The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, this week renewed its call for the reopening of worship centres in Lagos and Ogun states which remained shut on the orders of the state governors despite the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19’s earlier easing of the closure.
The two states are among the highest-risk areas in the federation. As at Wednesday, July 8, 2020, Lagos State alone carried 11,670 out of the nation’s total 30,249 confirmed infections.
The state, and metropolitan Lagos, boast the largest concentration of worship centres, particularly of the Christian and Muslim faithful in the country.
The CAN, in a statement on Tuesday titled: “Reopen All Churches Now: Enough is Enough” could not understand why Lagos and Ogun governments would allow markets and airports to reopen, and even contemplate the partial reopening of schools and yet keep worship centres under lock and key.
The plight of the religious community over the temporary closure of their places of worship is understandable.
At no other time in living memory had such a measure been imposed for any reason.
These worship centres are also places where millions of Nigerians earn their daily bread. When members of the laities are barred from attending services, the clerics and all categories of workers in these religious organisations find it difficult (as has been the experience in the past three months) to feed their families.
There are also other revenue-yielding ventures that churches in particular had established to support their missionary efforts within their premises. These include schools, lodgings, restaurants and specialty shops. These also had been shut. Those who depend on them for their livelihood have lost their jobs.
The fact is that the religious organisations are in the same category as citizens who earn their living in typically crowded spaces like schools, stadia, bars, clubs and others which have remained barred from reopening for business.
But, unlike the religious groups which could always improvise through virtual congregations and still expect support from their flocks, schools, clubs and stadium-based businesses have been wholly abandoned to their fate.
Our fear is that reopening the worship centres now could further worsen the situation. Even people who have continued to observe general self-isolation from crowds would have the virus brought home to them. The July 8, 2020 issue of The New York Times reports that the reopening of churches in the US led to new spikes in infection rates.
We plead with religious organisations to hang on for a little while to enable scientists and medical professionals understand this pandemic a little more. Once some dependable remedies are available, it will become safer to reopen worship centres and schools, especially in an endemic zone like Lagos.
The safety of worshippers is paramount.