AMIDST daily spike in COVID-19 cases in Northern states, governors in six states in the region on Friday allowed Juma’at service to hold across towns and villages.
In Gombe, Borno, Adamawa, Yobe, Jigawa and Zamfara states, the governors have also given churches the go-ahead to hold Sunday service tomorrow.
Statistics from the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) covering a one-week period indicates spikes in the number of recorded cases in these states.
According to the statistics, between Friday, 8 May and Friday, 15 May, COVID-19 cases in Borno jumped from 142 to 191; Gombe, from 110 to 124; Adamawa, from 15 to 21; Jigawa, 83 to 176; Yobe, 13 to 32 and Zamfara, 65 to 73.
The decision of the governors to reopen the worship centres, has however, elicited sharp criticisms from a cross section of opinion leaders, including Muslim scholars and clerics.
The Chief Imam of Sultan Bello Mosque, Kaduna, Dr Suleiman Adam, described the decision as one taken in haste, just as another cleric, Dr Tukur Adams, advised the governors of the concerned states to rescind the decision and allow health experts to guide them.
In Gombe State, the government said its decision followed persistent calls for the reopening of worship centres for congregational prayers.
It said it held consultative meetings with religious leaders and heads of security agencies to review the restriction order on religious activities and social gatherings as a measure to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in the state. .
In a statewide broadcast on Friday, Governor Muhammad Inuwa Yahaya stated that “while majority supported the call, some cautiously approved of it. It is against this backdrop that government has resolved to gradually ease the restrictions in our dear state by reopening places of worship” but with “strict compliance” with safety guidelines.
He said: “While relaxing the restriction order takes immediate effect, there must be strict observance of social distancing, compulsory wearing of face masks, regular hand washing with soap and water and limiting the number of persons in each congregation to not more than 20-50 persons, depending on the size of the worship centre.
“We are also adjusting the curfew time to be from 8.00 p.m. to 6.00 a.m. daily with effect from today. Also, civil servants on Grade level 9 and above are hereby directed to resume work with effect from Monday, 25th May, 2020 while strictly observing the new guidelines in their places of work.
“However, all other existing measures to curb the spread of the virus, especially the ban of commercial motorcycles, interstate travels, closure of all schools and borders shall remain in effect.”
Governor Inuwa Yahaya called on the people of the state to adhere to the new guidelines and take responsibility for containing the spread of the coronavirus in the state, as individuals or as groups.
“While we will continue to monitor and ensure that there is no community transmission, we would, however, not hesitate to revert to the previous order or to take more drastic measures should the need arise,” he added.
Governors of the other affected states have equally maintained that they arrived at the decision after meeting with religious stakeholders, emphasising, however, that adherence to all safety guidelines prescribed by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) would be monitored.
The Jigawa State governor, Alhaji Muhammad Badaru Abubakar, in ordering the reopening of mosques and other religious centres, said the enforcement of compliance with social distancing and other measures against the spread of the virus would be ensured.
The governor, while addressing newsmen on Friday in Dutse, said: “Following our meeting with Ulama, other religious leaders and traditional rulers, as well as health experts, Friday congregational prayer will now continue in all parts of the state in accordance with the NCDC guidelines.
“Our collective effort in the fight against the pandemic is yielding positive result. So far, seven of our patients have recovered and discharged, including a six years old girl.”
However, some Islamic clerics have criticised the decision of the governors, saying it is not in the best interest of the people as COVID-19 remains a major challenge in the country.
One of the critics, the Chief Imam of Sultan Bello Mosque, Kaduna, Dr Suleiman Adam, described the decision as one taken in haste.
“The disease is very much around us and we do not even have concrete measures; all that is happening is a cosmetic attempt to address the situation.
“You can see that at the level of treatment. People that have survived the virus would come out to say different things about how they were treated,” Dr Adam said.
Another cleric, Dr Tukur Adams, advised the governors of the concerned states to rescind the decision and allow “our health experts to guide us as religious leaders cannot be health experts.”
In a similar move, Governor David Umahi of Ebonyi State has lifted the ban on religious worship across the state with effect from Friday as part of efforts to relax the COVID-19 lockdown.
The state Commissioner for Information and Orientation, Mr Uchenna Orji, made the disclosure in a statement on Friday in Abakaliki.
He said the decision was in response to “passionate” appeals made by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state.
“The reopening of the worship centres must, however, be under strict observance of the state laws and must be once a week.
“All churches are to observe their services only on Sundays from 9.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m.
“Seventh-Day Adventists and Muslim faithful are to observe their services on Saturdays and Fridays, respectively and also from 9.00 a.m. to 11.00 a.m.
“No religious centre shall permit more than 50 people and worshippers must observe a minimum of two meters social distancing from one another,” he said.
Orji said wearing of face masks, washing of hands with running water and use of sanitiser must be strictly observed in all religious centres.
“No religious service is allowed to hold any other day than the days specified herein and which must be in strict observance of all COVID-19 laws and regulations.
“The CAN has a duty to shut any religious gathering and arrest the principal of the worship centre, which violates this order.
“The government requests all religious bodies in the state to use this window to create awareness among members on the protocols, policies, laws and regulations regarding COVID-19 as well as pray for the state and Nigeria,” he said.
Orji also urged religious leaders to use the opportunity to advise members on the need for aggressive participation in agriculture and other lawful means of livelihood.
“The CAN leadership and anti-COVID-19 committee on religious centres are requested to mount strict monitoring of all religious centres in the state and ensure strict compliance and discipline,” he said.
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