I woke up, two days ago, with a very brilliant idea. I think time has come for the faithful of our traditional African religions to also find somewhere to go for pilgrimage – Cuba, Brazil or even Ethiopia. Just anywhere, to enable them get their own share of the ongoing dollar largess. I’m even thinking of how hedonists, like myself, can make my dream holiday to Ibiza a matter of religious importance, so I can write CBN and annually get a concession on the exchange rate.
Does it sound foolish? Well, that’s exactly how senseless government’s subsidising of religious pilgrimages, in a secular country that is in a deep economic quagmire, sounds to those of us with an eye on fixing the economy.
In fact, after listening to what the Governor of the Central Bank, Godwin Emefiele, had to say about the vexatious issue of giving a concessionary N197-to-the-dollar exchange rate to intending Muslim pilgrims, I came close to bursting a vein.
Of course, my anger had nothing to do with the Muslim pilgrims – for I know the same concession was also extended to Christians several months ago.
But I even feel more insulted that the CBN governor made it sound like some sacrosanct contract that could not be broken. But the reason is simple: If we did it for the Christians, it would be unfair and insensitive not to extend the same gesture to our Muslim compatriots. Most of all, not doing so would not be politically correct.
This is more so in a country where everything is viewed almost exclusively from the political prism. Yes! From the fight against Boko Haram, to the negotiation and bombing of the Niger Delta Avengers and the alleged visit of First Lady Aisha Buhari to the United States of America, everything is mired in partisan politics.
Just as the fight against corruption is reeking of partisanship, so does the padding of the 2016 budget, the desperation to lump Goodluck Jonathan with the Avengers as well as the planned clean-up of Ogoniland. Everything is blurred by politicisation.
But let’s get back to the pilgrimage and pilferage.
I learnt that immediately this concession is approved, a mafia emerges. The mafia corners all the forex, forcing intending pilgrims to still go to the black market to source their BTA or make due with whatever pittance agents of the sponsoring state government gives them. Sometimes, each intending pilgrim is restricted to hundred and two hundred dollars, while the bulk of the forex, released on the strength of the pilgrims’ alleged demand, soon finds its way to the bureaux de change, for sale at a premium. And the racketeering goes on.
So, while genuine manufacturers and job-creating businesses are forced to source forex at between N280 and N400 to the dollar, tourists (for that’s what pilgrims are) are pampered with concessionary rates, which end up being round-tripped, anyway.
Instead of giving cheap forex to those who would create jobs for our army of unemployed Nigerians, we give the forex to tourists to go ‘blow’ in foreign lands and create jobs for the citizens of those countries. One Nasir Jajere captured the madness thus:
“Compare an average 15-day Umrah trip costing N1million with…
(a.) A 30,000 litre daily community borehole, which costs N700, 000, (b.) A concrete dug well, which costs N250,000, c. A fully stocked pharmacy of a community dispensary, which costs N500,000. (d.) A fully paid 4-year university scholarship for one child, which costs N1m – at N20,000/mnth. (e.) Annual salary of 5 teachers in a community school, which costs N1m (at N20,000/mnth). (f.) A fully-kitted trained mechanic/electrician tools box, which costs N200,000. (g.) A grinding mill which costs N75,000, etc…”
Now, if my findings are correct, the Umrah is not nearly as costly as the Hajj, which is the pilgrimage our governments sponsor.
The story is not any different in the supposedly Christian states. I’ve met several serving and former governors, who shamelessly seek to make a political capital of sponsoring pilgrims. One particular South East governor even tried to underscore his religious tolerance profile by telling me he also sponsors Muslims in the state to pilgrimage. Everything is all about politics and political correctness. Nobody gives a hoot if the pilgrims merely use the pilgrimage as free ticket for pre-planned business trip.
In a country where hunger is gnawing at the intestines of both the common man and the not-too-common man, it smirks of a total lack of focus for our governments to throw scarce resources into sponsoring private jamborees, in the name of Christian and Muslim pilgrimages.
Of course, I have no problem with a governor or president sponsoring pilgrimages. It is okay with me, as long as they do it from their private pockets.
Even if we decide the overlook the economic arguments against government sponsorships, the inequity associated with it is stomach-churning.
They share the slots to party chieftains, select senior civil servants and ‘pesky’ labour leaders, who then nominate their cronies and relations. Money is taken from the tax paid by all of us (faithful and non-faithful) to fund the jamboree.
Government not only gives beneficiaries spending money, it, sometimes, also sews aso-ebi – complete with suitcases, for them.
Of course, I know how happy some of these people, who could never have been able to afford a trip to any holy land all their lives, feel with such government interventions. But then, I ask myself, is there really any sin (or divine punishment) associated with not going on pilgrimage, if you genuinely cannot afford it? The answer, I dare say, is NO!
Islamic scriptures and holy books clearly enjoin whoever has the means to go on pilgrimage. There are also blessings for the rich, who undertake to sponsor the pilgrimage of less endowed brethren.
When I get home today, I will ask my pastor friend to show me the portion of the bible, where the Holy Bible commands us Christians to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem – or anywhere else. Because, for a Christian, there is Turkey, Iraq, Rome, Greece and such other places to visit, and not just Israel. But then, why sponsor the poor to pilgrimage, when you can fix the economy and empower the poor to sponsor himself?
…Back from Port Harcourt
Having just returned from Port Harcourt and spoken to both politicians and non-politicians alike, one can’t but become suspicious of the celebrated insecurity – especially giving, as Governor Nyesom Wike noted, that the same INEC that is running away from holding elections in Rivers State, was able to conduct elections in Borno, Yobe and Adamawa in the height of Boko Haram’s rampage in the area. Or were the figures simply allocated in those states, without election?
In the last one year, more people have probably been kidnapped in Kogi than Rivers State, but it did not stop INEC from holding elections and re-run elections in the state. So, why is the case of Rivers so different?
No doubt, all is not well in Rivers State, security wise, but there is nothing that is happening in Rivers State today that is not happening in other states. The Nigerian Guild of Editors just returned from a four-day conference in Port Harcourt, the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA) is headed there next week for its annual conference. Everyone goes there and comes back safely, even though none of the groups enjoyed the kind of police and military protection that is usually present on election days.
Of course, there are killings, including beastly beheadings, but many residents say the killings are more economic than political, as cult groups and illegal oil bunkerers battle for territorial control in communities far away from state capital. But all these are nothing the security agencies cannot handle if the authorities are really desirous of holding the re-run elections in Rivers. It is unthinkable that these thugs have overpowered the Nigerian armed forces. Or is it another case of politicising security?