Amidst the ongoing bloody conflict between the State of Israel and Hamas militant group which has claimed hundreds of lives, the Federal Government has warned Nigerian pilgrims against making illegal and unauthorised trips while in the holy land.
The Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission, Rev Yakubu Pam, handed down the admonition as the Lagos State authorities suspended the planned airlifting of pilgrims in the state on Monday.
Speaking at an orientation programme for the intending pilgrims for the last batch of the Easter pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan, Pam said any pilgrim who engaged in any illegal act would be deported.
“The commission would not hesitate to deport any pilgrim who plans to abscond during pilgrimage,’’ Pam warned.
The orientation programme for the intending pilgrims was held both in Abuja and Lagos, respectively and supervised by the Mobilization Department of the commission.
Pam assured intending consular and self-sponsored pilgrims that their safety remained a “top priority of the commission.’’
He further expressed optimism that the crisis in Israel would soon de-escalate and would afford the last batch of pilgrims the opportunity to visit Israel from Jordan.
Speaking on the security situation in Israel, the NCPC boss stated, “The current fragile security situation in Israel is majorly being felt in Southern Israel, which is not within our pilgrimage circle.’’
According to a statement signed by NCPC’s Head of Media and Public Relations, Celestine Toruka, the executive secretary disclosed that the pilgrims would commence their journey on Tuesday (today) and arrive in Amman, Jordan on Wednesday, where they would spend four days, before proceeding to Israel, “depending on the security situation by then.”
He explained that Jordan is blessed with a lot of biblical Holy sites which encapsulated the old testament while Israel represented the new testament thereby making the pilgrimage experience ‘a complete Bible.’
He hinted that the fifth batch of pilgrims currently undergoing pilgrimage in Israel had successfully crossed over to Amman, Jordan and would arrive in Nigeria on Monday (yesterday).
NCPC allays fear
The statement read, “The NCPC boss also revealed that he was reliably informed that some group of private pilgrims from Nigeria arrived in Israel on 9th October to begin their pilgrimage exercise.
He maintained that the current fragile security situation in Israel was majorly being felt in Southern Israel which is not within our pilgrimage circle.
‘’However, he assured them that their safety is of paramount concern to the commission and that their pilgrimage journey would commence on October 10, 2023 to arrive Amman, Jordan on October 11, 2023 where they are expected to spend about three to four days before proceeding to Israel, depending on the security situation of Israel by then.
‘’Rev. Pam cautioned the intending consular and self-sponsored intending pilgrims to desist from any negative tendencies that might affect the completion of their pilgrimage exercise. In his words, “The commission would not hesitate to deport any pilgrim who plans to abscond during pilgrimage.”
Against the backdrop of the crisis in Israel, the Lagos State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board has suspended the airlifting of the second batch of intending pilgrims to the conflict zone.
The airlifting was earlier scheduled for Tuesday (yesterday).
The Executive Secretary, LSCPWB, Mrs Florence Gbafe, said in a statement posted on the board’s Facebook page, that further information would be communicated to the intending pilgrims as and when due.
Gbafe said, “To all on the second batch of pilgrimage to Israel, kindly note that the pilgrimage is now on hold due to the war situation in Israel. Further information will be communicated as and when due, please.”
She added that the LSCPWB and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission would announce a new date for the airlifting of the second batch of intending pilgrims in due course.
The executive secretary further stated that the Lagos State Government and the Federal Government would continue to prioritise the safety of all pilgrims to the holy land and would not expose Nigerians to any situation that will put their safety at risk.
While thanking God for the safety of the first batch of pilgrims from Lagos State who had already concluded their pilgrimage activities on Sunday, Gbafe said the pilgrims were expected to return to Nigeria later on Monday.
The Osun State Commissioner for Information and Public Enlightenment, Kolapo Alimi, said the state did not have pilgrims in Israel.
According to him, the next batch of pilgrims from the state would travel by December.
He said, “Osun does not have pilgrims in Israel presently. The next batch of pilgrims from Osun will travel by December this year.
A source close to the Ekiti State Christians Pilgrims Board hinted that the state had no plan to suspend the airlifting of pilgrims to Israel.
He said nothing unusual was happening in the Middle East country to warrant the suspension of the pilgrimage.