President Jonathan pushes for state sponsorship of Muslim, Christian pilgrimages in spite of contrary recommendation by a presidential committee he empanelled.
President Goodluck Jonathan has accused governors of some North-West states of Sokoto, Zamfara, Kebbi, Kano, Jigawa and Kaduna of marginalising Christians in their states by failing to sponsor them for the annual pilgrimage to Jerusalem, PREMIUM TIMES can report today.
The president said this in Abuja last Wednesday when he met with a delegation of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, NSCIA, led by its President, the Sultan of Sokoto, Sa’ad Abubakar, and the Secretary General, Ishaq Oloyede.
After responding to the complaints of alleged maginalisation of Nigerian Muslims made by the delegation, the President shocked everyone at the meeting when he announced that he had his own grouse with some Muslim leaders from the Northwest.
“I still don’t understand why governors from especially the North-West do not want to sponsor Christians to Jerusalem,” Mr. Jonathan was quoted as saying. “If you sponsor Muslims to Mecca, you have to sponsor Christians to Jerusalem. If you don’t do that it is marginalization and it is unfair to Christians.”
The President then told his guests that when he was governor of the South-south state of Bayelsa, he consistently sponsored Muslims, who were minority in the state, to Mecca.
Mr. Jonathan then requested the Sultan and other members of the delegation to help pressure the governors to refrain from any form of religious discrimination.
The President had in March 2013 raised the same concern when he hosted the Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor-led Federal Government delegation to the 2012 Christian Pilgrimage to Jerusalem at the Presidential Villa.
Responding to complaints by Mr. Oritsejafor that some states from the North did not sponsor any pilgrim for 2012, Mr. Jonathan had said, “If some states 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.”
At the meeting with the Sultan and his delegation, President Jonathan reiterated that position, saying the governors discriminating against Christians in their states should have a change of heart and do the right thing, our sources said.
The president spoke about pilgrimages and state sponsorship at a time many Nigerians are pushing for governments to withdraw from spending public funds on pilgrimages to Mecca and Jerusalem.
The Presidential Committee on the Restructuring and Rationalisation of Federal Government Parastatals, Commission and Agencies, which Mr. Jonathan himself empanelled, had recommended the scrapping of both the National Hajj Commission and the Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission.
The Stephen Oronsaye-led committee had argued that it was wrong and unnecessary for government to continue to waste scarce public funds on personal religious obligations of citizens.
The Kano State Government recently said it saved more than N1 billion following its decision to stop sponsoring pilgrims to Mecca and Jerusalem.
Speaking in Kano at the 30th Memorial Anniversary of Mallam Aminu Kano, Governor Rabiu Kwankwaso said the funds so saved was ploughed into education, transportation and health projects.
“There is nowhere Islam allows for the removing of public funds to sponsor individuals on pilgrimages,” Mr. Kwankwaso said at the event.
A source at the NSCIA-Jonathan meeting said, “We were shocked when the president veered off the issue at stake and then began to talk about sponsorship of pilgrims to Jerusalem.
“It is either he has forgotten the recommendations of a committee he set up himself or he is not interested in implementing the report of the committee.”
The delegation had visited the president to complain about alleged lopsidedness in the composition of the 492-member National Conference, saying there were far more Christians at the confab than Muslims.
According to a presidency source familiar with the deliberations at the meeting, the Sultan, who spoke on behalf of the delegation, told Mr. President that as the leader of Nigerian Muslims, he was under tremendous pressure from Muslim leaders and organisations across the country about the alleged lopsided in the composition of the conference.
He informed the president that his members were becoming impatient and restless and that Mr. Jonathan needed to act fast to defuse tension.
The Sultan, who was said to have spoken “eloquently and without mincing words”, also asked the President to do everything necessary to make the Conference succeed.
In his response, President Jonathan said he was not aware of the implication of the composition of the conference and promised to make amends, insiders say.
He also urged the Sultan and his delegation to pass extensive messages to Muslims across the country that he would not deliberately do anything that is unfair to any group or religion in the country.