Let’s be clear, these are truly desperate, scary and uncertain times across the world, personally, I am yet unaware of any pandemic in human history that has had this magnitude of economic and social impact. Since Nigeria has not been insulated, different state governments are putting in place measures to contain and manage the spread of the disease, of importance are the measures that have been put in place to discourage social gathering and all forms of congregation particularly religious worship.
This intervention is timely and significant particularly in a country where religion wields huge influence over the people. More often than not, the ignorance, vulnerabilities, and poverty of the people have been mostly exploited by some religious leaders. There is nothing that describes this imbalance, then the video of a supposed Nigerian pastor which has since gone viral on social media. In the video, the Pastor was seen dismissing Coronavirus is a fallacy to the cheer of an excited congregation, saying that his “Coronavirus cannot survive his corrosive anointing”. But in a measured response to what can be described as outright foolishness, Pastor Godman Akinlabi whom my friend Esther Okhukpe particularly adores, said I didn't know that this level of ignorance is available on church platforms. There is a difference between faith, foolishness, and presumption. This is definitely not faith” he said.
This foolishness was demonstrated in its naked form over the last week, in Lagos and Ogun where the government has ordered that no social gathering should be more than 20 and 50 people respectively, a lot of religious houses were seen congregating in large numbers without recourse to the public health advisory and in complete disregard of government order. Without mincing words, any church that defied the government’s order to hold church service(s) on Sunday is grossly irresponsible and should be regarded as an enterprise for making a profit. Even the Bible recognizes the place of constituted authorities and lawful order. Religious leaders cannot be a law unto themselves. I hear some say government only banned assembly or social gathering of more than 20 people. For starters, it is almost impracticable to with 20 people, on what basis will you screen your membership to decide who makes the cut, save for those that adopt technology to broadcast to a larger membership base.
I am not sure, it should be difficult to understand that we are dealing with a global scourge and pandemic of immense proportion like that never seen in human history, public safety must take precedent over individual rights particularly at a time Nigeria is already at the risk of a potential tragedy, we must cooperate with the government to prevent a further rise in the curve. If Nigeria will ever win the fight against Coronavirus, religious leaders Christians and Muslims alike, must not be seen standing the way of progress.
What we have today in Nigeria is not a special situation, the German Government over the weekend, banned any gathering of more than two people. The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, has also threatened tougher measures to discourage mass gathering in the light of growing concerns. In Italy, where over 5000 people have been reported dead as a result of Coronavirus, the government has ordered its citizens to stay at a home save for “non-deferrable, proven business, health reasons or other urgent matters”.
As of February 22, Spain had only recorded 2 confirmed cases with zero fatality. Today with over 28,572 confirmed cases with over 1750 deaths at the last count, Spanish Prime Minister, Pedro Sanchez has asked Parliament to extend it’s the state of emergency till April 11, following a 15-day state of emergency which had earlier come into effect on March 15.
The reality today is that Nigeria’s health system is already strained, the best we can do is to cooperate with the government to prevent the wrecking ball of a surge in Coronavirus, religious leaders particularly have a role to play in this regard, such posture as that demonstrated by most religious leaders over the weekend is counterproductive and will endanger our collective lives.
We must have a conscious awareness that limited freedom is nothing compared to the greater good that will come. Religion must not be seen getting in the way of progress particularly in uncertain and scary times such as that we have today.