DG Budget Office, Ben Akabueze
Despite the ravaging COVID-19 pandemic, the federal government has voted a whopping sum of N2.6 billion in the 2021 budget for agencies responsible for Islamic and Christian pilgrimages.
Civil society groups have fiercely kicked against the proposal contained in the 2021 budget published on the website of the Budget Office of the Federation.
In the proposal, the government said it has set aside a total of N2.6 billion it plans to spend on the programmes and activities of the National Hajj Commission of Nigeria and the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission for the year.
The two agencies are responsible for the religious interests of the Muslims and Christians, including the facilitation of annual pilgrimages by adherents of the two religions to Mecca and Jerusalem respectively.
Although Nigerians have repeatedly condemned the continued use of public funds by the government to finance what they consider a purely private affair, successive administrations have continued to make provisions in their annual budgets.
However, concerned civil society groups have asked the National Assembly to demonstrate patriotism and refuse to approve such proposals in the 2021 Budget, in view of the need by the government to conserve funds to finance more pressing public needs.
“With shrinking revenues to meet priority programmes and activities, the government must cut down drastically on identified areas of wastage and frivolities in the system. One area of such needless wastage is using public funds to finance strictly private religious activities,” Raphael Uchenna, an Abuja based legal practitioner, told PREMIUM TIMES on Wednesday.
The initial wave of the Coronavirus pandemic, which has so far recorded over 37.7 million cases and claimed over 1,078,860 lives around the world, according to statistics by the Johns Hopkins University, forced most countries to close their borders, to discourage visitors coming to their countries for businesses and other interests.
The decision to lockdown has been identified by experts as one of the practical ways to check the spread of the disease.
Although most countries are struggling to come to terms with the new reality of having to be bound within their borders, others are cautiously reopening their doors, amid fears of being hit by another wave of the pandemic, which many predict, could be more horrific than the first.
Nigeria has so far recorded about 60,430 cases, out of which 1,115 victims have died, with 51,943 recoveries as of Monday, October 12, according to the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)