Nigeria: Coronavirus - Lagosians Defy Advisory, Hold Weddings

Nigeria COVID-19 cases rise.

Hundreds of partygoers attended several wedding events that held across Lagos on Saturday -- defying government advisory about potentially harmful implications of gathering in large numbers amidst coronavirus outbreak.

A wedding programme held at an event centre in Ajao Estate and another in Alausa, two downtown Lagos neighbourhoods, on Saturday afternoon, according to people who attended.

The programmes held despite Lagos imposing lock-down measures on March 19 as it scrambles to contain its rising number of COVID-19 infections.

Lagos recorded the first case of COVID-19, a respiratory disease spawned by coronavirus, in Nigeria on February 27.

The commercial city has continued to report additional cases since then, with federal health authorities putting the state's case at 16 out of the total 22 cases confirmed in the country as of Saturday afternoon.

As the growing number of COVID-19 infections across the country continued to stoke confusion amongst its nearly 200 million population, with limited treatment tools available, federal and state officials announced drastic restrictions aimed at containing the spread.

After the World Health Organisation (WHO) and other renowned health institutions and experts identified social distancing as one of the pragmatic approaches to slow down the spread of the virus, Nigerian authorities urged citizens to observe the recommendation and restrict themselves to only essential movements.

Lagos State was one of the earliest states to announce the closure of schools and prohibition of large gathering of more than 50 people.

The state also asked club owners and event centre operators to shut down business for at least one month in the first instance. Health officials racing to contain the virus would use the period to appraise their efforts.

But some of those who attended a wedding on Saturday said the advisory, while crucial and understandable, should be imposed gradually to enable them adjust to it.

"We know the virus is real and the population must be protected from contracting it, but that should not mean an emergency break should be applied to everything about our life," Tolulope Odunlami, who attended a friend's wedding in Ikeja, told PREMIUM TIMES.

Ms Odunlami said her friend had been planning the event since September 2019 and it would be traumatic for anyone to force her to cancel it in a two days' notice.

"A lot of money has been sunk into this, it was unimaginable for us to even cancel it," she added.

Lanre Adegunwa, whose stepbrother married in Ajao Estate, said the event held despite awareness of organisers of the prevailing restrictions.

"We have read in the news that weddings and other social activities have been banned and we also discussed it within the family," Mr Adegunwa said. "But we concluded it was in our best interest to proceed with the wedding and face the consequences afterwards."

Mr Adegunwa said all vendors for both perishable and non-perishable supplies, had already concluded their services for the marriage before the lockdown was announced.

"The government should have given at least two weeks' notice for residents to cancel all planned events which would have exempted those who fall within that period," he said. "But they decided to use the fire brigade approach in order to punish innocent citizens."

At least 400 and 650 people attended the events in Ikeja and Ajao Estate, respectively, attendees told PREMIUM TIMES. Both figures greatly surpassed the 50 people cap on social gathering in the state.

It was unclear whether people would be prosecuted for defying the other, not the least as the federal government has not formally announced a lockdown.

"Since the president has not announced a state of emergency, the action of state governments to restrict movement and association could be subjected to legal challenge," legal analyst Ibrahim Owolabi said.

Mr Owolabi said the restriction was necessary but said its enforcement could be problematic because emergency powers have not been exerted by the president.

But Lagos officials said all restrictions would be enforced and some of the identified venues of social activities have been closed on Saturday.

"We are closing down places where weddings are being held in defiance of existing order," Gbenga Omotoso, Lagos information commissioner, told PREMIUM TIMES on Saturday. "Our officials at LASEPA [Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency] have started closing down event centres that defied the directive of the governor and health institutions."

The commissioner was unable to immediately say whether wedding organisers or event centre owners or both parties would be held legally liable for the alleged "criminal disobedience of (a) lawful order."

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