We’re working round the clock to reposition Christian Pilgrimage in Nigeria –Uja

May 20th, 2019

Rev Tor Uja is the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC), in this interview, he speaks on efforts made the commission to improve pilgrimage in Nigeria. Augustine Aminu reports the excerpt.

What efforts have you made to improve pilgrimage’s template since you assumed office in 2016?
One major thing we have done is to retool Christian pilgrimage, to re­define and reposition it, make it more programmed, more purposeful and set an agenda for it that is memorable and can also made more continuous.
We decided that pilgrimage should have a divine focus, people should go with an expectation and come back with something. I will give three di­mensions of pilgrimage, one is focus on Christ pilgrimage and expanding the knowledge of Christ to all pil­grims so that they come back as bet­ter Christians.
Secondly promoting Nigeria na­tionalism, that pilgrims go on pil­grimage with the country in mind and come back with a bigger Nige­rian picture in their mind.
The third thing is that every pil­grim or any pilgrimage manager should be transformed into being or­dinary person who is a leader and be advocate for productive development. We found out that Israel is a nation of less than eight million people, less than the size of Federal Capital Territory, in fact far less than the arable land that we have here, in fact 65% of Israel is desert, yet the country is the biggest exporter of food in the world today, this nation should take over the export of food to the world, because we have eve­rything, we have the man power, we have the lands, we have water for irri­gation, we have everything it takes to export foods to the world. We should therefore set up an agenda that peo­ple will go on pilgrimage to pray, ob­serve and also to attempt to replicate what they have seen while on pilgrim­age in Nigeria, so that we discourage discourage people just making money but people engaged in productive de­velopment. Even if somebody is mak­ing money he should ask him self what I’m I doing, what did I do to make the money? What I’m I doing to add value to Nigeria, what I’m I producing, not just existing, not just being in employ­ment but productive development. Is­rael produces, everyday is production, all the millions of people that go to pil­grimage are well fed, not only well fed, there is lot of remnants. We can also make that difference.
Another major achievement is that we persuaded the government to accept our idea of building a pilgrims’ heritage camp, so that people don’t come from their houses to go to pilgrimage, they go into the camp for orientation, train­ing and exposure for better education and preparation for the trip, and gov­ernment in 2018 budgeted five hun­dred and fifty nine million naira for that purpose.

How do you intend to fund the her­itage camp project?

We are using both government and private funding, especially from churches and Christian companies, we have made contacts with them al­ready and many are willing to support both in architecture and with finance, once we start many of those things will start coming in.

What has your administration done differently for pilgrims since you assumed office?

We have upgraded pilgrimage, first in Nigerialising and secondly in improv­ing its template, when we came up, all the people that provided services for us in pilgrimage, produce souvenirs in their company’s colour, or their na­tion’s colour, and these are things we are paying for, so we demanded that must change, now they produce all the sou­venirs in Nigeria’s colours, and all the states that go on pilgrimage also pro­duce all the clothing materials in Nige­ria’s colours.
We want Nigeria to be properly posi­tioned on the map, we are not ashamed or afraid of our country, we want to stamp our foot on the world map and say here is Nigeria.
That is the major thing we have at­tained, and we have attempted to diver­sify pilgrimage from only government sponsorship to public and church own­ership, we are taking pilgrimage to peo­ple whom we believe should own it, the churches and the Christian community. We have increased the number of pri­vate companies that run pilgrimage, from about 32 that I met to about 120 right now. All of them are engaging ac­tively on pilgrimage Enterprise. Last year we had about 2000 pilgrims that were carried by this private groups, and hopefully by this year they will be dou­bling the number, we want to see an in­crease in that dimension because many states are complaining of salaries, they may not always increase their sponsor­ship, but we want it to go to where it tru­ly belong.

Last year, a seven-man Ghana­ian delegation came to under study NCPC, has there been any feedback from them?

Nigerian pilgrimage is a brand on its own, Nigeria is the only country in the world with organised and programmed pilgrimage activities, and we are the only one with an establishment like NCPC, the delegation came because they recognised that our pilgrimage is organised, established, it has a legal frame work, and it has its national in­put on its own and government is in­volved. So they wanted to know how Ghana could do the samething. They have started working on their legal pro­cesses, they have asked us to come and address the churches and Christian communities so that they can invest in pilgrimage and be more involved and show ownership. They also asked if the airlines that run pilgrimage for us can work with them, they wanted that at this first stage then work in collab­oration with Nigeria so that when the planes comes, they would pick them in Ghana and then pick the rest from Nigeria so they would have the men­torship process that we have taken. They still want us to be in Ghana and train them on the issues of screening and monitoring of people. I’m sure you know many in African nations, the citizens will do anything to go abroad. That is not good for any na­tion especially African nations that needs their man power for devel­opment, they want us to help them manage Ghanaian mentality, so that when they go on pilgrimage it will not be an escape route. We are work­ing on the partnership and we be­lieve that it will turn out well.

