Nigeria’s Churches, Police, Others up Against COVID-19
By Ralph Madugu
As the highly contagious coronavirus spreads around the world, governments and religious bodies have virtually abandoned their daily lives and led tens of thousands of people into quarantine, thereby placing Nigeria on the edge.
As part of efforts to curb the spread of COVID-19, which has been declared a global pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO), governments, corporate and religious organization are not leaving anything to chance as far reaching measures were being put in place to protect citizens.
Checks by this magazine show that most churches have been adhering to government’s restrictions and other guidelines. They have also put in place preventive measures to stop the spread of the virus.
In his message to ECWA President, Rev. Stephen Panya Baba, instructed pastors and members in Nigeria and beyond to obey directives issued by governments and their agencies.
He advised them to devise creative ways to conduct worship and fellowships within the guidelines given which, according to him, included the use of zonal fellowship centres for Sunday worship and the decentralization of congregations into sizeable numbers, among others.
The cleric maintained that we were living in very trying times which had been worsened by the coronavirus pandemic and harped on the need for constant prayers for God’s intervention.
Said he: “Meanwhile, as God’s children, let us not fear or panic, because He has promised never to leave us nor forsake us, for nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus.
“Also, as fallen people, living in a fallen world, and are subject to authorities in our various countries of citizenships, let us obey authorities, especially in regards to guidelines and physical measures that are being put in place in a bid to stop this plague for our common good and benefit. Common sense is a blessing from God and it is common sense at this time to pay more attention to our personal hygiene, including frequent washing of hands and the use of sanitizers as often as possible, in order to protect ourselves from being infected.”
In a related development, the leadership of the Church of Christ in Nations (COCIN) has suspended all church activities including Sunday services to curb the spread of the coronavirus.
A circular issued by the General Secretary of the COCIN, Rev. Dr. Amos Mohzo, to all COCIN churches and headquarters staff directed that all Sunday services should be held at zonal fellowship centres or prayer houses and cells with not more than 50 members in attendance.
The circular read in part: “Sunday services will be carried out at zonal fellowship centres or prayer houses and cells, where you have more than 50 members at the prayer house and cells, it should be split into more cells.
“All services (Bible Studies, Midweek prayers) shall be supervised and coordinated by the Pastors and ordained Pastors/Elders.
“Churches should make provision for hand sanitizers at strategic places within Church premises.
“All major gathering by Church Groups are hereby suspended.
“Both Pastors and members should avoid unnecessary travel for now.”
A memo released by the Redeemed Christian Church of God stated that, in line with the directive from the government, the leadership instructed parishes with an average attendance of 50 members or less to hold services without any alteration or changes.
Parishes with above 50 members were directed to use of their House Fellowship centres to run simultaneous services with the main church.
The memo read in part: “We refer to the directive from the Lagos and Ogun State Governments placing a ban on all religious meetings and gatherings of more than 50 worshippers in Lagos, as part of the precautionary steps towards managing the further spread of the corona virus disease. Kindly be informed that this arrangement shall be in operation for the next few weeks, based on the position of government.”
Disturbed by the growing number of confirmed cases of the COVID-19 in the country, the national body of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) declared a 2-day national prayer against the threat posed by the virus.
A terse statement signed by Pastor Bayo Oladeji on behalf of the CAN National President, Rev. Dr. Samson Ayokunle, advised churches to comply with the ban on congregational services involving more than 50 worshippers.
The statement said: “CAN calls on all churches in the country to set aside Sunday 22 and 29th March 2020, apart to pray for an end to Coronavirus, COVID-19, pandemic in Nigeria and the all over the world.
“Our prayers should be as follows: That God should stop the spread of Coronavirus in Nigeria and all over the world; protect Nigerians from this disease; and heal those who have been infected already.”
Also, the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) endorsed the ban imposed by the Lagos and Ogun state governments on public gatherings in their respective domains.
PFN National President, Rev. Felix Omobude, described the measure as a welcome development, adding that if the government was taking measures for the benefit of the people, he was in full support.
He noted that the health of Nigerians was of paramount importance, hence the need to support any move that would sustain it.
