Many state governors have announced the lifting of the ban earlier placed on places of worship as a way of mitigating the spread of COVID-19, Daily Trust reports.
The lifting of the ban is coming few days to the Eid-el Fitr celebrations during which millions of Muslims throng prayer grounds to mark the end of the Ramadan fast.
It is also expected that Christian faithful in some states would resume services on Sunday.
The lifting of the ban has, therefore, heightened fears over breach of personal distancing requirements even as the federal government and experts on Thursday warned state government against relaxing restrictions and hasty reopening of worship places.
The President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha, said he does not support lifting the ban on religious gatherings as it exposes more people to infection especially where the rule of social distancing is not respected.
Also, ahead of the Eid-el Fitr celebration, the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman, Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, yesterday cautioned that it is not yet time for public gathering as the nation battles the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, many state governments on Thursday expressed their readiness to allow worshippers resume normal activities in churches and mosques.
What govs said before lifting ban
In Niger State, the government approved the observation of eid prayers but reminded Muslim faithful of the dangers of the COVID-19, requesting them to continue to be conscious of the pandemic as a threat to life, property and security.
Director-General, Niger State Bureau for Religious Affairs, Umar Farook Abdullahi, said after due consultations with the traditional council and Islamic scholars in the state, Governor Abubakar Sani Bello approved the conduct of eid prayers.
“The prayers are to be observed in various Juma’at mosques across the state with the recitation of a short Surat (chapters) and a brief sermon. Women and children are not allowed to attend the Eid Salat,” he said.
Although Cross River is yet to record a COVID-19 case, Governor Ben Ayade said he has lifted the ban placed on public religious gathering to enhance what he calls “spiritual economy.”
His special adviser on media, Mr. Christian Ita, quoted Ayade as saying: “From Sunday, May 24, 2020, Church services are permitted but should be limited to the sitting capacity of the church. The same applies to mosques.
“The use of nose mask is compulsory for all worshipers.
“Churches and mosques should provide buckets for hand washing and sanitisers.”
Bayelsa State government has also granted permission for Muslim faithful in the state to hold their prayers with strict adherence to social distancing, wearing of face masks and other protocol recommended by World Health Organisation (WHO) to check the spread of COVID-19.
Governor Douye Diri who announced this on Thursday after a meeting with the state COVID-19 task force committee, urged the worshippers to observe all rules and regulations of government.
The governor through his acting Chief Press Secretary, Mr. Daniel Alabrah, said the state government had also extended such magnanimity to Christian faithful in the state during the Easter celebration last month.
Kogi State government has also lifted the social distancing order imposed to curb the spread of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) on religious congregations in mosques and churches across the state.
It said that the lifting of the ban was to prevent congregations from going underground and gathering in uncoordinated and dangerous manners, which increase the risk of contagion.
It however, urged all religious leaders to put in place preventive and precautionary measures in their various worship centres in order to contain the outbreak and spread of the disease.
Similarly, the Borno State COVID-19 Response Committee has suspended a 21-day-long lockdown measure and mandated wearing of face masks while observing social distancing as people resumed their normal activities in the state.
The committee chaired by the state Deputy Governor, Umar Kadafur, said in a statement that having reviewed the situation over the last three weeks (April 22 – May 13), the committee had suspended the lockdown measure in the state.
The committee, however, made wearing face masks mandatory for people moving around while social distancing should be enforced by concerned authorities.
In Rivers, the state government said that the prohibition of the gathering of not more than 50 persons in any religious worship remains in force.
Governor Nyesom Wike in a statewide broadcast in Port Harcourt on Wednesday said that religious leaders should ensure that not more than 50 persons should congregate in any religious gathering.
Abia State Government has also relaxed the restriction on places of worship thereby allowing religious activities/worships to hold on Fridays for the Muslim communities, Saturdays for Sabbatarians and Sundays for others.
It said congregation of such worships must not exceed 50 persons per stream and they must all wear face masks, while every worship centre must provide running water, soap and hand sanitisers at designated places in their premises.
Governor David Umahi last week granted Christians and Muslims permission to worship only on Sunday and Friday in just two hours interval, 9am-11 am respectively.
Elsewhere in Nasarawa, the state government has lifted the ban on worship centres for two weeks.
The State Commissioner for Information, Tourism and Culture, Comrade Dogo Shammah, however, gave conditions for the opening of Mosques and Churches in the state.
“Imams and clergies have been mandated to ensure strict compliance to regulations put in place to enable the opening of worship centres.