What are you doing to address the challenges of having direct flights from Nigeria to Israel?

NCPC is working on a joint pro­ject with Israelis so that either be­fore the end of this year or early next year we will start running a weekly flight from Nigeria to Israel, that will also impact on what we are doing. The only thing that delayed the im­plementation of direct flight was the issue of security management, that has been largely addressed and one of the concerns of Israel is that a Ni­gerian carrier that can be depend­ent upon for higher security output should be involved in the flight to Is­rael and then the Israeli national car­rier should also be involved in the carrying of the pilgrims back to Ni­geria. With the delay in the national carrier coming up in Nigeria, some of the business group decided that they will adopt one of the indigenous air­lines, and then work with them to run the direct flight to Israel on a week­ly bases, and when that start many of the private pilgrims will find it eas­ier to do that and some of the issues of this higher security searches and mismanagement of our processes will be taking care of. We believe that will work and we are already in a very se­rious relationship with the groups in­volved, I’m sure that before long it will take off.

Any time frame?

Let me put it at early next year, it ought to be this year but there are many processes like registrations, clearances with security, Nigerian Civil Aviation Authority (NCAA), and Federal Airports Authority of Nigeria (FAAN), and others. Also the planes that must go from here must have proper registration in Is­rael just like planes from Israel will also have proper registration in Ni­geria too, those are things that cannot be bridged and we have to still fly pil­grims before the end of the year, but latest by March next year everything will be ready, we are looking forward to it and I would like to be on the first direct flight to Israel. It will continue, it will not just be one or two flights but a weekly flight, We are willing to pay the price even if passengers are not enough at the beginning, people will need to get used to it and I want you to know that Israel is a choice desti­nation for Nigerians, just like Nigeria is a choice market for any part of the world. No part of the world can ig­nore Nigeria and survive, because we have good population, government, financial system and an economy that is doing well. We may have challeng­es locally but Nigeria is a good coun­try that no nation in the world can ignore.

With your advocacy, have you been able to change the poor per­ception of foreigners towards Ni­gerians?

On the general level I would love to plead with the pastors to increase their teachings about holiness, integ­rity and contentment, it is a wrong thing for a great nation like Nige­ria for people to be suspected every­where because of greed and ungodly ways for money. Many people think that an average Nigerian will do an­ything to make money and this is a reproach, and we need to bring this to an end, I want to congratulate all Nigerian pilgrims that all the years of pilgrimage, there was no mention of drugs, theft, or violence. I want to challenge the Church to lift up its pro­file that will show integrity. We can change the Nigerian story, I will like a stronger foreign policy from Nige­ria so that Nigerians are not undu­ly harassed around the world. Ni­geria is a big and strong country, we need to confront nations with our strength and discourage the mal­treatment of Nigerians in even small countries. That needs to come up at a higher level, but at our level, we try to ensure that we give sufficient edu­cation to our pilgrims so that where ever they are going, they go with hon­our, character and the demonstration of the Christian doctrine. Nigeria is capable of taking care of each of its citizens, so people should travel with honour and not subject themselves to a beggarly way of living or a situation of making them suspected or mal­treated. I would like all the nations whom we deal with on pilgrimage to honor Nigerians, I must thank the government of Israel because they re­spect Nigerian a lot, they believe we are honest, hardworking, and inde­pendent. We don’t experience any­thing harassment when we are in Is­rael, even when there are issues of abscondment, they call to inform us. I think we need to increase the bond between both countries. Nigeria have a strong blessing to get from Israel, I am calling on Nigerian groups to send their people to Israel to imbibe some of the things that they do. We have a stake in building Nigeria, let’s build Nigeria and let’s do things that will attract foreigners to the country, let’s have a change of mentality, let’s decolonise our mind and stop believ­ing that the white man’s land is the best place to be. I tell u today Nige­ria is the best country to live in, we may have our own challenges, but we have peace, every nation has his own troubles. Let’s be proud of our coun­try and Iet the world know that there is a nation called Nigeria, and we are not a small group but one of the pow­erful nation on earth.

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