Nigeria: Coronavirus - CAN Urges State Govts to Reopen Churches

The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) on Tuesday asked state governments where churches are still closed to relax the COVID-19 restrictions to allow reopening of worship centres.

CAN president, Samson Ayokunle, in a statement by his media assistant, Adebayo Oladeji, said the continued closure of worship centres by some state governments was "no longer acceptable or reasonably justified" after the newly relaxed lockdown protocol by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19.

On June 1,the task force at a press briefing released an eight-point guideline for the reopening of worship centres.

The newly relaxed lockdown protocol enables state governments to take a final decision on whether or not to reopen worship places and to also ensure compliance with COVID-19 safety rules.

However, some state governments, including Lagos and Ogun, which have yet to reopen the worship centres, insist that communal worship is a no for now, amidst surge in coronavirus cases in both states.

Initially, the Lagos and Ogun state governments said they would reopen churches and mosques on June 19 before they made the sudden turnaround, stating high risks.

"This is not a decision that we have taken lightly, it is simply in line with our ongoing evaluation of evolving scenarios regarding the course of the infection in Lagos State and the corresponding public health advisory guidelines issued by the experts," Lagos governor, Babajide Sanwolu said at a press briefing in June.

As of Tuesday night, Lagos had 11,520 confirmed cases of COVID-19 which makes 39 percent of the total confirmed cases in the country while Ogun had 1,050 confirmed cases, according to data from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.

The call

Mr Ayokunle maintained that the lockdown of places of worship in Lagos and Ogun is unjustified as against the PTFA's directive on communal worship nationwide.

"Despite the directive given by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 with regard to the reopening of places of worship nationwide, some states like Lagos and Ogun have yet to allow worship places. What sin have the places of worship committed?"

He said the Christian body agreed with the government on the need to close down places of worship, economy, schools and every other facet of life during the sudden outbreak of the contagion.

But with the reopening of the economy, especially markets, and plans for airport and school reopening, it was expected to reopen the church too as its "closure anywhere in the country is no longer tenable and acceptable.

"In what way are the opened and roadside markets more organised than the church which warranted their opening? Is it not our members in the places of worship that do go to markets? Why are they allowed to go to markets and disallowed from going to places of worship? Is it because the marketers cannot contract the virus in the markets and airports?" the CAN president said.

But the Lagos government said it was illogical to compare markets with worship centres as regards COVID-19 response.

The Lagos State Commissioner for Information, Gbenga Omotosho, in an interview with PUNCH, said the decision to close worship centres in Lagos was agreed on by the state government and the religious leaders.

"With due respect to the Christian Association of Nigeria, that kind of comparison is not logical. The decision to close worship centres in Lagos was taken by the religious leaders and the state government. The state government presented to them facts and figures about the COVID-19 situation in the state and they saw that it was premature to open worship centres," Mr Omotosho told PUNCH.

The two states said proper consultation was made with CAN before announcing the suspension of the reopening exercises.

However, the Christian body said it was important for the church to have a role in seeking divine solutions as the government and scientists scramble for a cure to the pandemic.

"It is our opinion that while the government and other relevant stakeholders are working hard to get a cure for the COVID-19 pandemic, the church too has a role to play by seeking divine solutions as well."

It finally appealed to Lagos, Ogun and other state governments where churches are still under lockdown to relax it "for God's sake."

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