The controversy over the recommendation that the government should hands off on all issues of sponsorship of pilgrimage by the National Conference was put to rest yesterday with the adoption of a compromise position of gradual phase out.
Deliberations at the conference were rowdy yesterday when Sola Akomode said in line with the recommendations that government should stop the sponsorship of all pilgrim affairs that it was also necessary that the pilgrims welfare board be abolished.
After several days of horse-trading among the elders from all the geographical divides, the conference resolved that the pilgrims’ welfare boards should be gradually phased out and not immediate abolishment.
The delegates had argued that there would be no need for the existence of the pilgrims’ welfare board, when the Nigeria’s embassies in the holy lands of Mecca and Jerusalem should handle all counselor issues regarding the pilgrimage.
The Vice Chairman of the Conference, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi, while presiding said that after the interventions and submission endorsed by 350 delegates, that it has become imperative to reconsider the report on Religion Committee, chaired by Bishop Felix Ajakaiye and Nurudeen Lemu as co-chairman committee.
Akinyemi urged the delegates to accept the compromise position as a consensus position, as it is in line with the 70 per cent, which was signed by 350 out of 492 delegates with which issues were resolved.
But for a slight amendment in one of the proposals put up by the Committee on Religion, the entire report hitherto set aside for more than one week due to initial dissensions were wholly adopted.
Akinyemi hinted that it was commendable and more progressive to adopt the report the way it was with the slight amendments done, as matters of religion in Nigeria always attracted negative reactions. "We must commend those who sat down to come to this position without rancour on a matter that is as serious as this", he said.
Earlier, Akinyemi had called on Lemu to throw more light on some of the most contentious issues that informed the committee’s report being put "bracket" in the first place.
Lemu said the incessant ethno-religious crisis in Nigeria, though not caused solely by religion, religion is exploited in the course of the crisis and "end up contributing to fueling it beyond control", and the need to forestall this abuse or exploitation have given the impetus to the idea of establishing "a body whose sole responsibility will be the detection of those initial warning signals that could be exploited for instigating religious acrimony and violence among various religious groups in Nigeria".
The committee explained that because Nigeria is a multi-ethnic society, the need for a body to serve as an umbrella all tendencies, ranging from investigation and enforcement of rights to prosecution of offences committed in the name of religion, religious discrimination and victimisation.
The recommendation of the committee reads thus: "Over the years, religion has been employed by mischief-seeking individuals and groups to create tension and provoke crisis amongst Nigerians.
"This underscores the need for a specialised legal/institutional mechanism in form of the Religious Equity Commission (RECOM) to check the abuse of religion and promote the religious rights of all persons in Nigeria as guaranteed by the Constitution".
It would be recalled that the committee had recommended "the apex religious organisations in Nigeria be allowed to handle all matters relating to pilgrimage through the pilgrims commission duly managed by them under a law to be passed by the National Assembly, which will regulate their functions and protect pilgrims".
The committee said, "Without prejudice to this, government, in the exercise of its oversight responsibility to the citizens of Nigeria, shall provide normal consular services for pilgrims through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the established Nigerian foreign mission in the relevant destinations".
Other recommendations contained in the report includes, the amendment of the National Orientation Agency Act to promote national ethics and values of Nigeria through extensive advocacy work in partnership with other civil society organisations. The amendment of section 23 and 24 to make specific mention to the preservation of core national values.
It said the teaching of mother tongue or language of immediate community in schools, the learning of Nigerian history, encouraging excursion to traditional rulers and community leaders in order to show the younger ones to appreciate the cultural heritage of the nation are part of the report.
On poverty reduction, the committee recommended that government should initiate policies to accelerate job creation, payment of unemployment welfare allowances to Nigerians who lack sources of income, which could be time bound and must primarily target women and men who are clearly unable to generate income.
"Nigeria can launch Poverty Emancipation Package to aim at re-integrating the extremely poor from despondency, gradually bring them into the stream of a decent society", starting with 12 million families, with 2 million spread among the geopolitical zones, with each family receiving grants of N5,000 fortnightly or N10,000 monthly on conditions that can be varied.
With the adoption of the report of Committee on Religion, it remains only one contentious issue of Land Use Act for the delegates to resolve.