John-Kennedy Opara, the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission, said on Tuesday that the direct transportation of pilgrims from Nigeria to Israel would commence in March 2014.
Opara, who made the disclosure in Abuja on Tuesday at a News Agency of Nigeria Forum, added that the agreement had been activated and the full implementation was in progress.
He said: “As per time, we are trusting God that may be this Easter pilgrimage we should have direct flight to the State of Israel.
“We are working on that with our airline.
“I am sure with the help of the Honourable Minister of Aviation and other stakeholders, God will help us.
“BASA is one of the gains of Mr. President’s trip to the State of Israel.
“BASA will not only help the pilgrims, it will help Nigerians who are doing business in Israel, it will open business channels.”
A Bilateral Air Service Agreement was signed by officials of both countries during the 2013 pilgrimage.
Opara said that the commencement of direct flight operations would boost pilgrimage and improve business transactions between both countries.
The scribe said that pilgrimage and other relations between both countries would never be the same again, adding that over 30,000 Christians were expected to participate in the three categories of the pilgrimage in 2014.
These are Easter pilgrimage in March/April, Family pilgrimage in August and the regular package in October 2014.
Opara said that cost would be reduced and travel stress would also be minimised when both countries implement the agreement.
On the operations of the commission in 2014, Opara said that efforts were in top gear to reduce the long distances prospective pilgrims travel to designated airports before travelling to Israel.
The executive secretary said that the commission was liaising with some state governments to ensure that pilgrims would be transported from airports closest to them.
He said that the pilgrims would now take less hours to reach their take-off points, adding that the improvement will reduce the stress involved in the spiritual exercise.
Opara said: “Because of the challenges they have, travelling long distances is not easy for them but we are also trying to bridge the gap.
“By God’s grace this year, we are going to use most of the airports.
“As far as we are concerned, once the airport is okay, we would use them so that it will reduce the travelling time of the pilgrims.”
Opara said that the commission intended to embark on sensitisation drive to encourage more families to take advantage of the family pilgrimage package in August 2014.
He said that more Christians in positions of authority would be encouraged to support the less privileged in their domains to fulfil their aspiration of embarking on pilgrimage.
The Executive Secretary said that the target of the commission in 2014 would be to increase private sponsorship from 20 per cent to 40 per cent.