Four Nigerian states on Wednesday reopened worship centres for Christians and Muslims to carry out their religious obligations – but under very strict conditions.
The decision is in line with the advice by the Federal Government that states should take charge but with full enforcement of the guidelines as released by the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 Control.
Osun, Kwara, Benue and Kano states gave the nod for churches and mosques to open for worship.
Kaduna State said it will release its guidelines by weekend while talks are ongoing in the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) between the Administration and religious leaders.
They are expected to be concluded at the weekend.
After separate meetings with Christians and Islamic religious leaders in Osogbo, the Osun State capital, Governor Adegboyega Oyetola listed the conditions which must be met by churches and mosques for worship to take place.
Oyetola said only regular church services of not more than one hour, and maximum of two services would be allowed. For Muslims, Jumat service including khutbah (sermon) and prayers must not exceed 20 minutes.
He said vulnerable individuals such as those from age 65 and above and people with underlying ailments like tuberculosis and diabetes are to continue worshipping at homes. He also directed that all worship centres be fumigated to ensure that the environments were free of virus and other infectious diseases.
Oyetola said: “Worshipers are to keep reasonable space in churches and mosques and no worship centre must be filled to capacity during any service and solat respectively. Attendance at any service or solat must not exceed one-third capacity of the church or mosque. There should be provision of washing facilities or sanitisers for worshipers before entering the churches and mosques.
“Also, use of face mask is important; sharing of worship devices such as microphones and other musical gadgets should be discouraged. Water and food distribution during service should be discouraged.
“Worshippers must avoid exchange of banters and social distancing must be strictly observed. Windows in churches and mosques should be opened during worship for ventilation. Signage and notices should be placed at strategic locations to remind worshippers of best hygiene practices to be observed.”
He mandated churches and mosques to provide thermometers to check temperature of worshippers, adding that whoever is with high temperature should not be allowed into the worship centres.
The governor added that vigils and children activities remained suspended; adding that worship centres with support of security operatives should set up taskforce to enforce compliance with the measures.
Benue State Govenror Samuel Ortom said: “The churches and mosques are to hold standard services to accommodate fewer people.
“Social distancing must be observed in all religious gatherings. Wearing of face masks is mandatory for all.
“There must be water and soap for washing of hands. Also, alcohol-based hand sanitisers must be kept for use by the people.
“We are going to monitor what is happening in churches and mosques,” he said.
He said markets could open, but with strict observance of the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocol.
“Here too, we will monitor as well to ensure compliance.
“Burials and other ceremonies should not have more than 30 persons at a time.
“Interstate border travels still remain closed except for transportation of essential services.”
The Kwara State Government said worship centres may reopen on Friday on the condition that they satisfy the criteria already agreed.
The government, however, warned that the reopening does not mean that the state has flattened the curve of transmission of COVID-19 pandemic.
Deputy Governor Kayode Alabi, speaking after meeting religious leaders, said: “Worship centres shall be organised in such a way that one attendant is at least one metre away from the next.
“Each worship centre shall make provisions for hand washing or hand sanitisers, and infrared thermometer
“Wearing of face masks shall be mandatory for all worshippers
“There shall be no hand shaking or hugging among worshippers
“Children remain restricted from worship centres. People above 65 or persons with underlying health conditions are urged to stay away from worship centres
“Muslims should perform ablution from their houses. Ablution spots are not allowed for now to avoid the spread of the virus.
“Muslim women are to stay away from mosques, as suggested by the leadership of the Muslim community in the state; each worship centre is to dedicate a few minutes before service or prayers to educate attendants about COVID-19 and its dangers; adequate ventilation is to be ensured at each worship centre
“Government’s officials shall conduct random visits to worship centres to take samples and do temperature checks
“Government shall hold affected religious leaders responsible for non-compliance with all COVID-19-related safety measures in their worship centres. This is as agreed by the religious umbrella bodies.
“Government demands full compliance with all protocols as failure to do so is a huge drain on public resources.
“The leadership of religious communities agreed that any worship centre that violates these provisions would be shut down and its leadership strictly held accountable.”
The Commissioner for Information, Malam Muhammad Garba, said in a statement that after due consultations, markets, places of worship and movement of persons are now allowed on Sundays, Wednesdays and Fridays from 6:00am to 6:00pm.
He said it is necessary for such places to ensure compliance with safety rules, including mandatory use of face masks; provision of hand washing facilities/sanitisers; and extensive temperature checks.
The commissioner pointed out that while these restrictions have been lifted, interstate movements, except for goods, agricultural produce and essential services, is still in force.
He said as schools will remain closed, students should avail themselves the opportunity of radio and televised lessons sponsored by the state government.
The immediate-past chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Kano branch, Bishop Ransom Bello, said: “The setting of the congregation complies with physical distancing. Worshippers are wearing their face masks. Out there, we have water, soap and sanitizers for all worshippers and visitors. We are complying with all these protocols because I personally believe that prevention is better than cure.
“I agree that Fridays and Sundays should be free for muslims and christians to worship their God. What we need to do as a people is to help ourselves. Government has been doing a lot. We need to strictly comply with the COVID-19 protocols for our good health and that of the members of our families.
“Here in the church, we teach the congregation, we preach to the congregation, we appeal and advise the congregation to comply with the COVID-19 protocols.”
However, Kaduna State Government said it was still working with the stakeholders to finalise guidelines and protocols to be adopted ahead of reopening, after two and half months of lockdown.
The government said a final document containing the detailed guidlines will be out latest by the weekend.
But, source said, schools, worship places and social gatherings may still remain under lock and key.
Special Adviser to Governor Nasir El-Rufa’i on Media and Communication Muyiwa Adekeye said the government had opened discussion with stakeholders to get their input to the draft guidelines.
He said: “Discussion is going on, we are sharing our views and we are listening to people who practice things, because they have the capacity to come up with more cost-effective guidelines. So, we are expecting that, by the end of the week, the guidelines will be ready.”
Part of the draft document reads: “Ensure adequate attention to the most vulnerable population, especially senior citizens above the age of 50 from the costs of community transmission especially those with underlying health risks. Protect the health and safety of our frontline health workers by supplying adequate PPE, medical equipment, incentives and limit risks of infection from active cases.
“Mobilise the public to mass produce and face masks whenever going out. Identify potential hotspots, especially communities bordering neighboring states and ensure that such areas remain under restrictions of movement to and from.”
According to the document: “Schools are not permitted to reopen due to collateral risk of parents, teachers and caregivers. They should continue to explore virtual learning platforms and TV, radio and Online platforms.
“Religious gatherings remain prohibited.
All services in the hospitality sector are prohibited. These include hotels, social gatherings like wedding ceremonies, concerts etc are prohibited. The reopening of mall is prohibited for other segments. Except ICT/electronic shops/stalls at the mall. Those shops/stalls can open on Wednesdays only.”