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This year’s Easter, which started on Thursday, has been muted, sober and devoid of the usual boisterous celebration for which it has come to be associated with for decades, no thanks to the novel coronavirus, otherwise called COVID-19 pandemic. The Good Friday processions that traditionally enact the crucifixion of Jesus Christ by devout Christians could not hold yesterday.
The lockdown and restriction of movements and gatherings across the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in a bid to curb the spread of the disease have forced many Nigerians, especially Christians and churches, to scale down the celebration.
Most people observed Easter Sunday service online via various social media platforms, just as some states relaxed the restrictions to allow for gathering/worships in mosques and churches, on certain conditions.
Even these actions the governments of Kogi, Katsina, Rivers and Ondo states have been faulted by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), which appealed to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security agencies to ensure that such gatherings do not take place.
In a statement yesterday in Abuja, NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, while appreciating the prime place of religion in our national lives and especially the value Christians place on Easter, noted that the Church should understand that there is now the evidence of community transmission of COVID-19.
Faduyile expressed concern that some state governors have since ordered the relaxation of the lockdown orders and authorized mass observance of Jumat prayers and Easter Sunday services and called on them to rescind their decision in the interest of the safety of lives.
He said: “The attention of the NMA has been drawn to some isolated statements negating the established measure of preventing COVID-19 and orders by some state governors authorizing the mass observance of Jumat prayers and Easter Sunday services.
“Of particular concerns are the moratorium on the lockdown to allow mass gathering in mosques and churches starting from Friday (yesterday) to Sunday (tomorrow) in Rivers State and the lifting of the ban on Friday prayers by Katsina and Kogi states governments.
“We are aware that similar orders have also been given in Ondo, Ebonyi and Imo states, which have approved mass attendance of Easter services. We are also worried about the declaration by the Cross River State governor that social distancing is not needed while wearing a face mask.”
In the midst of this, the National President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and General Superintendent of Gospel Light International Ministries, also known as New Covenant Gospel Church (NCGG), Rev. Felix Omobude, has called on Nigerians to use the Easter lockdown to reconcile with God and express their gratitude to Him.
Omobude in a telephone interview with The Guardian said although the whole world is presently living in very perilous times, Christians should celebrate Easter in whatever situations they find themselves with a heart of gratitude, whether in the house, with or without fanfare, and put their faith and trust in God.
“Certainly, we are living in very perilous and challenging times, the whole world is affected by this challenge and the church cannot live in isolation. In whatever situation we found ourselves as Christians, we should be grateful to God for sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins. In our houses and in whatever situations, we should, with a heart of gratitude, thank God for this Easter.”
Omobude said PFN was in support of the social distancing and both personal and environmental hygiene enforced by governments, urging Nigerians to obey instructions.
“The world is in a panic, but our God is not panicking. We must trust God that He will allow this season to pass quickly.
In Kano State, preparations remained in full gear yesterday, as unlike some states on lockdown, residents still went about unhindered.
At the popular Yankura Market in Kano, there was a crowd of buyers making last-minute shopping ahead of the celebration.
Nevertheless, schools and some public facilities remain shut, as all bordering points into the State are shut.
Chairman of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state, Rev. Adeyemo Adeyemi, said Christians were not restricted from worshiping, despite observance of the social distancing directive.
But he said the churches have suspended all special programs that attract 100 and above worshippers to avoid crowding, saying: “We appreciate the state government for allowing worship at both mosques and churches. But that is not to say we are not respecting the law of social distancing and that is why we now have multiple Masses, especially at some cathedrals, to maintain social distancing.”
The Chairman, Enforcement of the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations (2020) in Akwa Ibom State and the state Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, said the lockdown order was still in force.
This is despite a statement by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, that the government had relaxed the law to enable residents to celebrate the season.
State Chairman of CAN, Bishop John Ibenu, commended Bello for the decision, adding: “I want to assure the government that we are working hand in hand with them to ensure the safety and good health of the public, urging the people to observe the set-out rules.
“The battle is not over yet; we must continue to fight it until there is a zero case in Nigeria,’’ he said.
State Pastor of Living Faith Church in Lokongoma, Lokoja, Pastor Dapo Olumuyiwa, said everything in the physical has their root in the spiritual and “it is also reasonable that some of us in the priesthood call on God to intervene in our affairs. At the end of the day, we have multiple dimensional attacks against this common enemy called COVID-19.