NIGERIA CHRISTIAN PILGRIM COMMISSION: PILGRIMAGE, PEACE BUILDING AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

By Celestine Toruka

The Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), is the apex national regulatory body for Christian pilgrimage in Nigeria. The Commission was statutorily established by an Act of the National  Assembly No. 32 of May, 2007. Its enabling Act empowers the  Commission to organize and coordinate the activities and movement of Christians, who perform Holy Pilgrimage from Nigeria to Israel and
other Holy sites around the world.

The Commission is also saddled with the responsibility of licensing  and regulating the activities of Christian pilgrimage operators in  Nigeria as well as providing conducive environment for the smooth  airlift of Christians to the Holy Land.  NCPC also provides health, financial and security support for  Christians who participate in Holy pilgrimage.  The Commission commenced full operation in 2008 and moved to its  corporate headquarters plot 1348 Cadastral Zone, Ahmadu Bello way,  Garki 2, Abuja, in 2010.  Considering the need to bring Pilgrimage nearer to the people at the  grass root, the NCPC Management in 2011 resolved to decentralize  the administration of pilgrimage by creating zonal offices in the six (6)  geo-political zones of the country.

Presently, the NCPC zonal offices are situated in Yola for the North-  East, Kaduna for the North-West, Enugu for the South-East, Lagos for  South-West, Port Harcourt for the South-South and Gwagwalada for  the North-Central.

Over the Years, Christian pilgrimage has gained ground in Nigeria and  has generated positive debates on various circles. One fact remains  that pilgrimage is a spiritual journey to a sacred place in order to enable the faithful have a deeper understanding of their faith. Every  year, Nigerian Christians look forward to having a personal encounter and spiritual revival with the Lord Jesus Christ in Israel because of the underlying life changing experience embedded in it.

Indeed, the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission (NCPC), has grown in leaps and bounds since its inception in scope from a single pilgrimage destination which is Israel to more pilgrimage destinations that include Greece and Rome.  Aside the expansion of the pilgrimage destinations, the Commission also added and developed more pilgrimage programmes in one  calendar year from a single general pilgrimage of October – December to three more pilgrimage programmes of Easter, Youth and Family pilgrimages.

Also, the number of Christian pilgrimage operators licensed by NCPC has equally increased in recent time from 71 to 113. The Commission has over the years enjoyed maximum support from  the federal government, state governments, churches and well- meaning Nigerians, who have helped to advance the cause of  Christian pilgrimage in Nigeria.

One of the takeaways from this is the fact that Christian pilgrimage in Nigeria has become a model for African countries. Little wonder therefore, that in 2018 a powerful delegation from Ghana Ministry of Religious and Chieftaincy Affairs visited NCPC to under study the art of pilgrimaging and the Ghanaian Minister, Chief KofiDamezi commended the Commission for having the best organized Christian Pilgrimage body in Africa.

The General pilgrimage exercise remains the major pilgrimage plank of the Commission in terms of content and form as it is critical to the survival of the Commission as every of its strategic plan and policy is geared towards actualizing it.There is no doubt that NCPC has advanced the cause of Christian Pilgrimage in Nigeria, especially by making pilgrimage to Israel more spiritual and developmental.

Today, the spiritual content of Christian Pilgrimage in Nigeria is no longer in doubt. Programmes such as ‘a Day with Jesus for Pilgrims in Jerusalem’, ‘the publication of Pilgrim’s Handbook’ and ‘the formation of a Counselling and Spirituality Committee’ to guide and provide leadership for pilgrims while on Holy pilgrimage are pointers to the fact that there is a deliberate and conscious effort by the Commission to make pilgrimage more spiritual.  In fact, the Commission expects every pilgrim who embarked on Holy Pilgrimage to come back more spiritually rejuvenated and transformed
so that he or she can impact positively on his/her immediate environment. Consequently, the money spent in the sponsorship of pilgrims to the Holy land either by the state Governments or private sponsorship is justified because Nigerians are prayerful people who believe tenaciously in the efficacy of prayers.

