Plateau State Governor, Simon Lalong on Saturday flagged off the airlift of Christian pilgrims to the holy land from the Jos airport at Heipang .
Speaking at the occasion ,Governor Lalong said ” We are making history here today at the Yakubu Gowon Airport Heipang, as we officially bid farewell to intending pilgrims to the Holy Land for the Christian Pilgrimage.
He said “This is the first time we are flagging off the departure of intending pilgrims to the Holy Land from Plateau State.
The Governor said “I want to convey our immense gratitude to the President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Muhammadu Buhari, for approving that the flag-off for the pilgrimage nationwide be held in Plateau State.
He said that the significance of the flag-off exercise to the State is inestimable because of many factors.
In his words “First, it reaffirms the fact that Plateau State is back to its pride of place as the Home of Peace and Tourism. Secondly, it shows that the efforts of our Rescue Administration in restoring peace, confidence and stability are yielding the desired results.
Lalong added that Besides, the initial plan for direct airlift of pilgrims from Jos was to save our intending pilgrims the rigours of traveling by road to Abuja and other designated take-off points.
“Even as this plan could not be actualised, we are optimistic that this development takes the Yakubu Gowon Airport closer to international service considering that the Federal Government has designated it as one of the Cargo Airports in the country. Hopefully, all the outstanding issues should be sorted out before the next exercise to make the dream of direct flight come true.
“I also wish to specially thank the Honourable Minister for Aviation, Senator Hadi Sirika, the Management and staff of the Federal Airports Authority and all other agencies in the aviation industry for working to facilitate the success of this epoch-making event.
He added that Similarly, I will like to thank the Chairman and members of the Presidential Steering Committee on Covid-19 headed by our brother and friend Barrister Boss Mustapha for assiduously working to contain the pandemic in the country thereby paving the way for the pilgrimage exercise to hold.
” I am told that a total of 600 intending pilgrims will be performing the pilgrimage during this exercise. Out of this number, 200 were carried over from those that were not airlifted to the Holy Land to participate in the 2019 pilgrimage as a result of the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic.”
Lalong who congratulated the intending pilgrims , further said that I congratulate you all on your successful screening which has confirmed your suitability and preparedness to fully participate in this all-important spiritual exercise.
“You should therefore see this as an opportunity to develop yourselves spiritually and draw closer to God.”
” Pilgrimage is not a jamboree or an exercise for frivolity. It is a deeply spiritual exercise that connects people to the Christian faith by offering them an opportunity to see, feel and touch some of the accounts rendered in the Holy Bible. It also enables them appreciate the spirit and letter of the Word of God from historical perspective to present age.”
Unlike previous Pilgrimage exercises which were mainly carried out to the State of Israel only, this year’s exercise will be to the Kingdom of Jordan on account of COVID-19 restrictions, safety concerns and the desire to widen the scope of pilgrimage to other Biblical sides around the world.
“However, we have been assured by the Nigerian Christian Pilgrims Commission that Government carefully chose Jordan in view of the presence of several historic religious sites and phenomena that will inarguably and equally enrich pilgrims’ spiritual experiences.
” You should therefore count yourselves favoured to have this fresh experience that brings another perspective to Pilgrimage and the Bible.
I hope that you will come back with fond memories and experiences that widen your horizon to the truth of the word of God and universality of His love.
“You are embarking on this exercise at a time when the world is passionately fighting the Corona Virus Pandemic which disrupted the exercise in 2019 and 2020. Government has done a lot to enhance the safety of intending pilgrims through comprehensive vaccination and sensitization.”
” While you are on this pilgrimage, you should be mindful that your conduct will either open more doors for others to also visit the Holy Land or close it. In this era of COVID-19, you must adhere strictly to the guidelines outlined by the NCPC and the host country. The COVID-19 pandemic is still prevalent and every caution must be taken to safeguard lives.
The Governor further added that We have also put in place stringent measures to check unwholesome conduct such as abscondment by some pilgrims who use the exercise as a cover for irregular migration.” Let me warn that any pilgrim that is caught trying to abscond will be made to face the full wrath of the law. We shall not take it lightly with those who attempt to bring the name of our State and country to disrepute.
” On sponsorship, I wish to commend those on self-sponsorship for devoting their resources for this all-important spiritual exercise. In fact, because of the current economic situation, the Government cannot always bear the huge burden of sponsoring pilgrims to the Holy Land. ”
That is why we encourage intending pilgrims to save for this spiritual experience and for people who are privileged to sponsor others. Already, the National Christian Pilgrims Commission has created avenues and products that make it easy for self-sponsorship and other forms of assistance to intending pilgrims.
He also said that “Dear intending pilgrims, you are embarking on this spiritual exercise at a time when our nation is in dire need for prayers and rejuvenation because of the myriad of security and economic challenges we face. It is very important that you present our nation before God and solemnly reflect on your role as believers in building a better Nigeria. Indeed, when we turn to God with a sincere heart, our land will be healed. Please pray earnestly for Plateau and Nigeria while you are there.
He commended the Executive Secretary, Plateau State Christian Pilgrims Welfare Board, Very Rev. Fr. George Goshi Gorap and members of his Management Team as well as members of the Committee on the Maiden Flag-Off of Airlift of intending pilgrims to the Holy Land for putting all necessary things in place for a hitch -free exercise.
“Let me on behalf of the Government and good people of Plateau, specially appreciate the Executive Secretary of the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission, Reverend Yakubu Pam for considering Plateau State for this honour of hosting the maiden airlift to the Holy land and also enabling us prove our capacity.
“You have demonstrated that indeed you are an illustrious son of Plateau whose appointment by Mr. President was the right choice. I call on other sons and daughters of Plateau to continue to Think Plateau and Act Plateau by showcasing the potentials of our State and assuring the world that we are open to business.”
The Governor also said that as Governor, he would always support him to ensure that he succeeds in the service to the nation.