Governor Seriake Dickson of Bayelsa State, has said his administration would no longer support the practice of state sponsorship of pilgrims, who want to fulfil the religious obligation of visiting their respective Holy lands.
The Governor, who made this position clear, while inaugurating a 10-member Pilgrims Welfare Board at the Conference Hall of Government House in Yenagoa, explained that, the decision was necessitated by the current economic realities, facing the country and the state, in particular.
He therefore, urged the Board to reach out to other stakeholders, such as corporate citizens, churches, the government officials and wealthy individuals for sponsorship, as well as sensitise intending pilgrims on the need for them to take responsibility of their spiritual assignment.
Governor Dickson, however, said the administration would continue to maintain the prevailing enabling environment for adherents of Christianity, Islam and other religions to practice their faiths without any hindrance.
While congratulating the Chairman and members on their appointments, the Governor pointed out that, the Board’s duties are to coordinate and organise the activities of pilgrims and enlighten the public, that it is not just the government’s responsibility to continue to sponsor people on pilgrimage.’
His words, “We are a praying and Christian state. But, we also have muslims here. And, all people of faith are at liberty to live in our state and practice their faith without let and hindrance. We give support and encouragement to all.
“We need this Board in place, so that you can as a body, coordinate the activities of all pilgrims, whether they are Christian pilgrims, which majority of our people are, or even the activities of muslims, who are to be supported to perform their obligation of visiting the Holy Land.
“But let me make it clear that the circumstances of our national economy and the realities of our state economy do not support the practice of the state sponsorship anymore. But, we are going to encourage pilgrims from all faiths to be alive to their responsibilities, who may want to visit the Holy Land to do so.”
In his response, the Chairman of the State Pilgrims Welfare Board, ArchBishop Israel Ige described Pilgrimage as a tool for moral transformation and spiritual rebirth, that helps to strengthen the faith of Christians by enabling them to physically confirm the scriptures they read and hear.
Arch Bishop Ige, who is the immediate past Chairman of the Bayelsa Chapter of the Christians Association of Nigeria (CAN), expressed gratitude to the Governor for their appointment, and pledged to carry out the Board’s mandate diligently.
Catechist Aputu John Dan is the Vice Chairman of the Board, while Bishop Ebi Belepeigha is the Secretary with Mrs Pere-ere Koroye, Dame (Mrs) Atonye Barigha and Rev John Lewis to serve as members.
The board, which is expected to commence its assignment with immediate effect, also has Mr MacDonald Osarebie, Alhaji Yakubu Boleigha, Alhaji Kassim Oru, Pastor Dimaro Ayaebi as members.