08.07.2011 Feature Article

Government’s Sponsorship of Pilgrimages - Illegal

Governments Sponsorship of Pilgrimages - Illegal
08.07.2011 LISTEN

The Nigerian Constitution provides the freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion as a fundamental human right. Under the Constitution, everyone has the right to observe, practice and adhere to his/her own religious creed, in private and in public in so far as such practices do not infringe upon the fundamental human rights of individuals. The constitutional guarantee was dictated by the multi-ethnic nature of the Nigerian State where the multifarious ethnic nature of the Nigerians, irrespective of their religious inclinations, ethnic backgrounds and languages are free to interact and live in any part of Nigeria. The Constitution does not impose a State Religions on any individual, as it is done in theocratic States. Nigeria is a secular State.

Pilgrimage is a journey to a sacred place. A pilgrimage is a term primarily used in religion and spirituality of a long journey or search of great moral significance. Sometimes, it is a journey to a sacred place or shrine of importance to a person's beliefs and faith. Members of most every religion participate in pilgrimages. In order to facilitate annual pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, the Federal and State Government established the Pilgrims Welfare Boards in the States that profess the two orthodox religions in Nigeria: Christianity and Islam. But nowhere in the Constitution is it stated that government shall be responsible for sponsoring pilgrimages to the holy land in either religions. It is not an obligation but a duty done by adherents of both religions.

In the Oriental World, pilgrimages associated with Taoism, Confucianism, Zoroastrianism, Buddhism and Hinduism are not sponsored by the State but by individuals. Recognizing the fact that religion is an individual commitment to deity, pilgrimages are seen as individual endeavours. This is not to say that a benevolent administration, with a buoyant economy cannot subsidize the cost of such pilgrimages. Basically, however State sponsorship of hajj or pilgrimage in any religion is discretionary. Sadly, in 1989, Nigeria was smuggled into the Organization of Islamic Conference in spite of the multi-religious nature of the State. The adoption of Sharia negates the supremacy of the constitution under which every other law subsumes. That was why civil society and other advocacy groups lampooned the introduction of Sharia with a view to unmasking the suffocating veil of this vile and evil law. It is therefore, unconstitutional for State Governors to sponsor religious pilgrimages.

In Islam, he hajj is one of the Five Pillars of Islam. The five pillars are the five duties that every Muslim must follow in order to be a true follower of Islam. It is the pilgrimage to Mecca - the holiest city for all Muslims in the world. Every able bodied Muslim is supposed to make at least one trip to Mecca in his lifetime. However, if he can't do it himself, he could have somebody else go on his behalf. In fact, Islam supports that an individual should not make the pilgrimage to Hajj if it causes inconvenience to his family members or friends.

The Pilgrimage to Mecca, therefore, is one of the essential constituents of the Islamic faith with the important, provision that its performance is possible and accessible in any given circumstances. The Pilgrimage to Mecca is also a sign of unparalleled magnitude. It provides unimpeachable proof of God's existence, for it was as a result of His wishes that Prophet Ibrahim left his spouse and infant son in this desolated desert. Prophet Ibrahim got reward for this unstilted submission to Allah, by a promise from Him to make this uninviting land into a place of promise and plenty. Thus, the Muslims who visit Mecca for Hajj or otherwise become instrumental in fulfilling Allah's promise to Prophet Ibrahim. The necessity and desirability of Pilgrimage to Mecca are, therefore, conclusive.

It is well illustrated in the Koran how a Muslim should carry out the pilgrimage as an article of faith. When a saint arose, he tried to locate the cobbler and found him out in a remote corner of the country. This person told the saint that for years he had been yearning to perform the pilgrimage and had saved the certain amount of money for this purpose. However, on the eve of his departure for Mecca he heard the cries of children from neighbouring houses for want of food and nourishment. He was so moved by the plight of the children that he gave up the idea of Hajj and gave the money instead to the mother of the children. This illustrates that God is merciful and shows mercy to those who do likewise to his creatures. Thus participation in the Hajj can acquire greater significance and meaning if it inculcates in the person the virtues of sympathy and compassion for the needy in society.

