By; BALA B. BITRUS, Minna.
The decision by the Niger State Government to provide foods and other edibles to all the pilgrims performing this year’s pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia has been criticized by the state’s chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN as a show of over favouritism to the Muslims.
The state government had said earlier during the week that as this year’s holy pilgrimage advances to it’s climax, the state government would provide food rations to all the contingent from the state to avoid cases of recurring food poisoning and associated health challenges as a result of pilgrims eating of junk foods fron roadside food vendors.
But the umbrella body of the Christians in the state in a swift reaction on Friday, condemned the state government for over favouritism to Muslims in the state.
The state government warned all the pilgrims from the state against collecting the free rations of foods (karama), offered as alms and given along roadsides during pilgrimage mostly by Saudi nationals as they are mostly junk and unhygienic.
The state government noted that most of the junk foods freely offered to pilgrims along roadsides often contain certain condiments and spices that may not be good or hygienic hence the warning and the decision to provide the pilgrims from the state with foods and other edibles.
The head of the medical team for this year’s holy pilgrimage from the state, Dr. Baba Uthman who gave the warning, had also cautioned the pilgrims to ensure good sanitary conditions in and around where they are accommodated and avoid littering their environment with filths.
He noted that the overriding need to ensure that no pilgrim from the state come down with any health challenges had informed the state government’s decision to provide foods to the pilgrims from the state.
Dr. Uthman also advised the pilgrims against exposing themselves to excessive heat to avoid exhaustion and break down just as he advised Area Pilgrims Welfare Officers, (APWOs) to keep regular taps on all the pilgrims to know their health needs and report any suspicious condition to appropriate medical handlers.
But the government’s gesture to the pilgrims has attracted a strong criticism from the leadership of the CAN in the state. It said the decision to take over the feeding of the pilgrims from the state is akin to policy summersaults since the present administration had at its inception declared that it would not spend public money to fund religious pilgrimages.
Chairman of the CAN, said the Christian community in the state see the state government’s recent move to provide foods to the pilgrims as not only a reversal of its earlier promise but part of the grand designs for marginalizing adherents of other faiths.
Rev. Matthias Echioda noted that the posture of the present administration in the state had so far showed that the administration is one sided.
He argued that the sudden twist in the government stance was not only an expression of marginalization but even the lopsidedness in the appointments of persons for political offices have been heavily lopsided.
“The recent decision of the government in power in the state to feed those on holy pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia further demonstrates that the Sani Bello led administration is religiously bias”.
Echioda while condemning the governor’s action, argued that a government that glaringly hoist one interest over and above another one, was only promoting division, imbalance, hegemony and religious intolerance amongst the diverse people of the state.
The Press Secretary to the Governor, Jibrin Ndace was contacted on the allegation but did not respond to the short message (SMS) sent to his mobile number.
By; BALA B. BITRUS, Minna.