There is no gainsaying the fact that the Lagos State Government has made commendable efforts and continues to make efforts to bravely combat the scourge that has been unleashed on the State and its residents by the Covid-19, a pandemic which has also successfully thrown the global populace into a state of economic and political stress. The recommendations of healthcare procedures and guidelines to prevent the spread of the virus have been immensely fruitful and helpful.
Construction of isolation and disease control centres at strategic points in the state in a bid to separate carriers of the virus from others who are free from it through a process of quarantine is a significant step in battling the virus. It is against this backdrop that we cannot but praise the efforts and express unalloyed appreciation to the Lagos state government, under the esteemed governance of Mr. Babajide Sanwo-Olu. Our appreciation also goes to the State Commissioner for Health for his pro-activeness in managing the situation.
However, in spite of the government’s efforts to manage the situation, the numbers have not reduced. Nevertheless, the decision to indefinitely suspend Public Religious activities across the state is certainly inappropriate and needs to be reconsidered. An earlier pronouncement of the government had given citizens of the state, especially the Christian Churches, the impetus to prepare vigorously for a gradual resumption of Public worship beginning from 21st of June 2020. Their hopes were dashed and their spirit dampened by the announcement of June 16, 2020.
Whereas it is true that Lagos is the epicenter of Covid-19 pandemic in Nigeria, given the figures that we have, it is also true that the increasing infection that we see is nothing but the result of the fact that more people are being tested. Statistics provided by the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force say that the percentage of infection has not risen higher than it was at the time that there were fewer tests being carried out. In any case, it is expected that the number of people infected in Lagos would be higher than other States because Lagos is highly populated. So, it is not surprising that Lagos state alone accounts for 44% of the total number of cases nationwide. This, however doesn’t provide tenable grounds for an undefined and indefinite suspension of the resumption of public worship in Churches.
Government has been doing the best that is humanly possible to protect people from the menace of the virus. It has provided guidelines and continues to provide information and practical tips for keeping safe: physical distancing, avoiding of unnecessary public gatherings, use of nose masks and alcohol-based hand sanitizer etc., yet the number of cases is on the increase. Having tried all the human ideas with their limitations, isn’t it time to turn to God and allow people to gather in worship with the sort of guidelines that were provided? Or is it the case that the place of God in helping to overcome the infection is not recognized and acknowledged? I believe that given our circumstance of living in Lagos, the rate of infection would have been higher were it not for God’s mercy. Asking worshippers to stream religious activities of worship through the media fulfils a purpose but it cannot be compared with congregating in an orderly fashion for worship, seeking the intervention of God. It is even more difficult for us Catholics since receiving the Sacraments, especially the Holy Eucharist in Holy Communion is what makes us to be fully alive in Christ.
As a matter of fact, it has become clearer that some of those places that restrictions have been relaxed have turned out to be places where the virus can be more easily transmitted. especially given the inability of anyone to enforce the precautions. Open markets, banks, intra state bus stops; interstate transportation facilities etc. are more likely fertile grounds for transmission. This is not to disregard the importance of the market, banks or public transportation or trivialize the importance of the services they render but rather to highlight the fact that opening up for public worship is not likely to increase infection in the same way as it can be increased in these other areas that are not able to keep the guidelines. Churches are by far more capable of enforcing the guidelines and can be more easily monitored than these other places.
There is obviously no adequate reason for disallowing Churches from gathering to worship even if only on Sundays for fear of spreading the virus. Whatever level of risk that may have been there in gathering to worship have been obviated by the regulations put in place. The risk of getting the virus when people come to Church is by far less than it is in the other places that they have to go to. Let it be known that humans are religious by nature and an average Nigerian is incurably religious as his/her religious beliefs are pervasive of his/her entire life.
Isaiah 7:13 tells us; “Now listen, O house of David! Have you not been satisfied trying the patience of man, that you also try the patience of God?” Let the government listen to the cry of the people who have handed their rights to them in trust. This silent mass of people wishes to exercise their rights to gather in worship and government should not stand in the way. The least the government should do is to reconsider its decision to suspend public worship and let those who are ready to start to begin. Those who exercise their right NOT to gather should not be allowed to abridge the rights of those who wish to gather in worship. It would be injustice to those who wish to reopen if their rights are denied them for no just cause especially as they wish to exercise it only within the guidelines given by government. We plead for the outpouring of the Holy Spirit to guide the Governor and those who assist him to take decisions always but especially in this matter.
Rev. Sr. Adepoju, Our Lady of Apostles, Maryland, Lagos