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Will Nigerian Pastors Rise To The Occasion During This Coronavirus Shutdown?

(AP Photo/Emmanuel Mwiche

(AP Photo/Emmanuel Mwiche

Death toll from the coronavirus continues to rise. In Italy alone, over 4000 lives have been lost to the pandemic. Researchers and scientists have said that the worst days are not over. When the virus first hit Italy, many people paid it no heed but as it continued to spread and kill both visitors and citizens alike, the country has been forced to implement the social distancing and isolation recommended by the World Health Organisation (WHO).

This is what the Nigerian government is trying to avoid. When the first case was discovered a few weeks ago, coincidentally from a man who came in from Italy, strict instructions were given. People were asked questions about their health at the airport, hand sanitizers were given to officials and social distancing was suggested by the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC)

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But as the days go by, and the numbers continue to increase, even stricter suggestions have been made.

Employers have asked members of staff to work from home. Schools have been shut down. The government has issued a ban on social gatherings like clubs, parties, ceremonies and religious gatherings of more than 50 people.

In modern Nigeria history, this is the first time ever that the government has advised against attending churches and mosques which are places that draw the biggest crowds in the country. And this is not sitting well with many religious leaders. But the Lagos state government is determined to curtail the virus. On Saturday, @followlasg tweeted: 

“In order to prevent the spread of coronavirus in Lagos, the State Government has deployed an enforcement team after resident engaging in social gathering, parties, and clubs, to disperse and arrest perpetrators.”

These are the implications of the ban. Although many pastors have said services will be streamed online and have offerings transferred to churches’ bank accounts, many Nigerians are just not going to go through the stress of making a transfer. This is a light picture of what happens in churches. Many congregants give offerings only because other people give and they won’t like to be the only one in their seats during Offering.

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There most certainly will be no “Thanksgiving Offering” during the online streaming sessions as it’s something to be done before the altar. There most likely will be no “Seed Offerings” as the backlash on social media would be immense. And there certainly will be no Airport-packing-space-for-pastor’s-private-jet vow collected because that will make page 6 on Monday morning.

And so Nigerians waited patiently to see the pastors that will still go ahead with Sunday services in their churches and as the services started, the backlash was unleashed on social media. This is why Nigerians will not have it this time.

Coronavirus

Coronavirus

For years, pastors have been framed as “representatives of God on earth” and many have come to see them as infallible characters. With this idea of people who can’t get anything wrong, they have prospered tremendously. They have asked people to give to the church their pensions and salaries. They have taken from the poorest in the society in the disguise of “giving to God.” They have demanded landed properties from members for their personal use saying that “God wants it.”

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They own and fly private jets, they were high-end designers and have vacations on exotic islands with their families. Anybody who says this should not be has been branded “of the devil.” Many Nigerians on social media castigate this and some have suggested that tithes (which drive the most income) should not be paid to churches anymore. What many Nigerians think but have not articulated clearly is that this point in history is just not the time for pastors to show how rich and blessed they are from the donations of members.

There are just too many poor people in churches and in the country at large for this. There are just too many people who can’t pay school fees for this. Rice is just too expensive for this excess. Many Nigerians can’t afford any meal. And so when pastors splurge on a new upscale building or designer shirt with or without church coin, they feel a strong sense of disgust for the selfishness and deceit.

And so after the shutdown was announced, many Nigerians suspected that many pastors will not follow suit and laid in wait with fingers close to their keypads for the services to commence and as they did, they fired.

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Endless stories flooded social media. Some people had claimed that police had stormed churches and sent congregants home right in the middle of services. Some said that their pastor locked the church and didn’t open the door until the service was over. Someone else said that the preacher didn’t use microphones so the police will not know that the service was happening.

Some said that their pastors told them to come for weekly services and make use of this coronavirus shutdown to “strengthen their relationship with God.” Some said that their pastors told them that the virus was “evil” and “of the devil” and they must “combat it with prayers.” Someone claimed that a pastor who owned schools had criticized the government for the shutdown of school to avoid the virus from spreading.

There were tweets from pastors calling the virus “signs of the end-time”, “evil,” “demonic,” “satanic.” The ones who had prophesied a harsh year in January said the virus is the evidence of their prophecies.

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A video circulated on Twitter of a religious leader claiming that his “Daddy” (God) told him He wants to show the world that “he is still the one in control” and that this pandemic that has cost the lives of many and put the world in a state of unrest for months is a humbling mechanism. He says that his Daddy wants to compel people who think they are “big” to “sit down at home,” because he wants to “prove to the world that he can shut down the whole earth.” That he is already “achieving his purpose” and “the world by now should know that there is someone called the Almighty.”

Some pastors have said that members should avoid churches and use hand sanitizers and stay at home at this crucial time. But many others have not. Will church congresses be postponed? Do churches feel any obligation to provide hand sanitizers for members who can’t afford any? Who will feed the many who can’t go to work and so can’t feed their families during this shutdown?

Will the church rise to the occasion in this trying time and be for the people? There are many questions to be asked and many are not “of the devil.” They are just questions. Some people have said that pastors who insist on regular services are not doing so for the money. But what is most true is that they are not insisting for the benefit of the members either.

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