President, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Rev Dr. Samson Ayokunle has warned that in the ongoing relaxation of the lockdown by the Federal and state governments, the overall interest of the nation should not be compromised.
The clergy observed that, though the easing of lockdown was highly clamoured for in some quarters due to its debilitating effects, the increasing rate of infected persons in Nigeria daily is dangerous for the survival of all.
In a chat with The Guardian yesterday in Abuja, Ayokunle faulted the approach adopted by the Federal Government from the beginning in which it singled out only three states for the lockdown, without considering the possibility of the pandemic to spread.
“The case of COVID-19 is different from one state to another. If the directive had been total when the pandemic broke, or the Federal Government had declared a state of emergency, all these contradictions would have been avoided. The whole country has been put in a state of confusion. States are now mounting borders as if we are no more one nation.”
The CAN President said the religious leaders are not carried along on the policy planning and implementation, adding, “We are just reading the guidelines or Riot Act in the media, too bad. Nigeria is a religious country and any policy that fails to recognise this will surely fail. Religious leaders are closer to the people than the government; we understand our people better and we know how to talk to them. But how many religious leaders are involved in the ongoing campaign against the pandemic,” he quizzed.
Ayokunle, however, advised governments at all levels to review their strategies with a view to involving religious leaders on how to go about it. He informed that the position of CAN has been that, if the government thinks reopening of the market, banks, restaurants, seaports, shopping malls etc, cannot promote the spread of coronavirus, then the closure of the worship places should be reversed.
According to him, it’s illogical to argue that the gathering in the market places where social distancing and facemasks are ignored will be safer than the worship places.
“Let there be guidelines for the worship places and let the government and the religious leaders form a monitoring team to enforce the compliant. The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has been consistently supported the efforts of the government to stamp out the pandemic. We have been urging our people not to reopen churches despite the fact that we don’t see opening of churches as a threat or sabotage to what the government is doing.
“It was disheartening and painful that this year’s Easter could not be because of the lockdown. Yet, we are still on the same page with the government. Enforcers of physical distancing and facemasks are not in the markets and many banks; most workplaces are equally open and this has contributed to the increasing number of infected persons in the country. The relaxation of the lockdown, on the other hand, has increased the pressure mounted on us church leaders from our members for the churches and places of worship to be opened. In fact, through the Nigeria’s Inter Religious Council (NIREC), prayers are being organised online and through zoom that cut across the religious line. We advise the government to read the position of former CAN President, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, on the closure of worship places; he spoke our mind.”
He continued: “The above observations, notwithstanding, we urge all churches to remain closed because the daily increasing rate of infected persons in Nigeria is dangerous for the survival of all. Remember the Bible passage that says, “The prudent seed danger and take refuge, but the simple keep going and pay the penalty. (Proverbs 23:3, 27:12 NKJV).”
On Eid-El-Fitri, Ayokunle noted that the Sultan of Sokoto has directed the Nigerian Muslims on how to handle the celebration and appealed to Muslims to ensure they are guided by the rules and regulations put in place by the NCDC gave.
“They should observe the hygienic regulations as advised by the Sultan. If they all followed his counsel, the pandemic will not be spread in the course of the celebrations.”
Also speaking, Chairman of the Association of Resident Doctors, (ARD), FCT chapter, Dr Roland Roland Aigbovo told The Guardian that easing the lockdown to allow religious gatherings may lead to an exponential increase in community transmission of coronavirus in the country.
“I want to advise that complete relaxation of the lockdown be put on hold because as we speak, we are not doing enough testing yet and there’s already an established community transmission. So, if we are not doing enough testing and we want to ease the lockdown, then what we are saying in essence is that we want the transmission to increase exponentially. Even with the lockdown, there are still a lot of laxity, especially among transporters and the general public. Many people still flout the precautionary measures put in place to contain the transmission of coronavirus. So, there’s no need easing the restrictions to allow people to congregate again.”
The medical practitioner added, “If is it very necessary for people to congregate, the precautionary measures like physical distancing, wearing of face masks and others should be enforced. But they need to think twice; they need to have statistics of the infection rate of a particular state. If the infection rate is increasing exponentially, the issue of congregating will be out of place.”
He argued that easing the lockdown would only increase community transmission.
“In Nigeria, once you take off anything, people throw caution to the wind. People need to understand that Covid-19 is not a fairly tale; some people still don’t believe that Covid-19 is real. People can do their celebration at home; after all, people have been congregating via virtual platforms since the past two months since the lockdown was instituted. So, we need not to because of congregating for religious purposes relax the lockdown; you are only putting that sate in danger. We need to play our own part because government cannot do everything for us,” Aigbovo said.