Nigeria's President is currently recovering from surgery to combat a heart condition called Pericarditis, which according to the BBC, is likely "triggered by cancer". Despite this, his spokesman made it clear, at that time, that the President would still attend Hajj in Mecca. This revelation indicates how seriously the President and his handlers take the Hajj, that a sick man should feel the need to publicly commit to attending the Hajj. It also illustrates how importantly Nigerians, Muslims and Christians take their religious practices of participating in the Hajj and/or Pilgrimage to Israel (for Christians).
The Hajj is an Islamic tradition. According to the Koran, every able bodied Muslim must make at least one trip to Mecca to participate in the Hajj. In 2009, over 95,000 Nigerians from across the country are participating in the Hajj. The Nigerian government has historically subsidized every Nigerian's trip to the Hajj and picks the Amirul Hajj or leader of the Nigerian Hajj contingency. Also, local cell phone companies even offer roaming for Nigerian customers in Saudi Arabia during the period. The National Hajj Commission of Nigeria (NAHCON) facilitates the travels for Nigerians.
Nigerian Christians also take their Pilgrimage to Israel seriously. While the Christian religion does not require a trip to the Holy Land, Nigerian Christians have historically taken advantage of government subsidies to visit Israel as part of their religious customs. In 2009, Nigeria's 20,000 Pilgrims will be the largest contingent from any other country in the world to Israel. Christians also take a government subsidized trip to Rome, Italy on account of a religious pilgrimage. The Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) acts just like NAHCON to facilitate these journeys.
There is great debate over whether or not the Federal government should participate in funding these pilgrimages. Some Nigerians argue that the government should simply regulate the travel of pilgrims and not provide financial and other subsidies. Being that the Constitution does not mandate this act, it is clear that the government facilitates these events as a way of seeking goodwill from citizens, which in itself is not a bad thing. The main issue is the financial commitment the nation makes to help citizens attend either pilgrimage. Given the current economic downturn, and the fact that the 2010 budget is said to be at a deficit already, the financial commitment to the pilgrimage might be an issue worthy of review. However, given that politicians continue to make millions, despite a requirement to reduce their pay, it would be unconscionable to deprive pilgrims of the assistance they receive from the government. What is more important than how much is spent on pilgrimage travels is whether the federal government, and particularly this administration fulfills certain goals especially those involving electricity generation and supply, infrastructural development , health care and education. These objectives are likely not significantly impacted by the amount spent sending Nigerians on pilgrimages. But, only if the federal government satisfies its obligations to the populace.
PRESIDENTS & PILGRIMAGES
Of particular interest is the fact that Nigeria's President has been to the Hajj at least once as President and plans to do so again, despite his health issues. This begs the question of whether the nation's President should attend the Hajj more than once while in office. Considering that the Quran only requires one trip, and that Nigeria needs its President in the country to effectively carry out his responsibilities, it might be time for the president to reconsider making any more trips to the Hajj while in office. This is especially important because the cost of sending the President to the Hajj is likely enough to send a good number of average citizens who end up sleeping in tents at Mina, Saudi Arabia and not fancy 5 star hotels in the Saudi Kingdom.
Yar'Adua's predecessor, a Christian, is not recorded as having made any pilgrimage trips to Israel or Vatican, save for official state visits. But despite this, he spent much of his first term traveling all over instead of staying in the country. he was heavily criticized for this. Yar'Adua would do well to learn from that mistake, particularly as his health, and the fact that he is currently still in hospital, lends to concerns over his ability to govern in the first place.
Regardless, it is clear that Nigerians take their religious ceremonies and practices quite seriously. Whether that makes them better Christians or Muslims is another matter that this writer will leave to others to decipher.
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