The Nigerian Constitution provides for 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 or 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 people from 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 any State religions on any individual, as it is done in theocratic states. Nigeria is a secular State with a secular constitution and the state sponsorship of pilgrimages is an aberration of the secular status of the 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 religions participate in pilgrimages. In order to facilitate annual pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem, the Federal and State Governments 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 or 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 complete submission to Allah, by a promise from Him to make this uninviting land into a place of promise and plenty.
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. 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. The state sponsorship of pilgrimage has been so politicized that people now use it as a means of obtaining money, while the spiritual essence of the exercise is lost. If the pilgrimages were having some positive effect on the public morality, government would have been encouraged to assist pilgrims. But this is usually not the case. There is no established relationship between pilgrimages and morality in the Nigerian society. As open religiosity gets to feverish heights, so does morality plummets.
Pilgrimages to 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 present administration. Nigeria faces very fundamental development challenges such as diminishing standard of education, poor healthcare system, and other social services.
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. 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. 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 most recent crises are the Kano, Bauchi and Jos crises which led to monumental destruction of lives and property. If the several pilgrimages we have made in Nigeria cannot bring about peace and stability. On the contrary, religion has precipitated serious crisis that has caused the populace pains, loss of lives and property. I accept the Marxian view that religion is the opium of the masses. If it were not so why would any right thinking person kill in the name of religion?
I strongly canvass the view that States should stop the sponsorship of pilgrims and deploy such resources to develop other critical sectors of their economy. Already, the Edo State Government has taken the lead and we expect all States in the South-South geo-political zone to follow. The South-South is the most disadvantaged zone in terms of heavy infrastructure and federal presence. The monies spent on pilgrimages can better be deployed to ease the delivery of essential social services.
With specific reference to Bayelsa State, there is no need for the State to sponsor Pilgrimages for individuals, when the State relies almost solely on the Federation Account, with very low Internally Generated Revenue profile. It is the suggestion of this writer that the monies earmarked for pilgrimages to the holy land should be spent on the rehabilitation of Primary schools in the eight Local Government Areas of the State. Over the years, monies spent on pilgrimages have not created any positive impact on the effectiveness of service delivery. Government is grappling with the challenge of paying students’ bursary, seeking Foreign Direct Investment and devising ways of building the capacity of youth to equip them to be gainfully employed. It is therefore preposterous for Bayelsa people to protest that government MUST sponsor pilgrimages. For me, this is a clear case of misplacement of priorities in a period of economic down turn.The Restoration Administration can share the cost of pilgrimages with the recipients.
In other developing countries, government pick the bills of the sick especially people who have problems with heart conditions, kidney problems, liver diseases and cancer. In Nigeria, this is not the case. Healthcare should be a responsibility of the State and not religion. This is because a healthy population contributes to increased productivity and high per capita income. A healthy population builds a nation but a religious population encourages laziness.
The act is a negation of Nigeria as a secular State because if adherents of the orthodox religions are sponsored to embark on pilgrimage, what happens to those who adhere to the African Traditional Religion, Hinduism, Buddhism and religions other than Christianity and Islam? In the face of daunting development challenges, It is the responsibility of government to prioritize its policies and programmes and to implement those policies that would yield maximum benefit to the greatest number of people in a utilitarian sense. There is no doubt that religion has its positive sides, but in our clime, religion seems to have been titrated to mean more of exploitation of the people.
In Nigeria, religion is no longer a touchstone of goodness and morality, which are essential for nation building, It has been transformed into a divisive element and an instrument of violence and people fight, maim and destroy lives and property because of religion. It will be understandable if people protest for better working conditions. Religion and the pursuit of salvation is an personal affair and should not be made an obligation to the government. It is high time we distinguished between the obligations and duties of government. Bayelsa State should emulate the good example of Edo State and stop the State sponsorship of pilgrimages. It is a monumental waste of scarce resources that can be invested in other critical sectors of the economy.
contributed this piece from Yenagoa