By KATO P. LADAN, Kaduna
There are strong allegations that the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) has embezzled funds of intending December 2017 pilgrims to Israel, leading to cancellations of trips.
A batch that was slated to take-off from Plateau on 23rd December, 2017 were told on the ‘take-off date’ that the trip had been postponed to January. No word came from the Plateau Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board until April 2018; they were told the take-off date for Plateau contingent would be on 8th of May.
Same scenario played out in Benue State, no word since December until April 2018, when they were told the take-off date for Benue State intending pilgrims would be on 28th of the month.
In both states, like other states with spill over victims, none of the prospective pilgrims had been airlifted for the holy trip. None of them can tell why.
One of the prospective pilgrim, Ephraim Justin, said, “I reliably gathered that the Commission has embezzled the money for our Jerusalem trip and they are now soliciting for funds from the presidency.
“At a point in time, the rumour was that some Nigerians have absconded while on the trip in December, and the Israeli government has fined Nigeria, but now you hear nothing. The lies have gone with the wind, what else are they going to tell people?
“The point is, we were supposed to leave in December, what happened that we were not on the December batch again? Someone should tell us what is going on,” he said
Another prospective pilgrim, who wants to remain anonymous said, “The website of the NCPC is silent about our trip, as if nothing is happening, no statement is made on the matter, and there is no reason stated for the postponement, that is my worry.
“You can imagine, I just received a text message on the day we were supposed to travel saying the trip has been postponed to a later date, no reason for the postponement and no date given, you can imagine this kind of childish act,”
Another intending pilgrim, Mr Sunday Chris, billed to travel through Benue State, told our reporter that, “corruption had already eaten deep into workers of the Commission. This is an exercise that is conducted every year, yet no progress is made.
Every year you hear of shift in dates, why? this is an exercise the NCPC can’t conduct without hitches, and yet they pressure the federal government that every Christian pilgrimage trip should be made through the Commission.
“For me Nigerian government should scrape the commission and allow private operators to handle the trips. Every travel agent can put a package together and airlift those interested in going to Israel,” he said.
When contacted, Executive Secretary of Benue State Christian Pilgrim Welfare Board, Mrs. Dorcas Otalu, confirmed spill over prospective pilgrims who should have gone in December, but added that, “the Board is yet to get a date for the trip from Abuja due to logistics issues.’’
The NCPC has not put up any message to explain was has happened or will happen to the prospective pilgrims.
One of the numbers on the website 08037870716 was answered by an official, who would not give his name, despite self-introduction by our reporter.
He also would not give contact of the Commission’s information officer to respond to media questions and allegations by the prospective pilgrims.
He asked the reporter to come to the Commissions head office, “come to our office and we’ll answer your questions.”
When the reporter said he was outside Abuja, he responded that I cannot tell you on the phone.” When our reporter inquired further, he responded, “you can go ahead and do your story, but I can’t give you our media contact on the phone.”
Further investigation is revealing that the current leadership is finding things difficult, including administrative issues – majority of the Board members are new and inexperienced.
A public commentator, Sunday Bala who had his trip to Israel postponed in 2014, condemned the attitude of the Commission and also called for the scrapping of the Commission, “I don’t know why Nigerian government has continually depended on this commission and Boards to convey pilgrims to Israel, in organised countries this activity is carried out by private tour companies and churches.
“We don’t need a Commission to handle this for us, they’ll only continue to promote corruption. What we need is licences issued to tour companies to handle it. The trip can be arranged by the tour companies and can happen at any time of the year not only in December and Easter,” he said.