Leading health unions in the country on Sunday differed over Nigeria’s preparedness for reopening of worship centres and other sectors in the country, as the second phase of eased lockdown ends today.
The Nigerian Medical Association, the National Association of Nigerian Nurses and Midwives as well as the Pharmaceutical Society of Nigeria spoke on reopening of worship centres just as the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 said in the next phase of the battle against the virus, states would handle cases.
The new President of the NMA, Prof Innocent Ujah, in an interview with The PUNCH, said government should approach the issue of reopening of worship centres scientifically.
He said government must sensitise religious groups and other segments of society to ensure compliance with COVID-19 guidelines.
Ujah stated that churches, mosques and others must abide by social distancing and use of face masks.
But the President of the NANNM, Abdulrafiu Adeniji, said the reopening of churches and mosques should be gradual.
On his part, the General Secretary of the PSN, Emeka Duru, said churches were ready for reopening.
The President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.), had on April 27 announced a “phased and gradual easing” of the lockdown declared to curtail the spread of COVID-19. He also declared a nationwide curfew with effect from May 4.
Two weeks after, on May 18, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha, announced that the President had approved that the “phased and gradual easing” be extended by another two weeks.
Mustapha, who is also the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, said at the time that in spite of the modest progress made, Nigeria was not yet ready for full opening of the economy “and tough decisions have to be taken for the good of the greater majority.”
During the eased lockdown, the PTF said schools, churches, mosques and hotels remained shut, but some state governments, including Kano and Katsina, allowed the opening of worship centres during the last Sallah celebration.https://tpc.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-37/html/container.html
Even with the extension of the eased lockdown, COVID-19 cases in the country increased to 9,855 cases on Saturday. No fewer than 2,856 patients have recovered from the virus, while 273 have died.
On Saturday alone, Nigeria had 553 cases, the highest since it recorded the index case on February 27. It has also tested 60,825 persons for the virus.
Already, religious groups, including the Christian Association of Nigeria and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, have been meeting government in preparation for the reopening of churches and mosques.null
Nurses seek gradual churches, mosques reopening
In an interview with The PUNCH, the President of the NANNM, said the reopening of churches and mosques should be gradual.
The nurses’ president said, “In the first instance, they (churches and mosques) are expected to be partners of progress with the government. A religious organisation (in the United States) went to court against the government and it lost. There is no way it could say the government should not try as much as possible to enforce public health law.”
The US Supreme Court, on Friday, turned away a request from a church in California to block enforcement of state restrictions on attendance at religious services.
Adeniji said, “If the religious institutions are opened, we must know the limits and provide all the things that are expected to be provided. It is not a matter of multitudes just rushing in. It has to be bit by bit.
“The people there should be asked to maintain social distancing, use masks and there should be fumigation from time to time. We have been in this (pandemic) since February. The lockdown has been on since around March and we have seen the results.
“Nigerians need to learn the basic rule of social distancing and public health regulation of adequate use of masks and having adequate knowledge and spread of the virus.”
He lamented that despite the partial lockdown, there were several violations, including people attending parties.
Adeniji said, “Some night clubs started hosting events. Even the transport operators started picking four passengers, even within towns and suburbs. The only thing is that the government is watching, with the advice of the experts. My take is that the lockdown has not stopped our problem totally and we must look elsewhere.”
“Besides, it is an equation — the economy on one side and bio-security on the other side. As obedient Nigerians, each one of us should spread the message of how to maintain social distancing, even if you’re going out; use masks, wash your hands properly with soap; if you don’t get that, use sanitisers; and ensure that, if you are infected or exposed, you declare your status.”
Churches ready for reopening – PSN
But the General Secretary of the PSN, Emeka Duru, said the important issue regarding reopening churches and mosques was the economic ramifications. According to him, churches are more ready than other sectors for reopening.
Duru said, “I think churches, from what I can perceive, are more ready, because they want to continue their activities, and they wouldn’t want the Federal Government interrupting their activities again, so they would try to enforce guidelines.
“For instance, in the Catholic Church, to which I belong, they also tell people not to engage in stretching of hands anymore. I believe that churches, especially the Catholic Church, would decide the number of people that will attend a particular session of mass, so that there would be a reduced number of people.”
He however expressed concern about the reopening of what he described as “mushroom churches.”
The PSN secretary general explained that in such churches, as with any uncontrolled gatherings, “anything can happen, just like the buses we see on the road where everybody is on his own.”
Duru said, “It is not a matter of being ready. It is a question of if our economy is ready to sustain the present reality we have found ourselves. The Federal Government is a big institution, including provision of security, and it wouldn’t like to be embarrassed as the citizens are opening up the lockdown themselves.”
I have yet to see preparations for reopening – NMA president
The NMA President, Dr Innocent Ujah, said he had not seen any preparation for the reopening of worship centres.
