With the recent government guidelines on the reopening of churches and mosques across the country, Nigerians will, once again, embrace congregational worship after two months of Coronavirus-induced lockdown. According to the guidelines, the churches and mosques must have attendance register for easy contact tracing. They must also ensure supply of running water and soap as well as sanitizers at entry and exit points in all high contact locations, including bathrooms.
The worship centres are equally enjoined to ensure social distancing before and after worship as well as frequent cleaning and disinfection of places of worship. They should also keep detailed records of their worshippers, including contact addresses. Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF) and Chairman, Presidential Task Force (PTF), Boss Mustapha, who made the disclosure, added that worship centres that are not able to comply with these measures should not be allowed to operate by state governments. According to him, the guidelines were developed by the PTF in liaison with the leadership of religious communities in the country to serve as a baseline for states to allow these activities. They are aimed at ensuring stricter enforcement of the laid down rules put in place to stem the spread of the pandemic. The guidelines allowed the states to determine when and how religious activities should take place in their domains.
Lagos State has slated Friday, June 19 for reopening of mosques while churches will follow suit on Sunday, June 21. While lifting the ban on religious activities in the state, Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu said: “We will also be advising that there should only be mandatory Fridays and Sunday services. All other night vigils and services must be put on hold for now until we review our current situation.” He added that persons below the age of 15 should be excused from the places of worship, while those above the age of 65 should not be allowed into these places of worship. No worship centre should exceed 40 per cent of its capacity at each service. In other words, worshippers at each service should not exceed 500 people. Interestingly, the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Kwara, Ogun and other states have also announced dates for resumption of activities in worship centres.
After the initial four-week lockdown on the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Lagos and Ogun States, from March 30 to April 28, the President had reviewed the situation and announced phased relaxation of some of the restrictive measures to open up the country’s economic and social spaces, while maintaining steady response in containing the virus. The first phase took effect from May 4. The measures unfolded included mandatory use of face masks and nationwide curfew from 8pm to 6am, with only essential travel allowed during the 10-hour period. After two weeks of the exercise, the president approved an extension from Monday, May 18 to June 1, 2020. The current guidelines that affect the churches extended the curfew from 10pm to 4.am. The aim is to sustain the strategies and campaigns at containing the spread of the virus.
We welcome the president’s approval for states to decide on the reopening of the worship centres based on their individual environments and peculiarities. We also add that places of worship that are not able to comply with the guidelines should not be allowed to operate.
Due to the nature of religious congregations, they have greater potential for spreading the pandemic amongst worshippers. Chances of person-to-person contacts are high in the centres. Therefore, all hands must be on deck to ensure strict implementation of the guidelines. There should be no room for complacency or flouting of any of the measures. The consequences of not complying with the guidelines could be dire.
Any religious organisation that flouts the directives should be dealt with according to the laws of the land. Any lapse at this stage could be costly to the nation and the citizens. We urge the police to guard against the violation of the guidelines.
We call on the state governments to cooperate with the PTF in this regard. Any directive contrary to those given by the Task Force in tackling the pandemic will be counter-productive. This is not the time for populist and partisan postures. There is no doubt that a resurgence of the disease may result to another lockdown. This will have more impact on the already battered economy. We enjoin the worshippers to be in the forefront of the fight against the pandemic. Any worship centre that cannot keep to the guidelines should continue with the virtual mode of service.