The Lagos State government saved a total of N4.5billion in the last three years as a result of the decision of Governor Akinwunmi Ambode to stop the sponsorship of people for religious pilgrimages to Israel and Saudi Arabia, Commissioner for Home Affairs, Dr Abdulhakeem Abdullateef has said.
Speaking on Monday at the annual Ministerial Press Briefing to mark the third year in office of Governor Ambode’s administration held at the Bagauda Kaltho Press Centre in Alausa, Abdullateef said funds saved from the development had been diverted into the construction of roads and other amenities to make life easier for residents.
“You see, yearly in the past before the present administration came on board, the State Government spent an average of N1.5billion to sponsor people to pilgrimage free of charge. But since Governor Ambode decided to stop the sponsorship of pilgrimage, we have saved N4.5billion in the last three years and the Governor has not changed his mind with regard to sponsorship of pilgrimages.
“What the Governor has said and we have been doing is that the State Government will provide for the welfare of the pilgrims; support them with medical tips; support them with clerics who would guide them to ensure that they are focused on the spiritual objectives of the pilgrimage and not something else.
“So far, the funds saved from this have been deployed for the construction of roads and other amenities to make life easier for residents,” Abdullateef said.
While alluding to the fact that some property owners were now converting their residential buildings into religious centres in order to avoid paying the Land Use Charge, the Commissioner warned those indulging in such to desist, saying that it was important for all to operate within the ambit of the law.
He said: “Do not convert your residential premises to religious premises. Many do that for the sake of being protected from paying their Land Use Charge and that will not be tolerated. Whatever we want to do, let us keep ourselves within the ambit of the law.
“As for those who are combining their residences with mosque or church, we are not going to demolish but what we said is that all residential premises are subject to Land Use Charge and so when officials of government come, don’t claim there is a mosque on the grand floor.
Always know that as soon as your property is declared a residential block, you will pay Land Use Charge.”
The Commissioner said the State Government, through the Ministries of Home Affairs and Physical Planning, had also commenced moves to address the conversion of residential buildings to religious centres via engagement.
“It is a violation of the State regulations for residential buildings to be converted into religious centres. When a building is approved for a purpose, it is an aberration for you to now convert it into something else without the approval of the Ministry of Physical Planning.
“Recently, the Commissioner in the Ministry came to our Ministry and met with Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) to devise new means of engaging religious leaders so that they will not unnecessarily violate the State building regulations,” Abdullateef said.
On noise pollution, the Commissioner said the Ministry had been working in concert with the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) to address the menace especially through engagement with religious leaders.
“LASEPA is in charge of pollution generally but because we are very close with religious organizations, we work closely with LASEPA and so whenever there is any report of noise pollution by any religious body, just let us know in the Ministry of Home Affairs and we will deploy NIREC to address the situation immediately.
“What the Governor has done with NIREC is that it is not only about enforcement but engagement. When we engage them, we are able to sit down with them and through that we get a lot of result than just charging them to court or sealing their premises. We have worked effectively through NIREC to ensure that those ones who are creating nuisance in their environment are called to order and so whenever we have such cases; residents are enjoined to let us know in the Ministry,” the Commissioner said.
While reeling out achievements of the Ministry in the last one year, Abdullateef said through deliberate policies, the government was able to record high level of unprecedented peace and harmonious relationship amongst diverse groups, while a total of 13, 000 religious institutions were registered in the period under review, just as he urged others to register with government as it was at no cost to them.