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Eid-el-Fitri: Clerics, doctors worry over reopening of congregational prayers

By Lawrence Njoku, Enugu, Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Abuja, Murtala Adewale, Kano, Emma Ande, Yola, Rauf Oyewole, Bauchi and Abel Abogonye, Lafia
23 May 2020   |   4:33 am
The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has postponed till next week Wednesday, its daily press conference in which it updates Nigerians on latest developments in the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

Men wash their feet and hands before observing Ramadan prayers along the road in open space of Tinubu Square, wearing face masks and adhering to social distancing measures to curtail the spread of COVID -19 coronavirus in Lagos, on May 13, 2020. PIUS UTOMI EKPEI / AFP

• Worshippers Shun Fintiri’s Directive On Large Gathering, Defy Social Distancing Order
• COVID-19 Briefing Put On Hold Until Wednesday 

The Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19 has postponed till next week Wednesday, its daily press conference in which it updates Nigerians on latest developments in the country’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.

The federal government had declared Monday, May 25 and Tuesday, May 26 as public holidays to enable Muslims observe the Eid-el-Fitri celebrations.

The postponement, which was communicated through a terse message from the Chief Press Secretary (CPS) in the office of the Secretary to the Government of the Federation (SGF), Mr. Willie Bassey, read: “Important notice: In view of the Sallah celebrations, the briefing has been postponed to Wednesday next week.”

Chairman, Council of Ulamas, Sheikh Ibrahim Khalil, and Chief Imam, Usman Bin-Anfan Central Mosque, Sheikh Mohammad Aliyu Yunus, cautioned against the seeming return to normalcy, which they believed could boomerang on the state’s fragile health facilities.

Khalid expressed concern that government did not take cognizance of the community spread of coronavirus before rushing to relax the lockdown and reopen the worship centres that could place Kano at risk.

The Islamic scholar said the governor should have been better informed to give priority to the health of the people, insisting that the decision would jeopardise the fight against COVID-19 pandemic.

On his part, Yunus said time was not ripe for the reopening of mosques for congregation prayers, expressing concern over the poor attitude of Kano residents in maintaining government orders.

Yunus insisted that despite the supply of face masks and hand sanitisers at the worship centres, compliance to the protocols may be difficult, noting: “We believed government should have consulted more widely and not through selected scholars. We believe it is not yet time to open the mosques for congregation prayers.

“Again, we are afraid that our people may not follow the protocols of social distancing, wearing of face mask and washing of hands and we cannot force people to do that.”

A public health physician, Dr. Ibrahim Musa, however, posited that there would be no cause for alarm if only residents comply with the protocols.

Admitting that observing the protocols may be difficult for some segments of the society, he advocated more public awareness to convince the people on the reality of the virus, saying: “For me, if there is strict enforcement of these guidelines, there is no cause for alarm, but any attempt to ignore the rules could end in hundreds of people infected in the next two weeks.

The state Commissioner for Information, Mallam Muhammad Garba, expressed satisfaction with the level of compliance to social distancing and use of face mask at Farm Centre Mosque, where he observed the Jumat prayers.

He explained that though the level of compliance was high among worshippers who observed prayers inside the mosque, some were observed to have discountenanced the order a distance away from the mosque.

He assured that government would continue to sensitise the public on the need to protect their health against the virus.

At Alfruqan Mosque on Allu Avenue, Nassarawa, Farm Centre Mosque and Kano Central Mosque near the emir’s palace, there was moderate compliance, as majority of worshippers wore face masks. But there was disregard for social distancing protocol in places visited.

In Adamawa State, all mosques held normal Muslim prayers yesterday, against Governor Ahmadu Umaru Fintiri’s directives of not more than 50 people for each gathering.

The governor, in a state-wide broadcast, had warned that government would not tolerate any violation of the directives, pointing out that the decision was in the interest of the people.

However, when The Guardian visited some mosques in Yola, the state capital, they were full to capacity.

Four weeks after the Bauchi State government restricted social, commercial and religious gatherings in the state, Muslims yesterday performed congregational prayers in the state.

Until now, Muslims have been asked to pray at home to curb the spread of COVID-19. Governor Bala Mohammed lifted the ban on religious gathering on Wednesday, but ordered strict adherence to preventive measures given by the medical experts.

The Muslims, who trooped out to observe the Jumat prayer, could hardly be controlled to observe social distancing in some mosques. But there was total compliance at the Government House Mosque, where the governor observed his prayer.

He directed Muslims to pray at their various mosques to avoid crowd at the Eid grounds and barred rural dwellers from traveling to urban centres for Eid-el-Fitir celebration, just as he enjoined Imams to shorten the prayer and ensuring social distancing.

In Enugu State, some health experts said the state has achieved about 75 per cent compliance with compulsory wearing of face masks, but added that social distancing remained a challenge, even as they tasked security agencies to enforce the law on compulsory wearing of face masks in public places.

A medical practitioner, Dr. George Ike, told The Guardian that increased awareness campaign by government, non-governmental organisations, civil society groups and individuals contributed to the success.

He, however, expressed worry that residents have continued to flout social distancing order, saying those in the markets and churches are worse culprits.

“I like what the taskforce is doing in checking those who abuse the face mask order, but this has not been applied to the area of social distancing. Government has reopened public worship for six hours every Sunday, but even at that, people still crowd the churches. The religious leaders have not been able to implant procedures to reduce the number of people worshipping at the same time.

“Our commercial bus and taxi operators have gone back to their old method where they carry passengers as much as possible. I think the government and law enforcement agencies should enforce compliance in this direction,” he stated.

Ike said with the number of infections increasing daily, caution should be exercised in the easing of the lockdown and further checks put on the way the people relate openly, noting: “If we are finding it difficult to observe simple rules, I fear what will happen when the entire boundaries are opened up with schools and several other institutions now operating at partial strength comes fully on stream.”

Another expert, Dr. Nwachukwu Ugwu, said efforts should be geared towards ensuring that easing of the lockdown did not compromise the successes made in the fight against the pandemic.

“Let the wearing of face mask continue and let the hygiene protocol also continue. But church leaders should be able to organise as many services as possible so as to reduce the number of persons worshipping at the same time,” he advised.

Ugwu urged the public to continue to abide by the rules now in operation to contain the disease, stressing that government alone cannot do it.

In Nasarawa State, the recent relaxation of the ban on worship centres, though with conditions, has let loose people in the state, making it look like coronavirus has ended in the state.

Some pastors and imams have kicked against the relaxation knowing well that the rate of contraction of the disease is still on the rise in the country, with some pastors ordering their members to maintain the stay-at-home order and observe their Sunday worship services in their homes because they are not comfortable with the relaxation on worship centres.