“Specifically, they are to ensure that social distancing, the use of face masks and frequent washing of hands with sanitisers by all those attending either the Mosques or Churches,” he said.
The state government has also lifted the ban on religious activities imposed to contain the spread COVID-19 in the state.
Governor Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya said the ban was lifted because it has yielded the desired results, which he said helped to contained community spread of the virus in the state.
Benue, Yobe, follow suit
The Benue State government has also announced its decision to relax lockdown measures taken against COVID-19.
Yobe state government has confirmed that Eid prayer would be performed across the 17 local government areas of the state.
The special adviser to the governor on religious affairs, Ustaz Babagana Mallam Kyari made the disclosure via live broadcast with some media stations in Damaturu.
Kyari said the government would rather urge her citizens to use Eid prayer as an opportunity to pray for Allah’s intervention to quickly end the pandemic instead.
He noted that the state government through the COVID-19 committee would equally provide guidelines that will prevent the spread of the pandemic throughout the festival.
He added that Eid prayer would be performed across the 17 local government areas of the state.
Kaduna, Plateau say ban still in force
In Kaduna State, however, the restriction on religious and social gatherings imposed on March 20, 2020, a week before the state government ordered a total lockdown of the state to contain the spread of coronavirus remains in force.
Governor Nasir El-Rufai has insisted that he will not relax the lockdown order even for residents to perform the Eid prayers at the weekend.
El-Rufai, while dismissing pleas from various quarters to partially lift the lockdown to allow for Eid prayers on Sallah day said on Tuesday that members of his cabinet, himself included would patrol the state borders to ensure that those who sneaked out of the state to perform the Eid prayers are not allowed back in.
The Plateau State government has directed the closure of all Eid praying grounds in the state ahead to this year’s Eid-el-Fitr to stem the spread of coronavirus in the state.
The Secretary to the Government of the State, Mr. Danladi Abok Atu, disclosed this on Thursday in a statement in Jos.
“In view of the rising cases of COVID-19 pandemic in the state, the Plateau State Government has directed that all Eid-el-Fitr prayer grounds across the state should be closed.
“This is in consonance with the directives of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA).”
The statement, however, permitted that prayers may be conducted at home while respecting the social distancing not exceeding 50 persons, adding that wearing of face mask and hand washing should be strictly complied with.
Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu of Lagos State said that the state is considering full re-opening of the critical sectors of its economy.
He said that officials from the Lagos State Safety Commission (LSSC) and Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) will be visiting places of worship and business premises to evaluate their level of preparedness ahead of full reopening.
FG, experts react
Responding to different approaches by governments at the state level, the federal government on Thursday advised Muslims to avoid large congregation in order to witness future Sallah celebrations.
The national coordinator of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Sani Aliyu, gave the advice in Abuja on Thursday during the briefing of the PTF.
He said: “As we go into Sallah and any other public holiday period where people congregate and visit each other; in a pandemic situation clearly going into the exponential phase, not only it is risky, it is unwise for you to go into large groups of people without any protection, with no face masks, without respecting physical distancing, putting aside all the mass gatherings, you are asking for trouble.”
Also speaking, Dr. Francis Ohanyido, a public health expert said in as much as governments may be forced to lift restrictions at one point or the other, there was a need for them to put in place mechanisms to ensure that people are protected.
President of the Nigerian Academy of Science, Prof. Kalu Mosto Onuoha, said he does not support lifting of ban on religious gatherings with the situation of the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
He said it exposes more people to infection especially where the rule of social distancing was not observed.
JNI asks clerics to fear Allah
The Jama’atu Nasril Islam (JNI), under the leadership of Sultan Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General JNI, in a mandate to the JNI Fatwa Committee, under the leadership of Sheikh Sheriff Ibrahim Saleh Alhusainy, has come up with FATWA regarding the Eid-el-Fitr prayer.
In a statement on Thursday, JNI among other things advised that Eid-el-Fitr congregation in the outskirts of towns and cities should be temporarily suspended.
“Eid-el-Fitr prayer should be observed at home with family members or alone in case there isn’t anyone with him or her, at home.
“In the case of praying at home, as it may be, the KHUTBAH (sermon) is suspended,” the JNI which cited some prophetic traditions, said.
“However, in states where governments have reached concrete decisions to observe the ‘Eid-el-Fitr prayer, based on their medical experts advice, strictest measures of distancing, face masks and sanitisers be taken to protect worshipers.
“Ulama should fear Allah, the Most High and be matured enough in guarding their utterances and actions for the overall interest of the DEEN and the Ummah,” the JNI said.