The executive secretary of Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission, Rev Yakubu Pam has given a rundown of the last 18 months in office while also explaining why investment in pilgrimage is not a waste.
Pam addressed journalists in Lagos on Wednesday, December 22. He was appointed the Executive Secretary of the commission in July 2020 by President Mohammadu Buhari.
The NCPC boss whose job is to supervise travels to holy sites across the world told journalists that the last 18 months in the saddle have been an exciting one for the commission.
He said since he came on board, the commission has experienced some positive changes. “We have had to go round some of the governors in Nigeria and establish some firm relationship with them. The relationship has yielded great fruit. We have had our first pilgrimage exercise and it was very successful.”
He said apart from Jerusalem and Egypt, Jordan has been added to the destination sites for pilgrims. “As it is now, there are about 70 holy sites in Jordan alone. As we talk there are people in Jordan on pilgrimage.”
Pam said the commission has also been able to build on the reputation of Nigerians outside the country. “We have been able to insist that Nigerians deserve the respect accorded citizens of other countries in all the pilgrimage sites. Before now, Nigerians were not given due respect. We have also been able to make arrangements for direct flights from Nigeria to Israel. The flight to Israel will be once a week. We are working on that right now.”
Those who abscond during pilgrimage
He said the commission has also been able to tackle cases of people absconding while on pilgrimage. “In some years back there were many cases of people absconding when they go on pilgrimage. There was a time almost half of those who went on pilgrimage from a particular state absconded. But that has become history now. But the last pilgrimage we had, nobody absconded. This is really encouraging.”
One of the steps taken by the commission is to limit those traveling for pilgrimage to age 40 above and also ensure that only married people are allowed to travel. He said there are however cases of people who want to do family pilgrimage where there are young people in the family. In that case, we allow them such privilege.”
Pam said many of the governors have been doing well in terms of sponsoring pilgrims. He noted that even states in the north like Katsina and Nasarawa have been doing great in their sponsorship of pilgrims to holy sites around the world.
He recalled that the commission has had to play some roles in enhancing the unity of the country. “We have had to go round the country to douse the tension in the land. During the Endsars protest, we were able to meet with young people in Jos and dialogue with them. And they reasoned along with us that we must not play with the sovereignty of the country.”
Curbing corruption in NCPC
On moves he has made to curb corruption in the commission, he said, “Our watchword is transparency. I don’t take money that does not belong to me in the commission and we ensure that issues of procurement are advertised and properly monitored. We give contracts to qualified people and we don’t interfere as soon as contracts are awarded. There are contractors who handle the pilgrims right from when they get to the airport of the destination country. So the commission does not deal with some sensitive issues that will expose it unnecessarily.”
On the propriety of using government funds to sponsor pilgrims, he said, “Only those who can’t afford to go on their own that enjoy government sponsorship. Right now, we have a lot of private individuals coming up to sponsor people on pilgrimage. And many go on self sponsorship. We are also working on a scheme whereby people can save money towards pilgrimage.”
Investment in pilgrimage, not a waste
He said investment in pilgrimage is not a waste as some people think. “The dream of many Christians is to get to the holy land and see some of these historical sites. Many old men and women see it as a lifetime aspiration and something that helps to enliven their faith. When some of them get there, they are overwhelmed and full of joy. Going on pilgrimage is therapeutic for some people. They take time to pray for their sponsors and have this sense of fulfillment. I do not see the investment on pilgrimage as a waste of government resources.”
He said it is not the money given to pilgrimage that is making the country slide economically. “Stopping the sponsorship of pilgrims will not stop stealing in government. That is not what is causing corruption in the system. By the way, we are now even encouraging private individuals and churches to take on more sponsorship. We appreciate the states that have been doing well in this regard”
He called on churches to take the responsibility of educating their members on the essence of pilgrimage and also discourage them from absconding when they go on pilgrimage.
On making some of the holy sites in Nigeria attractive to foreigners, he said, “We acknowledge that there some places in Nigeria that have spiritual significance for Christians. If we are going to incorporate them into the sites we visit, we will have to amend the act that sets up the commission. Right now, the act does not include those sites in Nigeria. But it is a great idea and we hope we are able to incorporate them.”
He said the NCPC has been able to make appreciable progress on its building in Abuja. The structure according to Rev Pam who is also the Chairman of the Northern Christian Association of Nigeria will be completed by 2022.
Story by Gbenga Osinaike