The colossal wastage occasioned by pilgrimages to the holy lands by Christians and Muslims on government funding under the guise of interceding for Nigeria must stop. It is an idea that belongs to the relic of our colonial past.
The practice has become so pervasive and irritating to the national psyche that, in recent years, there have been calls on government to stop it with many questioning its efficacy especially as it has no benefits to the common man on the streets.
The calls are apposite in the face of the country’s dwindling economic fortunes occasioned by the geometrical drop in the price of our mainstay ‘oil’. The calls target elimination and blockage of all leakages.
According to the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission [NCPC] and Nigerian Muslim Pilgrim Commission [NMPC], figures, Nigeria spends almost N200 billion every year, using government funds. This is despite the need to focus on more dire challenges ranging from poverty and chronic diseases.
Meanwhile, African Travel Times Magazine’s investigation between 2014 and 2015 in Nigeria and in Israel revealed massive fraud in the management of ‘Christian Pilgrimages’.
Pilgrims who spoke with this publication in Bethlehem and Jerusalem lamented how they were promised allowances after being offered free tickets to come for the exercise only to be denied same.
This magazine saw first-hand how those deprived of their allowances weep like babies because; they had no money to make any personal purchases. According to them, they were told that on arrival in Israel, that the sum of $1.000 [US] will be giving to each of them only for the lucky ones to get $200 [US] and the not so lucky got nothing.
In the case of the Lagos State group, some were told that their allowances were paid to their local governments and as such the state officials on ground in Israel cannot help their situation.
The question is, why were they informed not to bother about bringing personal cash along for the journey and that their allowances will be paid in Israel and only for them to be abandoned?
Our investigations further revealed that, apart from the pilgrims being short-changed by their states’ officials, the NCPC, that coordinate all activities, including appointment of ground handlers and airlines were also paying them far less from what they received from each pilgrim.
During a dinner and certificate of participation presentation to pilgrims that African Travel Times magazine’s Publisher/Editor was part of in December 2014 in Bethlehem, the tour companies lamented that they were paid $850 [US] per pilgrim that covers accommodation, feeding, ground transportation for a 10-Day tour, which they said was inadequate.
They called on the NCPC to reverse this trend or else Nigerian pilgrims will continue to suffer poor service and care while in the Holy land.
Another observation made by The Magazine, was the pilgrimage made by over-aged Pilgrims. According to the regulation guiding pilgrimage to Israel, pilgrims above 80 years cannot perform the exercise, but in the case of Nigeria, there were people that were far older than 80, the cut-off age, thus posing serious health challenge to the few health offers attached to the commission and the state’s officials.
On the batch of Pilgrims to which this Magazine’s publisher was attached, there were just two medical doctors and a Nurse from the federal government and two nurses from Lagos state as well as two welfare staff to cater for very old and frail pilgrims.
Apart from the issue of inadequate care, the older pilgrims that were not accompanied by younger family member’ were often duped by Palestinian traders as a result of poor understanding of the local exchange rate versus the dollar.
We are therefore joining well-meaning Nigerians in calling on government at all levels to stop using public funds to sponsor people for pilgrimages. Serious reforms are also needed in the two commissions handling both Christian and Muslim pilgrimages with a view of giving Nigerians that can afford to travel on their own, value for their money while on Pilgrimage.