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Religious Pilgrimages: Is Nigeria A Secular State?


nigerian pilgrims at king abdul azeez international airport, jeddah in saudi

Photo shows Nigerian pilgrims at King Abdul azeez International Airport, Jeddah in Saudi Arabia

Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria as amended states that: “The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion.” Section 10 of the Constitution effectively makes Nigeria a secular state. (Underlining supplied.)

However, in reality Nigeria is anything but a secular state. The federal and states governments have in clear breach of several provisions of the Constitution adopted Islam and Christianity as State religions. There are laws setting up the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria and the National Christians Pilgrims Commission, among others. The governments have also been in the habit of sponsoring pilgrims, subsidising pilgrimages and generally using state funds for purely private affairs in total disregard of the constitutional provisions.

By setting up the Pilgrims Commissions and playing different roles in the attendance of pilgrimages by some Nigerians, the federal and states governments are also in breach of section 42 (1) (b) of the Constitution which provides that: “A citizen of Nigeria of a particular community, ethnic group, place of origin, religion or political opinion shall not, by reason only that he is such a person – be accorded either expressly by, or in the practical application of, any law in force in Nigeria or such executive or administrative action, any privilege or advantage that is not accorded to citizens of Nigeria of other communities, ethnic groups, places of origin, sex, religion, or political opinions.” (Underlining supplied.)

Here is a situation where the different governments are clearly in breach of the Constitution, yet no one seems to care or be bothered. My guess is that because majority of the people belong to these two faiths, then nobody will pay heed to such blatant disregard or contempt of the Constitution. Yet we complain about the lawlessness pervading the land when the various tiers of government exhibit such impunities without qualms.

The National Assembly should immediately repeal the Acts setting up the Hajj Commission and the Christians Pilgrims Commission. The various States Assemblies should also repeal all laws creating pilgrims commissions in their various states. The federal and states governments should follow up and ensure that they do not participate or meddle with pilgrimages in any form or manner whatsoever. Pilgrimages are strictly private religious obligations and should be undertaken solely at the complete expense and instance of the pilgrim.

If the pilgrims need any support for logistics or otherwise, they can organise themselves and set up foundations or any other not for profit organisation saddled with the responsibilities of providing logistic support to pilgrims. The funding of such an organisation will be strictly at the instance of the pilgrims or their various religious organisations.

I am not unaware of the fact that the sponsoring of pilgrimages by governments is part of political tools used by politicians to hoodwink the populace. However, we must do the right things. So long as we have adopted democracy and not theocracy, the government must endeavour to steer clear of religion.

The involvement of the governments in these pilgrimages also leaves room for corruption. There is no transparency regarding those selected for the pilgrimages, as it is also used as a form of settlement for some supporters of those in government.

These pilgrimages are a drain on the purse of the governments. The governments should not fritter away our commonwealth on the excuse of sponsoring pilgrimages. I doubt if anyone has sat down to calculate the costs to governments, over the years, of sponsoring or subsidising pilgrimages. The money wasted in that regard would have been better utilised if directed to primary and secondary education or to health care, which have clearly more tangible benefits.

Ikenna Okoli, FCIArb. LLM (London) is a Legal Practitioner based in Surulere, Lagos  

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