergent views on government’s sponsorship of pilgrimage.
While some urged government at all levels to continue with the sponsorship of pilgrims, others were of the view that the exercise was a waste of public fund.
Cross section of clerics and religious faithful in Bauchi, Yobe, Gombe, Adamawa, Ondo, Kwara, Calabar, Ilorin, Kano, Kaduna, Akure, Yenogoa, and Jigawa advocated the partial or complete disengagement of government in pilgrimage affairs.
In separate interviews with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) the clergymen said such a step had become necessary, especially in view of the prevailing economic realities.
Others, however, said disengaging completely could be counter-productive and could expose pilgrims to shylock Travels Agents in the country and abroad.
Alhaji Ibrahim Musa, a Muslim cleric in Damaturu, said there must be officials to guide pilgrims and provide essential services.
He, however, said only those whose services were essential should be sponsored to reduce cost.
Aliyu Mohammed, a Muslim cleric and regular visitor to Saudi Arabia, said it would be dangerous to leave pilgrims at the mercy of travel agents both at home and while in Saudi Arabia or Jerusalem.
“Some of the independent travel agents engage in dubious activities and defraud pilgrims, especially those travelling out of their localities for the first time, “ he noted.
Olumba Olumba Obu, the Sole Spiritual Leader of the Brotherhood of the Cross and Star (BCS), in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) in Calabar, urged government to continue with the sponsorship.
Obu said that there was nothing wrong in government sponsorship of individuals to pilgrimage and called for the extension of the gesture to people of other religions apart from the Christianity and Islam.
“I do not see anything wrong in government sponsorship of individuals to pilgrimage. Pilgrimage is faith-based. Such sponsorship should be extended to other religions; not just Christianity and Islam,’’ Obu said.
However, the Chief Imam of Uyo Central Mosque in Akwa Ibom state, Alhaji Imam Adamu asked government to discontinue sponsorship of people to pilgrimage.
Adamu said that pilgrimage was a religious exercise that should be embarked upon by individuals who were able to do so, adding that it was in line with Islam and Christian injunctions.
He alleged that the greatest beneficiaries of government sponsorship of pilgrimage were government officials, who appropriate huge sum of money to the pilgrims’ board.
“Pilgrimage is a religious exercise, which is personal.
“It is the fifth pillar of Islam and the Holy Quran says only those who can afford the expenses to the Holy land could perform the pilgrimage.
Mr Akinlolu Lawrence, Chairman, Ondo State Christian Welfare Board, told NAN in Akure that Christian pilgrimage was basically meant to enable the beneficiaries turn a new leaf and directly reflect on their immediate environment for change.
“When lives of pilgrims are transformed, a nation becomes a changed one and there would be peace and tranquillity; there will be no unhealthy rivalry and everything will go as it should be.
“There would be neither kidnapping nor corruption while insurgency and human rituals would be a thing of past,” Lawrence said.
Similarly, Mr Abdulrasheed Ajifowowe, the Chairman of Ondo State Muslim Welfare Board, described pilgrimage to Mecca, otherwise known as Hajj, as a compulsory rite for individual Muslims who could afford the cost.
“Hajj is the fifth pillar of Islam and it is more or less compulsory for Muslims who have the financial capacity to undertake it.,“ he said.
Mrs Olusola Odetunde, a newly sponsored pilgrim by the state government, urged government to continue with sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrims to their respective holy lands.
Alhaji Rafi’u Ayedun, Chairman, Ansar-ud-deen Muslim Society of Nigeria, Kano state, said funds spent by government to sponsor either Christians or Muslims to Mecca or Israel should be channeled to provide good roads, water and electricity for the masses.
He said that though pilgrimage for Muslims was one of the fundamental pillars of Islam, it was not compulsory for those who could not afford to undertake the journey.
He said the exercise, apart from its religious fulfillment, helped the economies of Saudi Arabia and Israel where pilgrims troop to yearly.
