My tale of building NCPC will always excite
No staff, no office, no official car
Today, through some dint of hard work, Opara presides over six zonal offices, with about 148 staff spread across the country, a befitting edifice, housing the commission in Abuja and other developments to his credit.
He reveals the tough task of struggling to get 5,000 pilgrims yearly, over 40,000 presently embark on pilgrimage, even as he revealed that over 87,000 pilgrims had gone through him since assumption of office.
The NCPC chief executive said: “Position of authority comes from the Lord. And when God gives you a responsibility, it means that He wants you to do something different.” And that is the reason he actually set out to do more, as he recalled.
“Like I always say, position of authority comes from the Lord. And when God gives you a responsibility, it means that He wants you to do something different. So, when He gave me this assignment, I first had to go to him in prayers and I said Father, ‘why do you want me here?’ He said: ‘I want you to lead a commission that should be able to carry all the Christians along. A commission that will be so inspiring that every Christian in Nigeria would want to go on holy pilgrimage. A commission of excellence, a commission where you have integrity; a commission where other agencies of government would say we want to emulate you.’ And this is the kind of thing that the Lord wants me to do here and I had to start obeying, as the Lord directed me and lead me.”
Where did you meet this commission?
When I took over this commission, it was at its lowest. As at that time, we were struggling to even get up to 5,000 pilgrims. It was very difficult.
5,000 pilgrims a year?
Yes. But today, if you put both the private operators and the ones that go from the government-arranged pilgrimage, we have over 40,000 people, embarking on the trip per year.
Do you have figures of those who have gone through you?
Through me, we have had more than 25,000 pilgrims and this year, our target is for 30,000 pilgrims.
How many have gone through you since you assumed office?
Since I assumed office in the last five years, we have over 87,000 people that have gone on holy pilgrimage through the commission.
What were the challenges you met on ground?
First, when I took over, there was no office to start with. There was no official vehicle, there was nothing on ground.
There was no official vehicle?
There was no official vehicle. In fact, there was nothing on ground. In fact, to start with, I was staying in a borrowed office given to me by my brother, the chairman of the Hajj Commission. He gave us a flat in their own building to accommodate the Christians. So, it was quite challenging and I tell you, but if not for God and it was an assignment from God, one would have given up hope. But because it was an assignment from God, I saw a larger picture, I saw a greater future, I saw success, I saw God doing something new, I saw God moving in a way that He has never moved before. That was what kept me, that was what kept the commission and we were able to work, bearing in mind that God was actually at work.
How were you able to get fund to arrive at where you are now?
We had to apply to the federal government. They were able to accommodate us in the budget and to the glory of God, two years to our existence, we were able to get about N232 million. The whole of this edifice you are seeing here and all the whole work we did here, this building belongs to the Nigerian Christian Pilgrim Commission. Everything here is N232 million – both the renovation, the furnishing. Everything we did was the N232 million the federal government gave to us. And that was what we used to acquire this building, do the remodeling of the place and the furnishing, to get it to the size where we are. It is really awesome and we thank God for it.
Also, we had to make some appeals. So many of my governor-friends and other people were able to give us vehicles, generators to help us to move, including other stakeholders. And today, when people look at us, they think we just had this things somewhere. But God helped us to be able to get them.
What actually happened that you resumed without an official vehicle?
I always say that responsibility comes with possibility. You know before me, there was no commission. What they used to have was just an ad-hoc committee. Three months arrangement, four months arrangement and there was nothing. I was given the benefit of starting afresh. So, everything was new. At a stage, even to have meetings; where do we keep the federal commissioners, where do they meet? I had just one office and everybody was just coming there. And I didn’t even have a staff. But today, we have the full complement of staff. Today, we have six zonal offices and all of them are functioning and they are doing very well.
What is the total number of your staff ?
I think we have about 148 staff.
Spread across the country?
Across the nation, all the zonal offices; everything is functional and we are working.
With the renewed tenure, what are the innovations you are bringing on your job?
