Boss Mustapha, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, on Tuesday in Abuja, condemned the act of pilgrims absconding in Israel, urged citizens to believe in the greatness of Nigeria.
Mustapha, who was represented by Olusegun Adekunle, the Permanent Secretary, General Services Office, said this at the Strategic Meeting of Board Members with Chairmen and Secretaries of State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Boards, Ground handlers and Air Carriers.
The SGF said that the meeting was to enable the Federal Government and stakeholders to jointly proffer solutions on the attitude and disposition of Christian pilgrims in the Holy Land.
He also cautioned pilgrim officials against conspiring with and condoning the absconders, stating that the officials should see themselves as diplomats.
He said: “Government is concerned about the challenge of absconding recorded by supposed pilgrims in the last couple of years. This sad narrative is giving Nigeria a bad name abroad and makes Christian pilgrimage appear as unserious exercise.
“The Federal Government wants this to come to an end by the combined efforts of Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission and state leaders of Christian pilgrimage as well as other stakeholders.
“Early this year, the Federal Government was compelled to deposit some money with Israeli authorities as a guarantee against absconding of pilgrims in that country.
“This is not an encouraging report for the Christian faith in particular and Nigeria in general.”
He said that pilgrimage should not be seen as an opportunity for anyone to batter Nigeria’s image but to promote it.
Mustapha said that there was so much to benefit from pilgrimage apart from the spiritual blessings that were crucial, other gains included agriculture, technology, security and infrastructure among others.
He commended the NCPC, state government and all stakeholders for their zeal and commitment as Christian leaders at different levels for carrying out Christian pilgrimages successfully over the years.
Earlier, Rev. Tor Uja, the Executive Secretary, NCPC, said that Nigerians must learn to be positive and confident about the country.
He said that citizens had no reason to abscond and live like fugitives in another country “when they are kings in theirs’’.
Uja stressed the commission’s zero tolerance for absconders, stating that thorough screening would be carried out on intending pilgrims at their states, airports and arrival at Israel.
He said: “First step to addressing absconding is thorough screening; intending pilgrims will be screened at their bases, when they get to the airport and on arrival at Israel.
“If we have any doubt about your personality, you won’t be allowed to proceed on the pilgrimage.
“You are free to go anywhere in the world but let pilgrimage not be your vehicle.”