Nigeria: The Nation's Christian Pilgrims, A Boost to Israeli Tourism - Ambassador

Lagos — Israeli Ambassador To Nigeria, Ambassador Moshe Ram has described Nigerian Christian pilgrims as a boost to Israeli Tourism industry.

Ram made the statement recently when he paid a courtesy visit on the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission(NCPC), Mr. John Kennedy Opara at the Corporate Headquarters in Garki II, Abuja.

Ram described the movement of 20,000 pilgrims from Nigeria to Israel on pilgrimage as a great boost to the economy of his country, especially the tourism industry. He stated that the only steady components that go to Israel regardless of the security challenges is Nigerians. He also disclosed that at a stage in the life of Israel, the economy was at the lowest ebb due to insecurity and lack of peace in the Middle East, but the country had to rely heavily on tourism industry which he acknowledged Nigeria played pivotal role.

Ram described his visit to the NCPC corporate headquarters as long overdue considering the long standing relation between the state of Israel and Nigeria, especially in the area of Christian pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Stating further, Ram thanked the NCPC boss for the great invitation to visit the Commission even as he acknowledged that Israel is very appreciative of the traffic from Nigeria which he described as the largest organized pilgrimage exercise to Israel.

He further described the relationship between Israel and NCPC as very strong.

"it is not a relationship based on mere formal relationship, we feel that the level of relationship of our countries is enhanced by people to people".

Ram further explained that Israel had been able to tackle most of its security problems such as suicide bombings, stressing that the country is very peaceful and friendly for visitors. He assured that the kind of friendship between the two countries will continue to grow from strength to strength.

The Ambassador described Nigeria as a very powerful force to reckon with in Africa, noting that so many Nigerians who come into Israel go beyond routine bilateral relationship between countries. Ram also promised that the state of Israel would do everything possible to ensure that the transportation of Nigerian pilgrims is very smooth while on pilgrimage exercise.

He equally assured that the Israeli authorities would also ensure that any flight that comes into Israel would be very safe and secured because of the security situation.

He charged NCPC to see it as a responsibility to check defection even as he assured the Executive secretary that he would cooperate with the Commission in line with its calendar of activities for the 2011 pilgrimage.

In his remark,, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), Mr. John Kennedy Opara described the visit of the Ambassador as a great thing of joy to him. He thanked His Excellency for all assistance which has made his job easy as the Chief Executive of NCPC.

He appreciated the invaluable role the Israeli Ambassador played in resolving some of the hitches the Commission had with the 2010 pilgrimage exercise, which he said would not have been possible but for his timely intervention. He added that the system would have been impossible in terms of getting visa on time, but the Embassy had also been helpful. "We really owe it a duty to appreciate you, we are very grateful," Opara said.

The NCPC helmsman informed his special guest that the calendar of activities of the Commission was already on course and that the 2011 pilgrimage exercise would commence on October 29, 2011.

He further intimated him that the issue of Bilateral Air Service Agreement (BASA) was very important to both countries and that the President, Dr. Goodluck Jonathan was favourably disposed on getting it resolved. "If BASA is in place, the stress of 9hrs flight will be reduced to 5hrs and we can get Nigeria Air Carrier to fly directly from here to the state of Israel," Opara solicited .He also acknowledged that BASA would certainly reduce the cost of flight.

He told His Excellency that the Commission successfully Airlifted 20,000. Pilgrims to Israel in 2010 pilgrimage Exercise and would increase the number to 30,000 in 2011 pilgrimage exercise. Opara emphasised that among the 20,000 Nigerians that performed Holy Pilgrimage to Israel in 2011 there was no case of defection.

Concluding, Opara solicited the cooperation of the Israeli authorities to extend the same hands of friendship and support to the Commission as it plans a debut to Corinth and Anthens, Greece this year and Rome which is already on board.

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