It is obvious that unless the present lockdown in the country is totally lifted, it will continue to generate hot debates.
Emerging scenarios have shown that as long as there are still restrictions in terms of partial lockdown there will be divergent opinions just as different interpretations in understanding the situation will continue to hold sway.
This was the situation during the week as the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) expressed reservations over the action of some state governments that have continued to disallow the reopening of worship centres, particularly churches.
Recall that the Federal Government had ordered the shutdown of social and economic activities, including churches in March in a bid to contain the spread of the Coronavirus disease.
However, the government has started easing off many of the restrictions starting in May, including the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 directive that religious places can reopen starting from June 1.
But despite the directive, some states are yet to allow the reopening of religious centres, notably Lagos State, which going by statistics is the epicentre of the Coronavirus pandemic in Nigeria.
It will be worthy to mention that the Lagos State governor, Babajide Sanwo-Olu had previously announced that religious gatherings could resume in the state on June 19, but that plan was later suspended due to the rising number of new cases recorded in the state.
Expectedly, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) President, His Eminence, Dr Samson Ayokunle, branded for his uprightness and bluntness in confronting issues that pose danger to his faith head-on is not holding back on the development, which he perceived as a threat to the Christian faith.
Ayokunle had on behalf of the association on Tuesday last week in a statement called on all state governments that are yet to reopen churches under their watch to do so without further delay as the continued lockdown order on places of worship is no longer acceptable and reasonably justified.
The clergyman argued that the leadership of CAN at all levels agreed with the government on the need to close down the places of worship, economy, schools and every other facet of life during the sudden emergence of COVID-19, but that since markets, both organised and unorganized, along with airports are now reopened, it is necessary too to reopen the churches given the spiritual role it will play in the fight against the pandemic which has infected nearly 11 million people globally.
Part of the argument he raised in his statement is: “In what way are the opened and roadside markets more organized than the church which warranted their opening? Is it not our members in the places of worship that do go to markets and other sectors opened?
“Why are they allowed to go to markets and disallowed from going to places of worship? Is it because the marketers cannot contract the virus in the markets and airports?”
Briefing State House Correspondents after the virtual National Executive Council (NEC) meeting presided over by Vice President, Prof Yemi Osinbajo at the Presidential Villa, Abuja on Thursday, July 9, Delta State governor, Dr Ifeanyi Okowa, disclosed that easing off the lockdown and gradual re-opening of the economy was being done under strict guidelines.
On worship centres, Okowa said: “Worship centres have been re-opened with good protocols to be put in place”. But this was never applied across the states of the federation.
Perhaps, the question His Eminence should also be worried about is: “How safe are the churches in terms of applying NCDC guidelines? Are all the churches in agreement in ensuring that all relevant protocols are adhered to?” This is because most churches are known for the convergence of large crowd, who celebrate and share faith closely together unlike the markets where buyers and sellers may be more conscious in applying the COVID-19 protocols.
A highly placed officer in Alausa, the seat of power in Lagos state, who preferred not to be mentioned told Sunday Sun that there was need for the Christian organisation to know that the relaxation of the lockdown is being done in phases following advice taken from consultants who are monitoring the rate of transmission of the COVID-19 disease in the state.
“You can notice that there are still restrictions in some areas. For instance, you will observe that in the workplace there are still restrictions as not the totality of all civil servants are allowed to come to the office because of the likelihood of overcrowding. So also is for the entertainment industry. It will be wrong to misinterpret government’s action on this because we must do all we can to avoid regrets that may arise from loss of lives if we are not careful,” the source said.
Also, Comrade Emmanuel Obong pointed out that part of the suspicion of government’s actions by Nigerians as regards COVID-19 fuss is based on the fact that the government is yet to create massive awareness that will convince the people on the reality of the pandemic.
The truth is that the spread of Coronavirus disease in the country has continued to record significant increase as the latest statistics provided by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) revealed that Nigeria now has over 30,249 confirmed cases.
While over 12,373 cases have been discharged, over 684 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory. The lesson to be learnt from it is that there is a need to tread with caution as it is only the living that can worship God.
Rev Olasupo Ayokunle is currently the 7th president of the Christian Association of Nigeria.
He attended Oniyanrin Baptist Central Day School, Iware Road, Oyo State, got his Bachelor of Science in Sociology from the University of Ibadan in 1983. He also holds a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) degree in Theology.