President Muhammadu Buhari is planning to end the federal government sponsorship of hajjis to Israel and Saudi Arabia, stating that, pilgrims will have to sponsor themselves on the sacred journey.
John-Kennedy Opara, the executive secretary of Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC), made this known to the State House correspondents on July 13, Monday.
Earlier this day he briefed the president on the activities of the commission.
Meanwhile, Opara said that Buhari will continue to inspire the insitution as it moves towards self-sustenance.
The executive secretary further clarified that Buhari decided to encourage the two religious bodies to become self-sustaining by making pilgrims to sponsor their pilgrimage bills and therefore end government’s sponsorship.
He said: “I came as invited by the President to brief him on the activities of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission.
“You will agree with me earlier my colleague the chairman of the Hajj commission had come to brief him.
“So, I had to tell him where we are, how we started the commission and where we are today and our prayers.
“And I want to say that the President was very happy with the commission; he said ‘you have done very well, the commission has done very well and as far as we are concerned, we need to support the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission as well as the Hajj commission
“You are already aware, he has approved one dollar to N160 for the concessional exchange rate for this year’s pilgrimage operation.
“He has also agreed that he will continue to encourage us, especially as we drive to ensure self-sustenance, to make sure that the pilgrims are able to pay for their pilgrimage, removing government’s sponsorship.
“This is a journey and we are that we are going to succeed.
“So, he was very happy with the entire process, starting from nowhere to get to where we are today and he said, ‘this is commendable’, praying that God will help us to be a source of strength to Mr President.
“So that the Federal and State Governments will spend the necessary resources on other things while the pilgrimage itself will be self-funding as we progress and as time goes on.”
Opara added that NCPC would continue to encourage self-sponsorship of pilgrimage in view of the decreasing resources across the three arms of administration.
The executive secretary asked wealthy and well-meaning people and organisations to help with the sponsorship of pilgrims.
He also advised those to take part in the commission’s pilgrimage lottery to allow them to perform the pilgrimage.
There had been reports that Nigerian embassy in Saudi Arabia allegedly failed to give Buhari’s wife Aisha, and her five children the VIP treatment that generally comes with being members of Nigeria’s first family as they come for Hajj (Umrah).
But Ahmed Umar, the consular-general of the embassy, denied these reports adding that it didn’t give any preferences to the family of ex vice president Namadi Sambo.