He stated, “What have we put on the ground to say they should push back a little bit? I don’t have the answer because I have to have evidence.
“They said there shouldn’t be more than 50 in a church or a mosque. But have we not seen congregation of people everywhere? What about markets?”
“But I have no power to say yes or no. I am only saying we should approach these things scientifically, because it’s science. It’s not about emotions. The National Orientation Agency should also do its job. In this case, in my opinion, the NOA is not doing well. I think it should do more in sensitisation.”
He noted that with the eased lockdown, Nigerians were not abiding by social distancing and the use of face masks.
Ujah stated “The issue of face masks and physical distancing is not obeyed or followed. I am a scientist and I’ve even commissioned some boys to look at the compliance on the use of face masks and social distancing.”
On non-compliance with COVID-19 guidelines, Ujah said though burials should be done quietly, people had been sighted crowding around graves.
He stated, “If you go to Lugbe, Nyanya (Abuja) or a place like Mararaba, Nasarawa State, there is nothing like social distancing. Over 90 per cent do not wear face masks. You have to have water to wash hands. We need to know whether there is universal availability of water to wash hands. That’s the truth.”
Nigeria approaching phase two, states to handle cases – PTF
Meanwhile, the PTF on Sunday met with the President. The PTF chairman said one of the recommendations submitted to Buhari was that Nigeria would enter the second phase of the battle against the pandemic.
Mustapha, while briefing journalists after the meeting at the Presidential Villa, said the task force had made recommendations to the President. According to him, states should now manage the pandemic, with coordination by the Federal Government.
Buhari to decide on churches, mosques reopening, others today —PTF
Mustapha, while responding to a question on states reopening worship centres, said the issue was discussed at the meeting.
He said, “That is part of what we have considered in its totality. We await Mr President’s decision on that. Once I receive his approval, going forward, as to certain recommendations that we have put in place, we will see how that happens.
“The issue of easing up, you know we were in the first phase and we had an extension of two weeks for the first phase. The next phase should be the second phase and along with that, we came with a lot of recommendations which we expect Mr President to consider.
“I can assure you of one thing: the ownership of the next phase will be the responsibility of the states under national supervision and coordination, because we have gone into community transmission. Where are the communities? The communities are in the states.
“So, the ownership of the next phase will be that of the states, the local governments, the traditional institutions, the religious leaders at the different levels of our communities. That is where the problem is.
“Like we have kept saying, 20 local governments (areas) out of 744 account for 60 per cent of confirmed cases in Nigeria today. So, where are these 20 local governments? They are in the communities. It means that we have reached the epitome of community transmission, so we must get the communities involved.”
The SGF also said the PTF had reviewed the issues of places of worship, schools and businesses, saying “we have made the appropriate recommendations.”
He added, “But you know that Mr President is the only one that can take decisions in respect of that. In the framework, the states are sub-nationals; they have their own responsibilities too. So, it is in the exercise of those responsibilities that they met with religious bodies and agreed on the protocols and guidelines on how to open up. But in the framework of the national response, we are taking that into consideration.”
When asked if the economy would be opened soon, the PTF chairman said, “We have started, even in the first phase and the extension that came with it. The essential part of the economy was opened up by way of allowing agricultural production and people who produce fertiliser. The oil and gas industry was never closed for one day. Haulage, refining and prospecting continued. Some parts of the financial sector were opened.
“After we receive the approval of Mr President tonight or tomorrow (Monday) morning, we will now know which (other) segment of the economy is allowed to open.”
Mustapha also disclosed that the issue of Kogi State, which had refused to welcome Federal Government’s initiatives on the pandemic, was tabled before Buhari. He noted that efforts were being made to bring all states on board.
Meanwhile, proprietors of private schools on Sunday rejected the plan by the Federal Government to convert their facilities to isolation centres for COVID-19 patients.
The Minister of Health, Osagie Ehanire had, on February 28 asked schools and hotels to be prepared in the event of a shortage of bed spaces for patients.
But in a statement on Sunday, the President of the National Association of Proprietors of Private Schools, Yomi Otubela, said the NAPPS rejected the idea.
He said, “Private school owners will not and never allow the use of their facilities for isolation centres.”
RCCG issues guidelines for resumption of services, stops children church
Also, the Redeemed Christian Church of God has issued a seven-page guidelines for all its parishes.
According to the guidelines, which it called “Church re-opening strategy,” children churches in all the parishes will remain closed in the event that the government decides to reopen worship centres.
The Assistant General Overseer (Admin/Personnel), Pastor J. F. Odesola, in a May 28, 2020 memo, addressed the guidelines to all the church’s assistants general overseer, special assistants to the general overseer, as well as pastors in charge of regions and provinces.
Nigeria’s COVID-19 cases on Sunday exceeded 10,000 according to a statement by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control on its website.