On its own part, the Methodist Church declared that the COVID-19 virus was not only a threat to human existence but a ruthless challenge to Nigeria’s corporate existence.
Bishop Samuel Emeka Kanu, Prelate of the Methodist Church, said, “As a leader of the people called Methodists in Nigeria, I, therefore, direct as follows: That services in all our churches will continue unrestricted as sanitizers shall be provided at the entrance of our churches.”
The Lagos West Diocese of the Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion) decided to make some adjustments to its mode of worship.
A memo signed by Abiade Adeniji, Administration Assistant to the Bishop of the Diocese said: “The relationship between the State and the Church must be maintained, at all times.
“In view of the above, I have been directed by the Lord Bishop to inform you of the need for all priests in the Diocese, to adhere strictly to the following, with immediate effect: Parishes must provide water and soap for the washing of hands; sanitizer should be provided, and all members should be encouraged to maintain high standard of personal hygiene.”
Since Nigeria recorded its first case of the disease, the Catholic Church in Lagos suspended handshakes and use of holy water fonts indefinitely as part of preventive measures.
In a statement, Alfred Martins, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos explained that the decision to indefinitely suspend some of the church’s traditional practices was “in the light of this present circumstance.”
He announced that Stations of the Cross, which were usually done in public, would henceforth be conducted privately to reduce the number of gatherings in churches.
The archbishop encouraged church members to have handy sanitizers as communion would now be received on the palm.
He explained: “The shaking of hands during the time for the Sign of Peace during Mass is suspended for the time being.”
“During this season of Lent, in order to reduce the number of gatherings in Church to the barest necessary, we encourage people to do Stations of the Cross privately on Wednesdays while public celebrations will take place only Fridays especially as it is often followed by Mass.
“Communion, for the time being, shall be received on the palms. People are encouraged to have Hand Sanitizers handy to be used as and when needed.
“The use of Holy Water fonts in churches and public places should be suspended till further notice. May the Lord deliver us from this plague and all evils.”
Meanwhile, the Plateau State Government has announced the closure of public and private schools in the state in line with efforts to nib the spread of the COVID-19 virus in the bud.
A press statement signed by the Secretary to the Government of Plateau State, Prof. Danladi Atu, stated that the closure order affected all pre-primary, secondary and tertiary institutions in the state.
Part of the statement said: “The decision became unavoidable because of the world spread of Covid-19.
It is therefore imperative for government to adopt this and other measures to safeguard lives.”
A circular addressed to Zenith Bank Plc customers, signed by the Group Managing Director and Chief Executive, Ebenezer Onyeagwu, titled, “COVID-19 Control Measures,” announced the suspension of all international travels for official assignments by its staff and advised them not to undertake any personal overseas trips at this period.
The circular read: “This is to assure you that the Bank is strictly following the health and safety recommendations of the World Health Organization (WHO) and the health authorities of the different jurisdictions in which we do business.
“As we monitor the state of affairs concerning COVID-19, it is important to let you know that we have enforced the following: Staff who have returned to the country from vacation or personal trips overseas in the last one week and those returning are to self-quarantine for a minimum period of 14 days before returning to work.
“We are aware that physical cash handling increases our vulnerability and makes us more susceptible to transmitting bacteria and viruses, therefore we advise that you limit physical cash handling and the use of ATM at this time. We recommend the use of our digital and electronic channels as stated below for your transactions.”
In a related development, the Inspector General of Police, Mohammed Adamu, has cautioned Nigerians against what he described as social visits to police stations and other police offices as the confirmed cases of the corona virus rose to more than 40 in the country.
In a statement in Abuja, the IG also instructed members of the public to adhere to guidelines issued by the government against the spread of the COVID-19 in the country.
The statement said: “The IGP while urging officers to observe personal safety measures, further directs the Zonal AIGs and Command CPs to ensure that cases of unnecessary arrest and detention of suspects are not condoned.
“He reiterates that the detention of suspects must be reduced to the barest minimum and that only very serious cases such as terrorism, armed robbery, homicide and other non-bailable offences should warrant detention.”