Furthermore, the Commission is also poised to make pilgrimage more developmental, hence it has developed over the years the developmental content of Christian pilgrimage through the introduction of Agricultural and technological skill acquisition for pilgrims, most especially youth pilgrims through exposition to Israeli technological advancement. The idea behind this is to make Christian Pilgrimage as developmental as possible so that pilgrims who benefited from this programme would replicate the experience back home in Nigeria with a view to becoming self-reliance. This has transformed many pilgrims who are now masters of their own destiny. Indeed, to say that Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission has performed creditable well within these years of its establishment is not an overstatement. The fact is that the Holy pilgrimage to Israel, Greece and Rome has taken a new dimension. It is crystal clear that the well-organized and coordinated yearly Christian Holy Pilgrimage to Israel by the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission is a deserved development which makes it imperative for the Federal and State governments to further give all the necessary assistance and legislative backing to the Commission in carrying out its functions.

The Commission is full of commendation for the Office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation for the support and effective supervisory role on the Commission.  In the same vein, same congenial atmosphere is being replicated in all the states Christian Pilgrims Welfare Boards under the auspices of the Conference of States. The Board and Commission are working effortlessly to ensure that all relevant stakeholders are carried along in the scheme of things as far as Christian pilgrimage is concerned. One of the major strategic partners in our pilgrimage operation is Israel which is our main pilgrimage destination. The Commission is in constant touch with the Israeli authorities in order to constantly assess  development in Israel as it affects the global COVID 19 Pandemic. On coming on board by the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission Rev. Yakubu Pam who is the third substantive Chief Executive of NCPC, assumed office on 7 th July, 2020 with a six-point Agenda to drive his vision and mandate of theCommission.

The six-point Agenda clearly spelt out his road map.
The six-point Agenda of the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission are articulated in the following order: First, on the list of his agenda is to FIGHT CORRUPTION AND ERADICATE IT. He intends to strengthen the procurement process by ensuring that due process is followed and that those who do business with the Commission have confidence in the process and at the same time have value for their money. PEven the visa procurement process for intending pilgrims and stakeholders would be strengthened for efficiency and transparency.

Secondly, he intends to IMPROVE AND LIFT THE IMAGE OF THE COMMISSION. It is an obvious fact that in recent time the Commission’s image was somehow battered. The need to lift and improve the image of NCPC cannot be over emphasized. According to him, “We must restore the image, honour and dignity of NCPC so that our stakeholders will take us serious”.

The laws that established NCPC were designed not only to regulate and facilitate the travels and performance of pilgrims but also to create development and enhance our social thinking. Travelling, generally exposes one to new ideas and broadens one’s horizon. This creates opportunity for the mind to absolve new ideas and rethinks his ways.
Once a pilgrim is able to save and make the pilgrimage, he should on return be encouraged to continue saving this time to enhance his business be it agriculture, or buy tools to enhance his skills or provide better services. So, a pilgrim is not only coming closer to God but also a more cultured and smarter person who now plans for the future
better.

Pilgrimage is once in a life time journey. In putting together little savings over a period of time, the intending pilgrim will learn prudence and will develop the culture of saving for the future.

Therefore, his third agenda is to EMBARK ON REORIENTATION OF THE MINDSET OF THE PEOPLE, particularly our dear intending pilgrims and the Christian Community. Development is the mind that sees and consequently develops the tenacity to pursue progress until it happens. A situation whereby pilgrims would abscond while on Holy pilgrimage will no longer be tolerated. The reorientation of the mindset of people starts from the Church before embarking on Holy pilgrimage.
The mentality of our people about absconding and pilgrimage generally must be changed to make pilgrimage more life transforming. To this effect, the need to introduce a three-day mandatory orientation programme for intending pilgrims by the Commission before airlift
cannot be over stressed.

There must be conscious effort by the Commission to inject a new reorientation strategy of the intending pilgrims by drawing a template that would practically reorient the intending pilgrims to have a sense of patriotism and nationhood which will engender in them the desire to
come back to our country after performing Holy pilgrimage to replicate both the spiritual gains and developmental gains. There is need to build the character of those who perform pilgrimage to the Holy Land. Pilgrimage without character is mere tourism rather it should be spiritually and morally transforming.

Fourth on his agenda is to EMBARK ON RELATIONSHIP BUILDING. This is very imperative because pilgrimage cannot thrive without establishing good relationship building with the Commission’s critical mass and relevant stakeholders. Pilgrimage is about relationship, without having a robust relationship with people how then do we get sponsorship for our pilgrims, therefore relationship is critical to our survival as a Commission.

Fifthly, the Commission would SEEK EFFECTIVECOLLABORATION WITH THE CHURCH so that the Church will take ownership of Christian pilgrimage and be part and parcel of it. The era where the government takes center stage of pilgrimage is over. The Church must work with NCPC because pilgrimage belongs to them. The collaboration between NCPC and the Church must be effective for the Commission to make in roads and be able to achieve its mandate.

