At a retreat for our senators, recently, there were two different arguments on the issue of government sponsoring citizens of this country on pilgrimages. While one argued that the government has no business sending anybody on pilgrimage, the other argued that only states that can afford it should sponsor their pilgrims.
The issue is more of ethics than anything else. Pilgrimages are acts of worship and therefore personal: it is an issue between every man and his Maker. There is nowhere in the holy books where governments are enjoined by the Almighty to use the common wealth for this purpose. Religion is an act that is of both the heart and the mind, and, since there is no compulsion in it, the use of the common wealth of the people cannot be justified. Much as it is highly recommended in one of the major faiths, it is still a personal thing and should be seen as such.
What is happening in Nigeria today is a misnomer. The act of sending people on pilgrimage using the taxpayers' funds is, to say the least, inconsiderate and immoral. The whole idea is based on politics and deliberate exploitation of the mass of the people.
Feeding on the people's sentiments and deliberately milking them is totally unethical. Politicising religion at whatever level is dangerous and anti-development. The common wealth of the people should be used to develop the society structurally, institutionally, and economically so that both its infrastructure and human resources can comfortably compete with the rest of the world.
When it is argued that those states that can afford it should go on and indulge in it, one questions the thought behind such argument. There is no state in Nigeria that can lay claim to such senselessness. If the argument is religious, as some people will want to assert, then, it makes the case for equity and ethics even stronger. How does one, for example, justify a state with 2 million people deciding to sponsor pilgrims year in, year out? How much and how long will it take to ensure that every one of its citizens benefits from the project? This is very important as it is the yardstick for measuring equity and good governance.
But we know this is not so because, in the midst of near-abject poverty that a majority of our people are faced with, sponsoring them for pilgrimages is a calculated affront on their intelligence and dignity. Surely, we all know that a hungry person is not only angry but is incapable of doing anything meaningful.
What the people need is not for their governments to send them to the holy lands but to provide them with a conducive economic environment so they can be prosperous enough to undertake as many pilgrimages as they want. They do not want a situation whereby they go on pilgrimage only to come back to the same poverty level they left behind. Government at all levels should take the act of governance beyond cheap politicking.