The Bayelsa State Government may have restored sponsorship of pilgrims to the Holy Land of Israel and Mecca, three years after Governor Seriake Dickson canceled the government’s sponsorship of Christians and Muslim faithful on pilgrimage.
The reversal followed Dickson’s declaration during a meeting on Tuesday with Christian leaders in the state that he would personally lead a delegation of Christians from various denominations on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land this year.
It was sequel to a request by Arch. Bishop Jacob Akpiri, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Bayelsa State chapter.
The meeting tagged, “Breakfast Prayers With Christian Leaders For Peaceful and Successful Conduct Of The 2019 Elections”, was held at the DSP Alamieyeseigha Memorial Banquet Hall, Government House, Yenagoa, Bayelsa State.
The governor had in November 2016 announced the stoppage of sponsorship of Christian and Muslim pilgrims to Israel and Mecca, saying those who wanted to fulfill the religious obligation of visiting their respective holy lands should fund such.
He stated while inaugurating a 10-member Pilgrims Welfare Board that the decision was necessitated by the economic recession that hit the country.
At the Tuesday event, Dickson explained that he halted the sponsorship of pilgrims to the holy land due to the need to concentrate investments in infrastructure development, such as road construction, education, tourism, hospitals and other key sectors.
He, therefore, mandated the pilgrims board to work out modalities for the 2019 pilgrimage.
He noted that clergymen and women had played critical roles in the development of the state, stressing that the essence of the programme was to interact and propel them to pray for a peaceful, free, fair and credible election in Bayelsa and Nigeria at large.
He thanked the clergy for their fervent prayers for him, his family, his administration as well as the state and urged them not to relent in their prayers for the peace, stability, security and prosperity of the state.
Dickson, who was accompanied by his wife, Dr. (Mrs.) Rachael Dickson, further urged the clergy to ask God to bring forth a worthy successor to him in 2020 to continue with the developmental strides of his government.
According to him, God alone knows who would be his successor, adding that the person might not even know.
The governor also advised youths to shun cultism, drug abuse, political thuggery, violence and other forms of criminality, charging parents and guardians to be alive to their duties of training and teaching their children and wards the right values to make them productive and useful to the society, even ahead of the general elections.
Dickson said, “The chairman of CAN made a prophetic declaration, we shall all go to Israel in Jesus name. And I endorse that. You don’t know why after my first year, I think we approved one or two pilgrimages or so then I looked at it and said no, no, no.
“God will forgive us. God knows that I have to first build the schools, I have a duty to build the hospitals, I have to build the roads, God knows that unless am satisfied with building these key things essential to the developments of our state.
“I mandate the Pilgrims Board to fashion out modalities and design a system and I assure you I will also join you all to the holy land in Israel.
In his remarks, the Arch. Bishop Akpiri said the clergy in the state was happy with Dickson due to his love for God and His servants.
The CAN boss also thanked him for giving them a sense of belonging in the affairs of the state, assuring that, they would moblise their congregation on the need for them to collect their Permanent Voter Cards and vote in credible candidates.
He also assured the governor of the readiness of the clergy to sensitise the citizens to take advantage of the government’s investments in critical sectors like health, education, infrastructural, among others.
By Benaebi Oyinbrakemi Destiny, Yenagoa.