Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Umuahia — The federal government on Monday reopened mosques and churches two months after they were shut down in a bid to halt the spread of coronavirus in the country.
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.
The SGF also said banks would resume normal operations today.
He, however, stated that schools remained shut while the ban on interstate travels also stayed.
He noted that these were parts of the recommendations, which the PTF submitted to and were approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for implementation over the next four weeks spanning June 2 to 29, 2020.
The SGF also emphasised that the implementation was subject to review.
He also announced the ease of the total lockdown of Kano State.
He said the relaxation of the restriction on places of worship was based on guidelines issued by the PTF and protocols agreed by state governments.
NSCIA, CAN welcome reopening of worship centres
The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) and the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Monday reacted to the federal government's decision to re-open worship centres across the country.
In separate interviews with one of our correspondents, the NSCIA Secretary General, Prof. Is-haq Oloyede, and the CAN President, Dr. Samson Ayokunle, said the government's decision was a welcome development.
Oloyede told Daily Trust that while the council welcomed the government's decision, it should also take up the responsibility of decontamination of the places of worship across the country.
According to him; "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, the CAN President 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 will 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 will surely answer us.
"The closure of the worship places is not acceptable to God.
"We thank God for opening the eyes of our government to the reality," Oladeji said.
"The opening of places of worship is a glad tiding," said Malam Baana, an Islamic scholar who leads a congregation in Maiduguri.
"However, I want to advise Imams and their followers to take responsibility of their actions because our attitude is key to ending the pandemic; we should observe social distancing and other protocols as obtained in Saudi Arabia," he said.
Pastor Andy, a cleric in Jos, said prayer is also key to fighting COVID-19 and other evils.
Kano gets reprieve
As the federal authorities eased the lockdown in Kano State to stem the spread of COVID-19, the SGF said that the PTF would also engage in massive information and education campaigns; deepening of collaborative efforts with the community leaders, civil society, faith-based organisations, traditional institutions; continuous mobilisation of state governments to take up greater role in the implementation of the guidelines and advisories provided by the PTF.
"Continued provision of support by the NCDC to states through guidelines to shape decision-making in responding to high burden LGAs and wards; and easing the total lockdown of Kano State and introduction of phase one of the eased lockdown," he said.
He recalled that when the PTF briefed the nation on Monday, May 18, they informed that Mr. President had approved amongst others, the extension of phase one of the eased lockdown so that the observed gaps in the expected impact of the national response could be closed and the gains consolidated.
He said that the action was based on the guidelines developed and published by the PTF, working in collaboration with sub-national entities and key stakeholders.
According to him, despite partnerships, injection of resources and collaboration, the COVID-19 has continued to ravage the world in many ways and has also continued to spread and claim casualties.
He noted that the global epicentre of the pandemic has shifted from China to Europe, then to the United States of America and is now showing significant impact in South and Central America.
He said: "This shift to South America with virtually similar climatic and demographic similarities with Africa, is a cause for concern when we consider the fact that earlier projections pointed to Africa as likely to be the worst hit continent, by the pandemic.
Mustapha also said that from the economic development, security and social cohesiveness perspectives, the PTF also worked closely with the Economic Sustainability Committee under the chairmanship of the vice president; the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) promoting the development of stimulus packages for different categories of SMEs, farmers, businesses among others.
Daily Trust reports that shortly after lifting the lockdown, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje also ordered for the opening of all the markets in Kano State on the days of the relaxation of the lockdown which are Wednesdays, Fridays and Sundays from 6am to 6pm.
This means the lockdown is only relaxed and not completely lifted.
A statement by Salihu Tanko Yakasai, the Special Adviser Media to the governor said: "However, the state government is appealing to people to ensure that they wear face masks and wash their hands, they should respect all the protocols laid down my experts."
Yakasai also said Ganduje would summon an emergency meeting with market leaders.
FG working towards reopening schools
Boss Mustapha said Monday the PTF is working closely with the federal ministry of education for the development of guidelines and protocols for safe reopening of schools.