In Christianity, a pilgrimage to the Holy Land is the pilgrimage par excellence. It is a journey to the very source of Christianity, to the very place where "the Word was made flesh and dwelt among us". Visiting this pre-eminent spiritual destination is truly an experience of a lifetime and something not to be missed. The pilgrimage affords the person a unique opportunity to see the places where Jesus walked and walked his talk and performed miracles.

For Christians, Jerusalem's place in the life of Jesus gives it great importance, in addition to its place in the Old Testament, the Hebrew Bible. Jerusalem is the place where Jesus was brought as a child, to be presented at the Temple (Luke 2:22) and to attend festivals (Luke 2:41). According to the Gospels, Jesus preached and healed in Jerusalem, especially in the Temple courts. At the end of each of the Gospels, there are accounts of Jesus' Last Supper in an 'upper room' in Jerusalem, his arrest in Gethsemane, his trial, his crucifixion at Golgotha, his burial nearby and his resurrection and ascension. But in all the significance of Jerusalem and the individual's perception about salvation is a personal experience. Human beings therefore need to be aware of the essential transience of this world and its pleasures. Christians are therefore encouraged to see themselves as 'pilgrims and strangers on the earth', 'temporary residents' whose true home is in heaven. During periods of exile, pilgrimage to Jerusalem took on additional emotional and spiritual significance. The true heart of a pilgrimage is certainly the spiritual experience and your effort in prayer that is acquired when visiting a Holy monastery. As the most important part of an pilgrimage is its spiritual education that you receive.

In Nigeria, there is nothing to show that the pilgrimages have had any positive impact on the well being of society. The practice has been that the same group of corrupt power holders compile a list of unworthy disciples to embark on pilgrimages. If the pilgrimages were having some rob-on effect on the public morality government would have been encouraged to assist pilgrims.

Pilgrimages to the holy places do not translate to economic growth. In a Country like Nigeria, which is wrestling with power supply and the provision of social amenities, it is immoral for government to spend the tax payers' money to sponsor pilgrimages of very few people. After all, pilgrimages will not contribute to the achievement of our national vision 20: 2020 or the Millennium Development Goals. The sponsorship of pilgrimages is not part of the seven-point agenda of the Yar'Adua administration or the Jonathan transformational Agenda. Nigeria faces very fundamental development challenges such as diminishing standard of education, poor healthcare near lack of power supply, total absence of social welfare and a near nil Foreign Direct Investment.

Nigeria is a nation known for religious extremism and there have been so many religious crises in Nigeria. Nigeria has recorded more than 1,350 religious crises since independence. From the Maitasine riots to the Boko Haram, what Nigerians have benefited from are the monumental destruction of lives and property of lives and property. The implication is that Religion has never helped the economy of the country. The spate of religious riots has done violence to the economy of Nigeria. The ugly trend may continue unabated.

Recently, the carnage and humanitarian disaster that followed the April elections may also go the way of the Nigerian experience. Anytime there is crisis, government and philanthropic organizations are compelled donate relief in cash and materials. These could have been spent in shoring up some critical sectors of the economy. The spiral of crises in many parts of the country indicates that which led to the loss of lives and property. If the several pilgrimages we have made in Nigeria cannot bring about peace and stability, then why should the Nigerian State sponsor pilgrimages?

The huge sums of money earmarked for pilgrimages should be used to add to the N18, 000.00 minimum wages for workers without removing subsidies on petroleum product. The Petroleum industry has been deregulated to the point of overkill. The Nigerian masses are aware that whatever gains the nation would make from the removal of subsidies may not be rob off on the people. The money would not be used for the development of infrastructure. It is another grand deception to increase the price of petroleum products to punish the jobless, low income earners and civil servants.

Idumange John, is Deputy Director, Niger Delta Integrity Group, NDIG

First written September, 2009

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