By FRED ITUA
Rev. Tor Uja is the new Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission. In this interview with our correspondent, the former Benue State chairman of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and commissioner, spoke on a number of issues, including his vision for the commission, the bilateral air services agreement with Israel and protection of Nigerian pilgrims. Excerpts:
Blueprint for the commission
One of the great tasks of the commission is to enable Christians participate in the lands of the scripture. That is both in Israel and in other parts of the world, where Christianity established its presence. It is important that people know where they are coming from, so that they will know where they are going. One of my dreams is to enable every Nigerian Christian participate at least, once in their lifetime.
I will like to challenge the Nigerian Christian population to use the pilgrimage to the Holy Land to improve on the wellbeing of Nigerians. I will like to appeal to corporate bodies, wealthy individuals and governments to sponsor people to pilgrimage. I can guarantee that whoever goes on pilgrimage henceforth, will not return the same way. As a commission, we are also going to reinforce the uniqueness and the greatness of Nigeria. Nigeria is a great country. Whatever (evil) people say about us is false. They are afraid of Nigerians. We want those going on pilgrimage to carry the glory of Nigeria and reflect what we believe in. This is an era to change the image of Nigeria wherever we go.
With paucity of funds, how do you intend to achieve your plans?
The major one is the importance of building the capacity of human beings. I am a Tiv and in my place, there is a saying that when you do not travel, you celebrate a fool. I will like Nigerians to get the exposure by visiting Israel. They will understand the word of God better. It is true that the economy is dwindling. However, God will fix this country. We are going to do strong advocacy to governors and the Federal Government, we are going to do advocacy to corporate bodies, endowed groups and individuals to give support. Whatever they give will be well utilised. Whatever the challenges, there will be a way out and there will be open doors.
Where is the status of our air services agreement with Israel?
That bilateral agreement has not been implemented. I am sure you know that since the agreement was signed, Nigeria has been going through serious crisis. We had the elections, Boko Haram, economy and global terror. There was not much attention given to it. Now that Mr. President is settling down, we will meet him again. He is the Chief diplomat of Nigeria. I believe that he will re-open it. That agreement will make the pilgrimage cheaper and easier. Right now, we always have to pass through other countries to get to Israel. We spend up to 24 hours sometimes, to get to Israel. With him, the integrity of Nigeria has gone up and it will be better for us now.
One of the major challenges in Nigeria is change of leadership and continuity. Are we going to see some drastic changes in the commission?
Change is not all about scrapping what you met on ground. We are not going to cancel anything that is good. If anything that is good is challenging, we will make it better. There are so many things that our predecessor did well. We will sustain them. Things that need to be changed or adjusted will be done. We will not destroy what we met on ground.
Would you review the commission’s lottery programme?
We are studying it with a view to modernising it or moderating it, so that it will not be misunderstood. We want to remove any element of misunderstanding, so that we can make it more accessible to Nigerians. We are working on that.
How do you intend to address maltreatment of Nigerian pilgrims?
I said earlier that I believe in Nigerians and Nigeria. We will do everything to protect the respect and dignity of every Nigerian that goes on pilgrimage. We will also ensure that Nigerians get the best pilgrimage is not free. Treating Nigerians fairly is not a favour, it is an expectation that should be met. We will travel and meet with the stakeholders. We will study the issues and we will try and make the pilgrimage journey better than what it used to be. Sometimes, you go on pilgrimage and you meet war between Palestinians and the Jews. I will not expose any pilgrim to danger. We will ensure that there is safety and security for pilgrims.