He said the PTF had taken into consideration the advisory of the World Health Organisation (WHO) on the need to take some action as planning to ease a lockdown concerning balanced lives and livelihoods; follow a slow and phased approach that is data driven; apply public health measures in every community and at every phase of the response (i.e. surveillance, case finding, testing, isolation, tracing and quarantining contacts.); and evaluating the economic and social aspects of the society, which will play a role in progressing or hindering any efforts for the response.
Mustapha said that while Nigeria's confirmed cases have increased in the period under review, there are some factors that should inspire confidence in the response.
He said: "Majority of the confirmed cases are in a handful of local governments in the country; 20 out of the 774 LGAs nationwide account for 60 per cent of the cases; there is an opportunity to concentrate efforts in these high-burden areas; federal agencies and state governments are working together on the promotion and utilisation of guidelines on case management (homecare for relatively well patients).
Domestic flights resume June 21
Shedding more light on reopening the economy, the National Coordinator of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, Dr. Sani Aliyu, said the federal government has approved the opening of the nation's airport for domestic flights from June 21.
He also said that from today, the nationwide curfew has been reduced to between 10pm-4am instead of from 8pm-6am.
"And just to clarify, the purpose of the curfew is to limit social interactions and therefore reduce the risk of transmission of the virus," Aliyu said.
Aliyu also announced the reopening of the nation's financial sectors, adding that they would be fully operational.
He said: "There will be full opening of financial sectors, with banks now allowed to operate normal working hours, five days a week.
"The mass gathering of 20 people outside a workplace or places of worship remains prohibited.
"There will be controlled access to markets and locations of economic activities, but local authorities will continue to provide guidance on opening times," he said.
He said that while hotels may reopen, restaurants outside of hotels must remain closed for eat-in, except takeout or take away orders only.
He said: "Bars, gyms, cinemas, nightclubs and parks remain closed until further evaluation."
On international flights, the Minister of Aviation, Hadi Sirika, said the date will soon be announced.
"We will be receiving directives or suggestions or practices and standards from the International Civil Organisation Aviation," he said.
He also denied receiving kick -backs from private jet owners to approve their flight in the country.
Teachers, Kano residents react
Reacting to the closure of schools until further evaluation as announced by the task force, the President of National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools (NAPPS), Chief Yomi Otubela, expressed disappointment.
He said the federal government should have at least come up with recommended safety measures for schools so that proprietors and teachers would begin work on the measures ahead of recalling students and pupils who have been at home for long.
According to him, the recommended safety measures will help schools begin to prepare ahead of the inspection exercise by relevant agencies to monitor level of preparedness before proper re-opening.
A parent, Mr. Mohammed Abdullahi, commended the action of government, saying it was good that government was thinking of putting on ground precautionary measures.
"It is a welcome development as life gradually returns to normal.
"In my opinion, based on global trends, coronavirus might become another general disease like malaria, HIV and others that the world is learning to live with even with their medications and vaccines around.
"So, the onus is on Nigerians and indeed global citizens to take responsibility and act appropriately to curtail the spread of the virus," he said.
Professor Sebastian Uremadu of the Department of Banking and Finance, Michael Okpara University of Agriculture, Umudike, said the decision of the presidential tasks force on schools resumption, including universities, in his own opinion, was taken in good faith because those involved are children.
"If we allow the universities to reopen in a confused manner without these guidelines put in place, the situation will not be good.
"The federal government should study other countries," he said.
Also, some residents of Kano have expressed their happiness over the ease of the lockdown, which they said had caused untold hardship to the common man in the state.
Musa Tukur Usman said: "The government could not help us during the lockdown and therefore, the ideal thing is to set us free so that we can fend for ourselves. The palliatives they brought did not go round."
He called on governments at all levels to provide face masks and hand sanitisers especially at places of worship.
Hassan Aliyu Abubakar said: "It was circumstances that warranted the imposition of the lockdown and we have been praying to Almighty Allah to come to our aid.
"We are grateful to the president for considering peoples' plight and ordered for the ease of the lockdown."