BackpageIt's Time to Stop Government Funding of Religious Pilgrimages, Others

It’s Time to Stop Government Funding of Religious Pilgrimages, Others

May 19, (THEWILL)- In a nation plagued by economic woes, crumbling infrastructure and a plethora of challenges that demand urgent attention, it is egregiously unacceptable for any government, federal or state, to divert scarce public funds towards sponsoring religious pilgrimages or other religious activities for citizens.

The recent revelation by Vice President Kashim Shettima that the current administration has allocated a staggering N90 billion to subsidise the 2024 Hajj pilgrimage is not only a flagrant violation of Nigeria’s secularity but also a stark betrayal of the government’s responsibilities towards its citizens.

Both federal and state governments funding of personal religious pilgrimages and faith-related activities have been ongoing for decades since the military era in a clear violation of the constitution.

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Nigeria, by constitutional mandate, is a secular state, which means that the government is prohibited from adopting or favouring any religion. Section 10 of the Nigerian Constitution explicitly states, “The government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion.” It simply means that public money cannot be spent on anything that has to do with personal faith or religion. By channelling public funds towards sponsoring religious pilgrimages, governments are not only contravening this fundamental principle but also demonstrating a concerning disregard for the diverse religious landscape of the nation.

I want to state that I respect the right of every citizen to practice and worship God in their chosen faith. This is indeed a fundamental universal right. For clarity, I am a Christian and think it is wasteful and unconstitutional to deploy state funds for any religious activity or to build places of worship, be it church, mosque, synagogue, temple or shrine.

The expenditure of trillions of naira in subsidies for personal religious pilgrimages either to Jerusalem or Mecca is a slap in the face of the millions of Nigerians grappling with the ravages of poverty, lack of access to quality education and healthcare, dilapidated infrastructure and the ever-present spectre of insecurity. This colossal sum could have been employed to address critical developmental issues that plague the nation, yet it has been diverted to facilitate the religious obligations of a select few.

A retrospective glance at the government’s long-standing practice of subsidising pilgrimages reveals a pattern of misplaced priorities and squandered resources. Over the years, staggering amounts have been poured into this endeavour, with states like Kano admitting to spending N1 billion annually on Hajj sponsorship alone. In 2017, it was estimated that a minimum of N136.5 billion was spent on pilgrimages by state governments despite the nation’s economic recession at the time.

This trend of profligacy persisted even during the COVID-19 pandemic, when the Federal Government allocated N2.6 billion in the 2021 budget for the activities of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission. Such allocations defy logic and demonstrate a profound disconnect between the government’s actions and the pressing needs of its citizens.

The funds squandered on pilgrimages could have been channelled towards addressing the nation’s crumbling infrastructure, which has been a perennial blight on Nigeria’s development. Imagine the impact N90 billion could have had on constructing and maintaining roads, bridges and transportation systems, facilitating economic growth and improving the quality of life for citizens.

Moreover, these funds could have been invested in bolstering the nation’s ailing education and health sector. The construction and equipping of schools, hospitals, the provision of essential learning materials, and the training and remuneration of teachers and healthcare personnel could have been a game-changer for the country’s youth, who represent the future of the nation.

Furthermore, channeling these monies towards infrastructural development, job creation initiatives, and the promotion of small and medium-scale enterprises could have provided a much-needed economic boost, empowering citizens and fostering an environment conducive to sustainable growth and development.
It is unconscionable for a nation grappling with such profound challenges to prioritise the sponsorship of religious pilgrimages over the well-being of its citizens. The government’s role is to serve the collective interests of the people, not to subsidise individual religious obligations that primarily benefit the economies of other nations.

The time has therefore come for our governments to reorient its priorities and focus its efforts on addressing the myriad challenges confronting the nation. It is incumbent upon the leadership to uphold the secular principles enshrined in the constitution and disentangle itself from the realm of religious affairs.

The government’s mandate is to govern effectively, foster economic development, and ensure the well-being of all citizens, regardless of their religious affiliations.
Rather than subsidising pilgrimages, governments should direct resources towards creating an enabling environment that allows citizens to fulfil their religious obligations without burdening the public purse. Continuing on this road is a stark reminder of the disconnection between the government’s priorities and the pressing needs of its citizens.
It is now time for governments to hands off religion and face governance squarely, addressing the nation’s developmental challenges with unwavering commitment and resolute action.

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