HEALTH officials in Akwa Ibom State have sealed off the Uyo headquarters of Pastor Chris Oyakhilome’s Christ Embassy Church after its members attacked a Covid-19 monitoring team sent to ensure it was observing social distancing guidelines.
Nigeria closed all of its churches and mosques following the outbreak of the coronavirus pandemic but over recent weeks they have been allowed to open under certain conditions. These include provisions that there must be social distancing among worshippers, everyone must wear facemasks, soap and water for handwashing must be provided and services can only last for a limited period of time.
Like all other states, Akwa Ibom put together a Covid-19 monitoring team to ensure that churches and mosques are following the guidelines. During a recent visit to the popular pentecostal Christ Embassy Church, however, members of the monitoring team comprising of government and Christian Association of Nigeria officials were attacked by pastors and worshipers.
Emmanuel Ekuwem, the secretary to the Akwa Ibom State government, said the church’s pastors and members attacked and brutalised the Covid-19 monitoring team who were at the church yesterday to monitor compliance. As a result, the government has sealed off the facility, barring any worshipping there until further notice.
Mr Ekuwem said: “In response to this act of lawlessness by that church and in order to avoid the risk of community transmission of Covid-19 in Akwa Ibom State, the Christ Embassy Church building and premises are hereby sealed up with immediate effect till further notice. The suspected pastors and relevant members of the church will be made to face the wrath of the law.”
Christ Embassy Church has, however, refuted the claims made by the Akwa Ibom government. It added that the government acted based on tissues of lies and absolute falsehood that only occurred in the figment of the imaginations of those peddling such stories.
A statement, signed by Kelvin James, one of Christ Embassy’s pastors, said the church was already done with its Sunday service when the monitoring team arrived and that a church worker who filmed the arrival of the team was assaulted and a camera confiscated from him. He added that the church adhered to the guidelines by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in its Sunday service.
Pastor James said: “While we are not against the state government carrying out its statutory duties, we state with all amount of humility that Christ Embassy Church has existed in our dear state for over 25 years without any issue with any of the past governments or any association, rather we have contributed immensely to the development of the state through our several people oriented projects and word based ministry. We have been partners in development with the Akwa Ibom State government and chosen to remain bipartisan at all times.
“We totally condemn the closing down of our church and detention of our Pastor Emmanuel Effiong, who has been detained by the commissioner of police, without giving us the right to fair hearing and state that this action is borne out of malice, deep seated hatred and calculated attempt to malign the church for disassociating herself from the Christian Association of Nigeria. We call on the Akwa Ibom State government to unconditionally release Pastor Emmanuel Effiong, the church camera which captured a true reflection of what transpired today and withdraw the order closing our Church.”
Pastor Oyakhilome, the founder of the church, has been one of the vocal Nigerian clerics who have kicked against the stringent restrictions placed by the authorities on worship centres in the wake of the pandemic and also criticised church response. He recently attracted criticisms when he linked the controversial 5G technology to Covid-19.