Onyebuchi Ezigbo in Abuja
The Nigeria Christian Pilgrims Commission (NCPC) has expressed optimism that the country will be able to commence direct flight operations to airlift thousands of Christian pilgrims to Israel next year.
Presently, Christians pilgrims going to the Holy Land are made to fly to either Turkey or Jordan before boarding a connecting flight to Israel.
As such, the pilgrims are subjected to harrowing experience of double security checks and longer hours of flight to Israel.
NCPC said the reason for not flying Nigerian Christian pilgrims directly to Israel is due to non-existence of a formal bilateral air travel agreement between both countries.
However, the Executive Secretary of the NCPC, Rev. Uja Tor Uja, who spoke exclusively to THISDAY in Abuja at the weekend, said efforts were being made to negotiate the remaining part of the bilateral air travel agreement between Nigeria and Israel.
According to him, “The process is ongoing, and from what the Ministry of Aviation told me, the Basa agreement is likely to be implemented in 2020.”
Uja explained that apart from the bilateral agreement, there are ongoing discussions between Nigerian aviation officials and their Israeli counterparts to address the security concerns.
The commission boss said: “As you know very well, Israel has three priorities in their national life; the first one is security. The second one is security and the third one is security. So they want to be sure that people coming to Israel from other countries are people with genuine mission, and that they would not be part of their security problems. So they have been networking with the Nigerian Government to discuss all this. Of course Nigeria is also concerned about its own security. We will ensure that before the end of the year that the agreement and details would have been finalised, and by 2020, there would be the first direct flight from Nigeria to Israel and back.”
Meanwhile, as part of preparations for the 2019 Christian pilgrimage exercise to Israel, Rome or Greece, the pilgrims commission held a selection/examination at the weekend in the six geo-political zones across the country.
A statement issued on last Friday by the Head of the Media Relations Department of the NCPC, Mrs. Mary Gana, said the medical team of the pilgrimage comprises medical personnel who would be deployed in batches to accompany the pilgrims and attend to their medical needs during the programme from October to December this year.
Uja stated further that the selection of medical team would be based strictly on merit with the best candidates selected from each state.