Tuesday, 12 March 2013

(NEWS): Seven states refused to sponsor Christian pilgrims, says Oritsejafor

Seven states in the North declined to sponsor Christian Pilgrims last year, it emerged yesterday.
The Federal Government delegation to the 2012 Christian pilgrimage to the Holy land listed the states as Jigawa, Kano, Sokoto, Katsina, Zamfara, Benue and Gombe.
The delegation, led by Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, submitted its report to President Goodluck Jonathan.
It announced that 16,372 Nigerians participated in the Christian pilgrimage.
Promising to discuss with the states, President Jonathan maintained that the Federal Government cannot force any state government to sponsor pilgrims if they do not want to do so.
But he cautioned that such a decision not to sponsor pilgrims must affect both Christian and Muslim pilgrims.
He said: “Government cannot force state governments to sponsor pilgrims if they don’t want to do so. If they decide to pull out from sponsoring pilgrims, there is nothing we can do. But if some state governments are sponsoring pilgrims of one religion and leaving out the other, that is against the law. Nigeria is a secular state and so nobody should be discriminated against based on religious belief.”
Jonathan also promised the National Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) for its efforts in winning the confidence of the Italian authorities.
“I am pleased to hear that Italian authorities now rely on the commission to issue visa to intending pilgrims. It is a sign of confidence in the commission, led by John Okpara and, indeed, in the country,” he added
He also listed other achievements of the NCPC to include the absence of cases of pilgrims absconding during pilgrimage to the holy land and improvements in the organisation of the annual exercise with no negative report emanating from the program.
Indicating interest to attend this year’s pilgrimage, Jonathan said it would afford him the opportunity to engage authorities of the State of Israel on the need for a Bilateral Air Service Agreement between Nigeria and Israel to make the journey from Nigeria less stressful.
He promised to consider the recommendation that members of the Federal Government delegation be given a two-year tenure instead of the present arrangement where members are appointed yearly.
He said: “We shall look at your suggestion that the government delegation be given two-year tenure. There is a sense in the suggestion because there will be continuity and memory. Such decision will also help me because I won’t keep appointing people everyday.
“It was for the same reason of continuity and institutional memory that we decided that the Sultan, by virtue of his position, be the permanent leader of the government delegation for Muslim pilgrimage while the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria leads that of Christian pilgrimage every year,” he said.
Presenting the report, Pastor Oritsejafor said there was a sharp reduction in the number of Christians who participated in the 2012 pilgrimage when compared with the figure of the previous year. He recommended the need for the Federal Government delegation for every year to be inaugurated early enough to give them ample time to plan.
Pastor Oritsejafor was accompanied by the Chairman of the NCPC, the Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh; the Executive Secretary, Mr. John Okpara; the Chaplain to the President, Ven. Obioma Onwuzuruba; Minister of Water Resources Mrs. Sarah Ochekpe and other members of the 11-man Federal Government delegation.
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