GOVERNOR Nyesom Wike of Rivers State has followed the lead of his Ondo State counterpart Rotimi Akeredolu and suspended plans to lift the restrictions on religious congregations over the Easter period.
Last week, Governor Akeredolu announced that his government would be relaxing its restrictions on social distancing allowing Christians to attend church services during the Easter period. His decision created panic across the country amid criticism that the move could set a dangerous precedent that could open the floodgates for a nationwide defiance of the lockdown order.
With the move leading to several other states also relaxing their bans, the move by Governor Akeredolu was widely criticised by health officials. Under pressure from the security agencies and health officials, Governor Akeredolu has had to back down and rescind his decision.
Governor Wike was one of those who also announced plans to allow Easter church services to take place today. However, following widespread opposition to the plan, he met with Christian and Muslim clergymen and it was decided to shelve the suspension, keeping the ban of worshipping in churches and mosques in place.
Apparently, Muslims across River4s State turned down the offer as they shunned gathering for their Jumaat prayer on Friday. Also, the Catholic Diocese of Port Harcourt wrote a letter dated April 10 to all the priests in the zone, urging them to stick to all health tips against the prevention of the pandemic.
Archbishop Camillus Etokudoh, the head of the diocese, wrote: “We deeply appreciate the state-wide broadcast of the governor during which he temporarily relaxed the restrictions on large religious gatherings for Moslems on Friday for their prayers and for Christians on Sunday to have their full congregation for Easter celebrations. However, in the face of the threat of Covid-19 and having prayerfully considered the implications of the risks to our expected crowded congregation on normal Easter celebration, we hereby request you our priests and lay faithful to continue to keep to the CBCN and our diocesan pastoral directives.”
As a result of this, Christians in Rivers State stayed at home and observed Easter Sunday within the confines of their houses. Services were broadcast live on social media, allowing worshippers to tune in.