The first thing that happened was when I received the letter from Mr. President, reappointing me for my second tenure. I went to the Lord in prayer. And I asked the Lord, why do you want me the second time? He took me to His Scripture, Haggai 2:8-9. He said the glory of this letter has been created and the former; silver is mine, gold is mine. And when I read that, I said Father, thank you. So, He began to minister to me. Today, I am happy to tell you that the first step we have taken is to introduce the family pilgrimage. In the history of our Christian pilgrimage, there has never been a family pilgrimage where parents will go with their children to go and seek the face of the Lord, will go for divine encounter. But we have introduced that. Few days ago, you saw the take-off of the first set of the family pilgrims embarking on that trip. God willing, I will be joining them to be able to celebrate Jesus, to be able to pray together because the family
that prays together, always stays together. And we are trying to make sure that we bring up our children in the fear of the Lord. If you check the rate of crime today, many youths are involved in crime rate but if we are able to get them to understand that everything starts and ends with God, God will always make a way for them where there is no way, I think it will help us.
How is the Christian pilgrimage different from others?
It is a unique one because you have children that ordinarily in our main pilgrimage, they don’t take part. You have children going with their parents, praying with them, seeing those areas in the Bible.
Like a family trip?
Exactly! Instead of going to America, going to London, they are now going to spiritual sites and they will see the birthplace of Our Lord Jesus Christ and the Bible becomes real to them. So, when you are interpreting the Bible and you say my son, you know we are in Galilee, he will say yes daddy, we saw Galilee; we are in Nazareth, yes daddy we saw Nazareth. It brings the Word of God alive to the children and it will help them morally. Remember that we are using pilgrimage as a tool for moral and spiritual transformation.
You have been visiting governors across the country, including the north. What have you been telling them?
I always encourage them to partner with NCPC to encourage well-to-do Christians to sponsor themselves. I have always told them to encourage other Christians and also, help us to encourage the stakeholders, including themselves, to ensure that they encourage these Christians to embark on pilgrimage because pilgrimage is mainly for those who are spiritually rich but materially poor. But if we encourage them and they are able to go on pilgrimage and they come back spiritually renewed and transformed, they can help the system.
The commission noted recently, the absence of allocation of funds for Christian pilgrimage in some states in the north. Has the situation changed?
I have always said to them to remember that in every state in Nigeria, we have both Christians and Muslims. They make up the state. There is no state in Nigeria where you won’t find Christians. There is no state in Nigeria where you cannot get Muslims. So, if you are a governor, you should see yourself as the father of all. Whatever you do for the Muslims, you should also do for the Christians. For example, at the federal level, whenever Mr. President approves concessional exchange rate of dollar, it is the same to the Muslims. It does not really matter if I am the one that wrote first. If it is my brother, the chairman of Hajj that writes to the President first, he gets the approval and the approval covers me because Mr. President will always say for the Muslims and Christians. So, the concessionary exchange rate of one dollar to N146, is for the two religions. So, instead of you treating the Muslims separately and the Christians separately, no! You
must understand that Nigeria is a very unique country. We must be able to carry both the Muslims and the Christians along.
You visited Governor Jonah Jang recently in Jos where you said he will lead other governors to accompany the President on pilgrimage to Israel in October this year. Why Jang?
Even if you look in terms of age, he should be one of the oldest that they have among all the governors. He is an elder. He is a pastor, he is a leader in his own unique way and we have to give honour to whom honour is due. So, at that level, you should understand that he is one of the great men of God that we have in the country today. I believe that coming from that spiritual perspective, it is important to get a man like that who understands the Scripture, to be able to lead others.
How did you conceive the idea of a Presidential pilgrimage?
For any nation to succeed, the leaders in authority must be able to seek the face of the Lord. For any nation to overcome, the leadership must be able to embrace Him. But for God, Nigeria would not be where we are today. God has been awesome. He has been so merciful and kind to us. So, if we want to get God to move in a special way, Mr. President would have to be the one to lead. Remember that in those days in the Bible, the kings lead while the followers follow. We have to let him understand the spiritual importance of him embarking on a holy pilgrimage. It is not a political jamboree. He is not going on an ordinary visit. And he saw the reason because the Bible made it clear in Zechariah 8: 22-24 that many nations, including Nigeria, of course, shall come to Jerusalem and be blessed. And David said: blessed is the man whose heart is on pilgrimage. That is why if your heart is on pilgrimage, the Bible is clear about it. And he is leading the entire
Christians to go and seek the face of the Lord, to pray. And I believe that it is a good omen for our great nation, Nigeria, and things will happen afterwards.