COVID-19 lockdown and some recalcitrant religious leaders By DONS EZE

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With over 1.4 million people worldwide infected with the deadly disease called coronavirus, and more than 83,000 others dead, and still counting, we are in a perilous time, in a time of fear and uncertainty. This is unprecedented, even with the advance in modern medicine.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) is contagious. It spreads through bodily contacts, and through droplets from an infected person, when he or she coughs or sneezes. That’s why many people are infected.

In Nigeria, over 250 people were infected with the disease, and six of them dead. The country is on the edge. Everybody is worried, afraid, and pray that the magnitude of what is happening in Europe and America should never come to the country, because Nigeria does not have the wherewithal, the facilities with which to fight the scourge.

Government had come out with some preventive measures aimed at curtailing the spread of the pandemic, since as they say, prevention is better than cure. As a result, schools were ordered to be closed; government offices put under lock and key; markets shut; places of worship, like churches and mosques, asked to be closed, and people told to stay at home and to maintain social distancing.

Unfortunately, some religious leaders, saw government’s action differently, as aimed at infringing on their religious freedom. They thus began to resist the order, and opened the doors of their churches and mosques, to allow for religious worship. This had put them in conflict with the authorities.

In Abuja, policemen forcefully closed as many as 15 churches in one day for allegedly flouting government’s order on social distancing. They also arrested a pastor who, allegedly violated the ban on places of worship.

Dispersal of worshippers who violated government’s order to close places of worship by the police, did not affect only Christians, but Moslems as well, and took place in other states like Lagos and Katsina.

Just a few days ago, in Enugu State, the state police command warned that they would strictly enforce government’s order banning the opening places of religious worships.

This followed allegation that the Archbishop of Enugu Ecclesiastical Province, Anglican Communion, Emmanuel Chukwuma, had dared government on the ban of places of worship, which the man later denied.

According to a statement by the police, “the Enugu State Command of the Nigeria Police Force wishes to reassure the general public, particularly the good citizens of the state of its unwavering commitment to enforce government’s restriction orders on curbing the spread of the Coronavirus, including the shutdown of public places of worship”.

It further enjoined citizens of the state, particularly “members of the clergy, to ensure continuous compliance with the orders as well as shutdown churches, mosques and other public places of worship as ordered by the government”.

It noted that the police would continue to do “everything within their powers to enforce the orders as stipulated, irrespective of whose ox is gored”.

Looking at the whole situation, we do not believe that the decision by government to stop people from congregating in places of religious worship at this point in time, was aimed at infringing on the rights of freedom of worship, but rather, as a practical necessity aimed at curtailing the spread of coronavirus pandemic.

Since it has proved that the best way to prevent the spread of coronavirus is by social distancing, and that this would be difficult to maintain in such enclosures as schools, offices, hotels, markets, churches and mosques, it became necessary to temporarily close these places. That was exactly what the government did.

In several countries of Europe and America, a lot of people initially, did not believe that coronavirus was real, and therefore went about their normal businesses. That was why many people were infected and have died of the disease.

No doubt, prayers and religious worships are necessary, and are capable of averting dangers and calamities, but this should not be used as excuse for some religious fanatics to lead their flock to commit suicide.

Sometimes, some people begin to think that the reason why some of these religious leaders insist on throwing the doors of their churches and mosques open, thereby defying government’s order, is less than altruistic, but based on pecuniary interest: the fear of the money they would be losing should these worship centres remained closed and people fail to attend them.

We believe that the government’s decision to close down churches and mosques and other public places is for the good of the citizenry, to prevent the spread of coronavirus, and not that anybody is against religious worship.

The Church, as a mere structure, built with cement and stone may close, but the Church as the living people will never close. Jesus told the Samaritan woman He met at Jacob’s well that time will come when people will no longer go to Jerusalem or to the mountain to worship God. God is spirit and He is to be worshipped in spirit and in truth.

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