ONDO State government has relaxed its restrictions on social distancing allowing Christians to attend church services during the Easter period setting a dangerous precedent that could open the floodgates for a nationwide defiance of the lockdown order.
Nigeria, like most other African and tropical nations has been spared the worst of the dreaded coronavirus as their infection numbers and casualty rates have been very low. In Nigeria for instance, only 288 people have contracted the virus, of which just seven have died, compared with say 18,279 deaths in Italy, 16,697 in the US and 15,447 in Spain.
Despite the low infection rate, however, the Nigerian government has introduced several restrictions, including suspending all religious services. This measure in particular has been highly controversial with the deeply religious Nigerians as several mosques and churches have defied the order and in some states, the government has been forced to relax the ban under pressure from clerics.
In Katsina State for instance, Governor Aminu Masari has lifted the restrictions on Friday Jumat prayers today after being pressurised to do so by Muslim clerics. Following suit, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu of Ondo State has also lifted his ban, saying Christians will be allowed to attend church services during the Easter festivities.
Donald Ojogo, the Ondo State information commissioner, said: “Government acknowledges concerns expressed in many quarters in respect of the above subject matter. This is especially in relation to the last government statement on the sustenance of the anti-Covid-19 measures put in place vis-a-viz the public statement issued by the Christian Association of Nigeria (Can).
“Can’s statement is explicit enough that the government had graciously granted a special relief to enable Christians celebrate Easter Sunday, being one of the most important annual celebrations of the church. The state government has already communicated to the Ondo State Police Command this concession granted Can to, as it were, temporise and allow the celebration of Easter Sunday in churches.
“This is, however, without prejudice to all precautionary measures and guidelines earlier put in place to contain the spread of the pandemic as enunciated in the government’s earlier statements and as agreed to by the leadership of CAN. For emphasis, there will be no Easter Retreat (Good Friday programmes) or the Jumat service gatherings on Friday or Galilee on Monday.
He added that the ban on all social, political and religious gatherings continues afterwards until further notice. Reverend Ayo Oladapo, the chairman of the Ondo State Can chapter, revealed that the approval was given by the governor after it was agreed that social distancing will be maintained during services.
Reverend Oladapo said: “20 people will be in a small church building, 50 in a medium size church, while big ones and cathedrals must maintain three congregants on a pew. It was agreed that services will hold between 7am and 12 noon only during the Easter Sunday service on the 12th of April, 2020.”