(Romanus Okoye – LAGOS)
A Lagos based human rights activist Chief Malcolm Omirhobo has sued the federal government and the 36 state governments for sponsoring Christians and Moslems pilgrims on their annual pilgrimages to Jerusalem and Saudi Arabia, while not extending the same privileges to other religions.
He said that the action of government was in violation of Section 10 of the 1999 constitution which states that “the government of the federation or of a state shall not accept any religion as State Religion.
Also that the “granting of concessionary exchange rate to the Moslem and Christian pilgrims alone was preferential, double standard, discriminatory, illegal, unconstitutional and a violation of the fundamental rights to freedom of worship as enshrined in section 38 and amounts to discrimination according to section 42 of the 1999 Nigerian Constitution.
“Aside Christianity and Islam, there are Nigerians who are practicing other forms of religion such as Paganism, Buddhism, Harri Krishna, Animism, Eckanker, Grail message, Amok Atheism etc,” he said.
“When I secured a visa to visit the United States of America for vacation and approached my bank to procure my Basic Travelling Allowance (BTA) for the trip, I was informed that the exchange rate of the Naira to the Dollar was N318.00 to $1.00. So because of the very high exchange rate, I had to painfully put aside my vacation for the year.
“Same applies to many Nigerians on daily basis who are in dire need of foreign exchange to do their business, pay for their medical bills, pay for education and vacations, etc. But the prevailing market price makes it impossible to pursue our dreams…”
Omirhobo complained that the establishment of religious commissions throughout the 36 states of the federation and in Abuja by law passed by the State Houses of Assembly was discriminatory to other Nigerian citizens that are not of the Islamic and Christian faiths.
According to him, one of the respondent states is currently devastated by the Boko Haram terror conflict, with many internally displaced persons who are in dire need of food and other basic needs.
“The monies given to the pilgrims by the state governors is a waste of tax payers monies,” he said, which according to him would be better spent, along with donations made by the international community and other concerned persons, “to internally displaced persons in that state.”
Respondents in the suit filed at Federal High Court sitting at Ikoyi are the Federal Government, the Attorney General of the Federation, the 36 states of the federation and their attorneys general, the Central Bank of Nigeria, the National Christian Pilgrim Commission, the National Hajj Commission, Muslim Pilgrims Welfare Board and the Christian Pilgrims Welfare board in the 36 states.