Jerusalem Pilgrims: Wailing for an Ailing Nation

by Sheyi Oriade

Never having been to Jerusalem or Mecca or for that matter to any of the other ‘holy places’ scattered across this largely unholy world, one wonders, in contrast to those who have gone and done obeisance in such places, what effect – epiphanic, redemptive, reformative, transformative or cathartic – that visitations to such places have on their visitors.

It is common knowledge that recently much of the executive branch of the Nigerian government relocated to Israel to undertake a widely publicised spiritual/secular pilgrimage. Colourful snapshots of which were circulated courtesy of the Social Media/Information Unit of the presidency. As a courtesy – I presume – to the Nigerian viewing public; to enable them to participate digitally and vicariously in the president’s pilgrimage. Several photographic images capturing the president and his posse of political and religious brethren in reverent and exuberant poses; doing obeisance and genuflecting in various ‘holy places’ were liberally distributed. Although none of the snapshots featured the pilgrims posing or reposing in the Holy of Holies. This is not altogether surprising, since access to inner sanctums is strictly restricted to those with pure hearts and clean hands.

Nonetheless, notwithstanding their restriction to the Outer Courts, the joy on their faces seemed other-worldly. Moving as they did in rapture, from ‘holy place’ to ‘holy space’, retracing the footsteps of the exemplar of the Christian faith; in the territory in which he was born, undertook his ministry, suffered crucifixion and achieved resurrection; and thereafter departing to the hereafter. One wonders what impact the spiritual symbolism of the trip had on the presidential pilgrim party. Did it achieve the required redemptive resonance in their hearts? And are they now minded to mend and amend their ways?

Although one is dubious about the necessity of seeking salvation or absolution for one’s shortcomings in far flung lands; whether such lands be in the Middle, Near or Far East. Since the Most High is omnipotent as well as omnipresent. One wonders to what extent these religious expeditions abroad are a direct corollary of the rapid morphing of religious houses in Nigeria into currency exchanges, overseen by clerics more adept at corrupting, rather than converting souls under their charge. They primarily pursue a pastime of procuring, purloining and possessing the proceeds of parishioners’ purses and pockets, rather than promote proper pastoral purposes. The position is further compounded by the fact that our indigenous religious, traditional and cultural norms, no longer seem to possess the efficacy to reform and transform society, much less the political class.

So, if one accords to the president and his posse of co-pilgrims the benefit of the doubt, that their visit to the ‘holy land’, apart from its bilateral political aspects with the State of Israel, was driven by a desire on their part to seek redemption abroad. One does hope that the significance of the trip was not lost on them. That the land upon which they trod was also trod upon millennia before them, by various prophets, priests, disciples and Christ himself. Generations of selfless men and women dedicated to the service of others, whose trust they rarely betrayed, often sacrificing themselves for their benefit. In the hope that their converts’ earthly pilgrimages would become more tolerable and that they would thereafter achieve a better existence in the hereafter.

Considering the wide publicity given to the pilgrimage, one suspects that against the religious backcloth of the trip, there was also an overriding political calculation preoccupying the minds of the politically savvy in the pilgrim party. To wit, that the trip was an unprecedented photo opportunity. Aware, as they must have been of its potential to generate political capital amongst the teeming millions of Nigerians who subscribe to the religious philosophies evolved in that geographical space millennia ago. And in whom the images were likely to evoke favourable sentiments. Sentiments, which if carefully cultivated, could be converted into votes at the next general election. The battle lines of which, are not only being drawn, but have already begun to crystallise around strong religious themes. So it would seem remiss of any self-serving politician of any religious persuasion not to play the religious card – overtly or covertly – ahead of those elections.

It may seem odd to some, but one must commend the compiler of the list of pilgrims, for his inclusion within it, of certain political functionaries. It seems that his compilation was influenced either – consciously or subconsciously – by the awareness that many in the government/ruling party needed redemption, reformation and immersion in the River Jordan. What a shame it is, that room was not found within the cohort of pilgrims for many opposition politicians of shared religious persuasion. Like their political counterparts in the national ruling party, many also require redemption and reformation. Having missed inclusion in the president’s pilgrim’s party, they will have to make do with the pilgrimage experience of their political peers who hold frequent flier miles to, and from, Mecca.

But back to the actual pilgrimage; in one’s opinion, the most arresting snapshot of the pilgrimage was the image of the president in a yarmulke (his ever present fedora given a well deserved rest for a change!) standing before the Wailing Wall in fervent and fevered supplication. One wonders, what formed the substance of his petitions? Was it for the salvation of his nation? Or did he wail for the renewal of his electoral mandate? Or did he petition for the electoral annihilation of his disloyal party members? Or did he wail for the ailing state of Nigeria? Or was his cry of a more personal nature? One can only wonder.

It is a shame that Syria is presently at war with itself. Had it not been, it would have been wonderful for the president’s pilgrimage to have taken him down the road to Damascus. One wonders whether he, like Saul, would have undergone a Damascene conversion. Would a bright light have shone down from above? Would a voice have admonished him to stop kicking against the pricks, especially the disloyal pricks in his political party? Would the scales have fallen off his eyes too? And would he have become properly sighted to see, address and redress the pitiful plight of his people? One can only wonder.

One can also only speculate as to the effect the Jerusalem pilgrimage had on the president. Was it epiphanic, reformative, transformative or cathartic? But regardless of the effect, one does hope that he at least caught a glimpse of redemptive light while on it; and that that light inspires him to begin to reform and transform his wailing and ailing nation.

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