On Katsina State and the pilgrims ….. GUARDIAN

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THAT  the Katsina State government  has  not  learnt any lessons from its desperate financial straits which have earned it, like many states, the shameful status of a debtor-state, is sadly demonstrated by the fact that it is yet to get its priorities  right.

It boggles the mind that a state hobbled by a dearth of financial resources which has rendered it incapable of paying its workers’ salaries and pensions has dabbled into the sponsoring of citizens on pilgrimage to Mecca.

Rather than explore ways of generating sufficient revenue to enhance good governance, the state has spent over N300 million to secure accommodation for intending  pilgrims to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, this year. This is irresponsible and stands condemned. Indeed, the right of the 4,463 persons from Katsina State to go to Mecca on pilgrimage cannot be questioned.

But because of the bleak economic situation of the state and the rest of the country, there is the need for clear-cut re-ordering of priorities.

Instead of sponsoring pilgrims now, Katsina or any other state for that matter should let anybody who is interested in going to Mecca or Jerusalem on pilgrimage do so at his or her own expense, while resources are freed for real human and capital development.

Worst still, aside from the N300 million, the state government also intends to provide free medication to the pilgrims in Medina and Mecca. Now, since the government has done this for Moslems, Christian pilgrims would, of course,  expect sponsorship to Israel.

And where would the money come from? Certainly, the Katsina State government has much to learn from its counterparts in other parts of the federation which have taken the noble path of  withdrawing the usual support for pilgrims.

These states include Kaduna, Kano, Lagos and Anambra. In fact, the Kaduna State government has declared that by not sponsoring pilgrims this year, it has saved N221.81 million.

Yet, some of these states that have followed the path of reason, like Lagos, have even a more buoyant economy than Katsina. Even if states had sufficient resources to sponsor citizens on pilgrimage, such an exercise remains unacceptable in the light of the nation’s constitution.

Section10 of the 1999 Constitution declares that “the  government of the federation or a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” The constitution recognises the plurality of religions and does not privilege one above another.

Since it is not only Christianity and Islam that are the religions in Katsina State, would the state government now also sponsor the adherents of other religions such as traditional religion, Buddhism and Hinduism ? The era of decency in governance should dawn in Nigeria and primodialism should give way.

What the people of Katsina State need now is not necessarily pilgrimage to anywhere. They expect the state government to use the available resources to develop infrastructure and the state’s economy in a way that would improve their well-being. Instead of sponsoring people on pilgrimage, the state government should  invest  in the education of its youths and create jobs  for those who are already out of school.

The state should  not neglect these important responsibilities while draining its resources  to boost the economies of other nations under the guise of sponsoring  religious trips.

Since Nigeria is a secular state, the  Federal Government should  set the tone in this regard  and discourage the sponsorship  of pilgrimage.

It should provide only consular service to prospective pilgrims, and  scrap its pilgrims’ boards so that the states can do the same. A state like Katsina would appear to be taking its cue from the Federal Government which has condemnably subsidised foreign exchange for some pilgrims.

As its counterparts in other states have done, the Katsina government should immediately withdraw the sponsorship of pilgrims and put the money to better use.

The government should redefine its priorities and face the challenges of good governance for which the people of the state cast their votes.

On their part, the citizens should demand commitment of resources to their welfare and the deployment of same responsibly and prudently.

They should also hold  the state government accountable.  The only thing citizens need from any state government is a peaceful environment and freedom to practise their different faiths. Religion is a private affair. And it must be strictly treated as such.