Worship centres: JNI says PTF guidelines difficult, Catholic faults continued closure

The Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III-led Jama’atu Nasril Islam has supported guidelines issued by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 for reopening of churches and mosques across the country.

The JNI Secretary-General, Dr  Khalid Abubakar-Aliyu, who stated this in an interview with one of our correspondents in Kaduna on Wednesday, urged Nigerians to support efforts of the Federal Government to fight the pandemic.

He, however, expressed concern about the ability of worshippers in churches and mosques to abide by the PTF guidelines.

Abubakar-Aliyu said that it would be difficult for worshippers to adhere to the PTF guidelines during services.

At the PTF press conference on Tuesday, its Coordinator, Dr Sani Aliyu, released the guidelines for the reopening of worship centres.

According to the guidelines, churches and mosques are expected to provide running water, soap and sanitisers at their entry and exit points. The guidelines stipulate compulsory use of face masks at worship centres.

The task force advised vulnerable people including those with conditions such as diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, cancer as well as people that were above 55 years to worship at home

It added members of the same family should sit together during services and that there should be a distance of two metres between people.

It said religious organisations should try to limit the time of their services to one hour. The task, however, disclosed that states would take final decisions on the reopening of the worship centres based on the guidelines it issued.

On Tuesday, states such as Lagos, Ogun, Oyo and Kaduna said they had yet to reopen churches and mosques despite the Federal Government’s relaxation of the ban on gatherings at places of worship.

On Wednesday, the JNI said it supported the PTF’s guidelines. The group’s secretary general, however, expressed concern about the shortage of face masks and other kits for the protection of citizens.

Abubakar-Aliyu said, “It is indeed the stand of the JNI to appreciate efforts of government to reopen worship places after the outbreak of the deadly virus in the world and in particular, Nigeria.

“It is also important for the aged and children to adhere to experts’ advice to avoid worship places as outlined in the guidelines because once they are infected their lives will be in danger.

“But the problem is not all this. The problem is the ability of worshippers to keep to these rules. It is indeed difficult. It is not easy how this can be realised.

“Another challenge is the kits to prevent people from contracting the virus. It is difficult to get face masks in shops. They are scarce. It is important for the government to do more in facilitating how this can be realised  by  making the face masks available in affordable price for the common man to get.

In Ogun State, the League of Imams and Alfas  expressed satisfaction with the conditions given by the PTF.

But the Chairman of the  state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria , Bishop ‘Tunde Akin-Akinsanya,  said  the association was waiting for the guidelines on the reopening of churches  from the state government.

In his remarks, the Secretary General of the Islamic group  in the state , Alhaji  Tajudeen Adewunmi,  said the Muslim leaders in the state had reached a consensus to support the conditions of the government in the interest of public safety.

But the national leadership of CAN said it was still meeting over the PTF guidelines.

Adebayo Oladeji, the  Special Assistant (Media and Communications) to CAN President, Samson Ayokunle, in an interview with The PUNCH, said, “We are still meeting and studying the guidelines.”

FCTA meets religious leaders

In Abuja,  there are indications that the Federal Capital Territory Administration is still discussing the reopening of  worship centres with religious leaders.

The Chancellor of the Abuja Catholic Archdiocese, Rev. Fr. Sebastian Musa, indicated this in a statement on Wednesday.

He stated, “As we are already aware, the Federal Government lifted the ban on public worship in the country, subject to the provision of guidelines by state governments.

“Here in the FCT, the leadership of Christian Association of Nigeria  and other religious leaders are still in dialogue with the FCT Administration concerning the guidelines.

Lagos Catholic Archdiocese kicks against continued closure

But the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos has opposed the continued closure of worship centres by the state government.

The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Most Rev Alfred Adewale Martins, stated this on Wednesday, in a statement by the archdiocese’s Director of Social Communications, Rev. Fr Anthony Godonu.

Martins was reacting to a statement by the state government through its Commissioner for Home Affairs, Mr Anofiu Elegushi, who on Tuesday said the ban  on religious gatherings had not been lifted.

The Catholic Archbishop of Lagos called on the Lagos State Government to ease the restriction on religious gatherings in the state.

He wondered why  it was concluded that the virus could spread at places of worship when people gathered in markets, motor parks and banks.

Martins stated, “There is no doubt that the COVID-19 pandemic is real, and we all feel concerned that the numbers are rising. However, we know also that the virus will be with us for some time and more testing will reveal more infected persons but at the same time the truth is that life must go on. We believe strongly that churches as institutions are better able to exert control of situations and maintain discipline among their faithful than most other institutions.”

“The argument that we can pray in our individual houses and God will hear our prayers is true but it is also true for us as Christians that gathering together to worship is our heritage and practice arising from the Holy Bible. It was in the gathering of the Apostles that the Holy Spirit came down upon them(Acts.2:1); the early Christians gathered together in private homes for prayers and the breaking of the Bread(Acts 2:46) until the number  became too large to handle in private homes and it became necessary to have Church buildings.

“If Christians were willing to suspend their right to gather in Church buildings for the sake of common good at a time when all gatherings of people were suspended, it is unfair and unjust for government to restrict gatherings for worship when other gatherings are being allowed. Anyone who argues that gathering to worship is not essential as it is to eat and get money from the bank, obviously does not understand the spiritual, emotional, and psychological soothing that Christians get from gathering together to worship.

“In any case, are we saying that it is more dangerous for people to gather to worship than it is to gather for banking and trading or that it is gathering for worship that is responsible for the spread of thevirus?”

He said the archdiocese considered as fair, the position of Lagos State Government that it would approve a set of guidelines and monitor adherence to them.

Martins stated, “The monitoring is even more easily done in churches than in markets and motor parks or other places where the virus can even be more easily spread. This “volte face”of government gives the impression that the position of Christians is considered secondary and of no consequence in the affairs of the state.”

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