As worship centres open in Lagos, Ogun states….

At last, worship centres that have been under lock and key in Lagos and Ogun states are now to reopen. EDET UDOH reports on preparations for reopening.

Worship centres in Lagos state reopened from August 7 for Muslim worshippers on Sunday, August 9 for Christian faithfuls. The directive was given at a press briefing on Saturday August 1 by Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos state.

The latest development supersedes the governor’s earlier suspension order on Tuesday June 16 on  reopening of worship centres contrary to the earlier approval on June 4 that mosques and churches should reopen on June 19 and 21 for spiritual activities.

Sanwo-Olu had at a press briefing on Tuesday June 16 said worship centres should remain shut to check the spread of the virus.

The decision, according to the governor, was taken as a result of the rising number of COVID-19 cases in the state.

Also in Ogun state, the governor, Dapo Abiodun, had on Wednesday July 29, 2020, announced the relaxation of lockdown on worship centres with effect from Friday 14th and Sunday 16th August 2020 for both the Muslims and Christians, respectfully.

He announced that worship centres would tentatively reopen on August 14 on the condition that they adhere to the guidelines.

PTF’s directive

Recall the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 and state governors had after strategic meetings on Monday June 1 approved the re-opening of worship centres with strict conditions and elaborate guidelines which prompted government of some states such as Akwa Ibom, Cross River among others gave approval for reopening of worship centres in their respective states.

The secretary to the government of the federation and chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, announced this at the briefing of the PTF in Abuja on Monday June 1.

Among the conditions given are that all worship centres must be disinfected before services are held; no worship service must exceed an hour; special programmes like Sunday School, Bible Study, and week-day prayer meetings should be suspended; places of worship must observe physical distancing; there must be hand-sanitisers and/or running water for washing of hands, etc.

Others are, church members must wear nose mask; microphones should not be shared by ministers; children should not be put at risk by parents, so they should not be taken to places of worship; worshippers must have temperature checks; and the most emphasised is that it is safer to conduct worship services at home.

Conditions for reopening

According to Governor Sanwo-Olu, “We would only allow 50 per cent of their maximum capacities, either at the church or at the mosque. Churches who have a Saturday worship day would also be allowed to hold worship. We must reiterate that places of worship have their regular once-a-week service at designated days. For the avoidance of doubt, there would be Friday worships for our Muslim followers and Sunday worships for our Christian followers.

“We would monitor this for the next couple of weeks and see how compliance gets as we move along. They are encouraged to have multiple services on those days, but they should restrict it to those designated days of worship.

“In addition, the following conditions must also be fully met by all our religious centres; regular gatherings are permitted to hold but vigils and other services should still be on hold for now.

 “We recommend and seriously appeal to our senior citizens – if you are aged 65 and above, you are still strongly advised not to attend these places of worship. Please stay back at home.”

For Ogun, condition given for reopening of worship centres by Governor Abiodun include the use of facemasks and hand sanitisers, social distancing, and the provision of medical, toilet and hygiene facilities.

Religious bodies’ position

While reacting, the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) applauded the federal government’s decision.

 NSCIA secretary general, Prof Is-haq Oloyede and the CAN president, Dr Samson Ayokunle, in a separate media interviews recently said the government’s decision was a welcome development.

Oloyede said while the council welcomes the government’s decision, it should also take up the responsibility of decontamination of the places of worship across the country.

“This is to ensure that this would be professionally done and also because the religious centres may not be able to shoulder such responsibility.”

On his part, Dr Ayokunle, who spoke through his spokesman, Pastor Adebayo Oladeji, said the government’s decision, in the interim, is a welcome development.

 “It is our prayers that God would surely deliver Nigeria from the pandemic in Jesus name.

“If Christians and Muslims return to their worship places to pray for victory over COVID-19, God would surely answer us,” he said.

Safety guidelines

While lifting the ban on religious activities, various states governments have issued guidelines that would help guarantee the safety of residents and contain the spread of the virus. Lagos state government on August 1, 2020, gave approval to religious bodies to open at a maximum of 50% of their capacity calling on them to work with the Lagos State Safety Commission.

In Ogun, the state chapter of CAN has appealed to heads of denominations, churches, leaders and ministers to work towards meeting the safety guidelines highlighted by the state government ahead of the reopening on August 16.

The state CAN chairman, Bishop ‘Tunde Akin-Akinsanya, who was reacting to the tentative lifting of the ban on religious centres by Governor Abiodun, said it was necessary for churches to abide by the laid down guidelines to avoid sanctions.

In a release made available to journalists, he commended the governor for his understanding and support that allowed for peaceful engagements with religious leaders and other stakeholders throughout the trying period.

He, however, reminded Christians that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, advising them to adhere to the safety measures and humbly seek the face of the Lord for an end to the scourge.

For Muslims in Ogun, the governor urged that worshipers should perform ablution at home and go to mosque with personal praying mats; certified medical personnel to check worshippers’ temperature before admittance to venues; handshakes, hugs and air conditioners to be avoided in all centres; provision of isolation rooms as well as digital cameras to record services in each centre.

He noted that duration of services should not be more than an hour and a half, while intervals in the case of multiples should be of the same duration.

PFN harps on worshipers’ welfare

The chairman of the Lagos state chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) Bishop Sola Ore, has advised pastors in the state to reduce their emphasis on money as the churches plan to reopen.

Ore, in an interview, said it would be unfair for pastors to continue with the material gospel noting that COVID-19 season has taught everyone to be less materialistic.

 “Churches should spend a great deal of time praying for Nigeria and praying that God would intervene in the political and economic life of the country.

“There are so many things wrong with our nation. We should utilise the opportunity of gathering once again to pray so that those who say the church is all about money would have no ground to talk. People want to see our impact. I believe that the coming together of the church once again is a great opportunity for us to tell the world that we are indeed the salt of the earth.

“There is a spiritual synergy when we come together.  So, it’s a good thing churches are resuming. Churches that have people on their payroll also had to cut salaries or stop salary in some cases since money was not coming in again like before, but in all, we give thanks that we are coming back. It can only get better.”

Impact of COVID-19

In an interview, the pastor of Christ Apostolic Church, Oke-Igbala, Atan, Ogun state, Noah Adebiyi, said that the COVID-19 experience brought out the ingenuity in every church leader, adding that many people who don’t have access to the internet have lost out in the last four months.

“We should not deceive ourselves; many people have been negatively affected. The worst-hit in this crisis is the church. It is unthinkable that there would be a time when believers won’t be able to gather the way we used to. But then it happened.

“Many people who are comfortable and have access to the internet may not experience much loss spiritually. But those who have not equipped themselves spiritually before the pandemic could have strayed. The spiritual lives of such people would have gone low. Some perhaps would have gone back to the world, he said.

Popoola, however, said there is a need for Nigerians to seek the mercy of God. “It is now left for us to pray to God and ask for his mercies and divine interventions. When this is done I want to assure the people that coronavirus will be a thing of the past.

“The only solution is to go back to God. Now that the government has asked churches to resume in Lagos and possibly Ogun state, we should use the opportunity to pray to God for his mercy.”

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