Also, Chief Imam of Gandun Albasa Mosque, Kano, Sheik Abdullahi Sagir kicked against government sponsorship of people to pilgrimage, saying the practice was “unnecessary spending which affects the economy of any state.’’
Sagir, however, said he “strongly support sponsoring health workers to Hajj so that they can give pilgrims proper medical care.’’
But the Cheif Imam of Nupe Central Mosque Kaduna, Malam Nafi’u Muhammad, differed, saying there was nothing wrong in government sponsorship of people for pilgrimage.
Muhammad insisted that government should take interest in the health and accommodation of its citizens who travel to other countries to perform religious rites.
“Some of the pilgrims usually use the opportunity to pray for the peace and stability of the country.
“The only thing government should not encourage is extravagancy. It should also be firm in regulating the annual pilgrimages,’’ he said.
However, a Christian cleric in Bayelsa, Evangelist James Sunday of the Church of Jesus Christ of the Latter-Days Saint, Yenogoa, urged government to discontinue sponsorship of pilgrimage.
“Government must overhaul the system – sponsorship because people going for the pilgrimage are just going to enrich themselves.
“Those ones are not the true believers of the Almighty God, who is our Maker. Pilgrimage is not supposed to be a fun tour.
Another cleric in the state, Mr Samuel Emereonye of the Assemblies of God Church, Ovom, Yenagoa, also called for the stoppage of sponsorship of people to pilgrimage by State and Federal governments.
But a university lecturer, Dr Jide Kamaldeen, described religion as a private matter, saying that sponsoring people on pilgrimage was therefore a misplaced priority.
On his part, Malam Abdullahi Damare, the Co-chairman of North East Interfaith Mediation Centre in Yola, called for the review of government sponsorship of pilgrimage to the holy lands.
Damare opined that the government’s gesture had been subjected to abuse, and as such no longer desirable.
But a Christian cleric in Yola, Pastor Emmanuel Njaprim, said sponsorship was in order but government needed to check abuses in the exercise.
Njaprim observed that performing the pilgrimage helped a lot in promoting the fear of God.
Alhaji Aliyu Suleiman, Executive Secretary, Bauchi State Muslims Pilgrim Welfare Board, said that an average of 2,700 pilgrims performed Hajj annually.
According to him, of this figure, about 2,450 sponsor themselves while government sponsors 250.
He said before the advent of the present administration in the state, 850 people were being sponsored, thereby placing a heavy burden on the economy of the state.
Suleiman, however, was against total disengagement of government in pilgrimage affairs, saying the measure would not be in the best interest of the people and the state.
Martins John, a Bauchi resident who said he had visited Israel many times on pilgrimage, urged government to discontinue sponsorship.
John said that such a step was necessary, especially considering the present economic situation in the country.
In his contribution, Mr Ishaya Maleka, Executive Secretary, Bauchi State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, suggested ‘partial’ sponsorship of people on pilgrimage.
“Government should partially support pilgrims and not complete funding, considering the economic realities on ground,” he said.
Dr Daniel Musa, Permanent Secretary, Gombe State Ministry Higher Education, also suggested the partial sponsorship of pilgrims.
He, however, agreed that the burden of complete sponsorship of pilgrims was too heavy for government alone to carry.
In Benin City, Edo state, Bishop Goodluck Akpere of the Christ Temple Ministry International, said government had no business sponsoring religious faithful to pilgrimage.
Akpere said sponsorship of pilgrims was unnecessary as there were more pressing needs that require government attention than spending scarce resources to send people to “Israel or Mecca’’ for religious exercise.
“I have always made my position known on this and want to reiterate again that I see sponsoring of Christians or Muslims to Israel or Mecca as wasteful.
“Government has many things to do and not sponsor few Nigerians to religious pilgrimage. There are roads and schools to be built, hospital are there; people need water and good transport system.
“Whether we like it or not, I see this yearly spending as having an adverse effect on the country and generality of the people,” he said.