Finally, the Executive Secretary plans to CREATE A PEACE DESK IN NCPC, which has already been created and will help to unite the Christians in Nigeria and make the Commission a rendezvous and a rallying point for all Christians in Nigeria. Yes, this may not be in the mandate of the Commission as stipulated by its enabling Act, but Mr. President in his letter of appointment charged the Executive Secretary to continue in his reconciliatory role of peace building which had been his passion prior to his appointment.

So far, Rev. Yakubu Pam has been able to bring a lot of innovations to bear in the affairs of the Commission within a short space of time since his assumption of office. It is instructive to state that Rev Yakubu Pam aside given the mandate of piloting the affairs of Christian Pilgrimage in Nigeria, was also mandated to continue in his predisposition of reconciliatory role in his appointment letter by President Muhammadu Buhari, GCFR. To this effect therefore, he has introduced peace building as part of
the activities and programmes of the Commission. His mediatory role in Southern Kaduna has helped to broker peace in the affected communities in that part of the country. A three Day peace summit was convoked for the de – escalation of crises in the area and the report was submitted to the Governor of Kaduna state, Mallam Nasir
EL–Rufai for implementation. It is indeed instructive to state that this feat was achieved just barely few months of assumption of office.

As part of his six-point Agenda, Rev Pam has been engaging critical state holders on relationship building. He has met with all the states pilgrimage leaders, service providers and Christian Pilgrimage Operators to chart a new course for Christian Pilgrimage in Nigeria. As part of the preparation for the 2020 General Pilgrimage exercise to Israel, the Commission under the leadership of Rev. Pam signed the contract agreement with one Air carrier and two Ground Handlers. Under this new dispensation, the Executive Secretary reinvigorated the yearly sensitization visit to State Governors to thank them and canvass for sponsorship and support for Christian Pilgrimage. Since assumption of office, the NCPC boss has been able to rekindle hope in the workforce of the Commission through improved welfare scheme. Staff of the Commission were trained in Lagos for effective Pilgrimage operations. The Commission also organized a three-day General Staff Retreat in Jos.

Also, about 37 staff of the Commission including a substantive director were elevated to their next grade levels. The administration of Rev. Pam also appreciates the importance of the six zonal offices of the Commission and as such had changed the hitherto quarterly imprest of the zones to monthly basis so that the zones can function optimally. He promised to make the zonal offices more attractive for the staff for effective service delivery. In addition, the Executive Secretary has ensured that all the Zonal Coordinator of the NCPC zonal offices are staff from the same geo- political zones.

As part of the buildup for the 2020 General Pilgrimage Exercise to Israel, Greece and Rome, the Commission inspected about 10 international Airports across the country and met with FAAN officials on how to achieve a hitch free pilgrimage exercise. The International  Airports inspected include: Murtala Muhammed International Airport Lagos, Port- Harcourt International Airport, Akanu Ibiam International Airport Enugu, Nnamdi Azikiwe International Airport Abuja, Gombe International Airport, Kano International Airport, Asaba International Airport, Yakubu Gowon’s International Airport, Jos and Uyo
International Airport.

The Executive Secretary also flagged off the commencement of the 2020 screening exercise for intending pilgrims to Israel with Delta State intending pilgrims in Asaba, so far intending pilgrims from
Lagos, Nasarawa and Delta had been successfully screened while other states screening schedules are being awaited. Just recently, between 8th to 11th February, 2021, the Nigeria Christian Pilgrim Commission organized the maiden, Ministers Conference of Network of Gospel Ministers in Northern Nigeria (NOGMINN), at the
Assemblies of God Church, Hwolshe, Jos, Plateau State.
The NCPC Boss used the platform to urge the church to take ownership of Christian pilgrimage in Nigeria. He equally tasked the church in the north to help restore peace and unity in northern Nigeria. As far as Rev. Pam is concerned, peace is what Nigeria needs now
and Peace is Life.

Written by : Celestine Toruka
Head, Media and Public Relations NCPC.

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NIGERIA CHRISTIAN PILGRIM COMMISSION: PILGRIMAGE, PEACE BUILDING AND NATIONAL DEVELOPMENT.

About The Author
- Studied Mass Communication from the University of Jos. He is a Media Consultant, Journalist, a blogger, public relations practitioner and an advocate for social justice.