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FG insists on restrictions as governors, Muslims disagree

By Nkechi Onyedika-Ugoeze, Msugh Ityokura (Abuja), Saxone Akhaine (Kaduna), Abiodun Fagbemi (Ilorin), Njadvara Musa (Maiduguri), Isa Abdusalami (Jos) and Murtala Adewale (Kano)
22 May 2020   |   4:35 am
The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF) yesterday urged state governors to exercise caution in relaxing restrictions, stressing that large gatherings beyond 20 persons remained prohibited.

• Kano, Borno, others direct open prayers
• Ilorin Emirate asks Muslims to worship at home
• FG declares May 25, 26 public holidays
• Police to deploy 2,089 personnel in Plateau

The Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF) yesterday urged state governors to exercise caution in relaxing restrictions, stressing that large gatherings beyond 20 persons remained prohibited.

The Chairman of PTF and the Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, who gave the advice at the daily press briefing yesterday in Abuja, said it served as a stark reminder to the entire world about the severity of the COVID-19 when the World Health Organisation (WHO) said there was still a long way to go in fighting the coronavirus pandemic.

The WHO Director-General, Dr. Tedros Ghebreyesus announced that 106,000 cases were recorded globally in twenty-four hours, representing the highest single day number since the outbreak of the pandemic.

“This is significant because it brings to realization, the relentless assault of the virus on humanity. For us in Nigeria, the importance of this message is very clear. We need to eschew skepticism about the existence of this virus and its potency, change our behavior and commit to joining hands in tackling this pandemic,” he said.

The SGF urged state governments to diligently implement the guidelines and to exercise caution in relaxing restrictions in a manner capable of setting back the gains already made.

“I participated in the National Economic Council with Vice President Yemi Osinbajo and all the state governors. This is coming on the heels of an earlier virtual meeting between the president and the governors in a space of one week.

“During the meeting, the issue of alignment of their state level actions with the guidelines issued was emphasized. Similarly emphasized is the need for states to diligently implement and enforce compliance. Particularly, I underscored the need for the governors to provide personal and strong leadership, carry the policy of community ownership to the grassroots and create deeper awareness.

“The governors were also advised on the decision taken by some of their colleagues to permit large gatherings as such could inadvertently endanger the elderly, the sick and those with underlying factors during such gatherings. The strong advisory from the PTF is that large gatherings beyond 20 persons remains prohibited and should be adhered to,” Mustapha said.

He admonished Muslims in the country to wear a mask, keep physical distancing, avoid large congregations, avoid unnecessary inter-state travels and observe personal hygiene amongst other suggested safety measures during the Eid-el-Fitr celebration .

Mustapha spoke yesterday as controversy over this year’s Eid-el-Fitr celebration in the north raged on with some Islamic leaders and state governors giving opposing directives on where Muslims should offer prayers and mark the day.

On Wednesday, the Sultan of Sokoto and President-General of the Nigeria Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Sa’ad Abubakar directed that Muslims should observe the prayers at home as a way of complying with government protocols to prevent the spread of the ravaging and deadly coronavirus.

The sultan, in a statement issued by the NSCIA Deputy Secretary-General, Prof. Salisu Shehu on Wednesday, said in part:” Muslims are advised to be law-abiding in all circumstances while praying to Allah fervently in their various homes, if that is what the situation requires, to forgive our sins and heal the world from destructive and disruptive diseases like coronavirus. Certainly, people all over the world at large and Nigeria in particular are under intense pressure and the sooner the pandemic is over, the better for us all.”

Sultan’s directive came after some northern states, including Kano, Bauchi, Yobe, Jigawa,Gombe, Borno and Zamfara, had opened the mosques in their domains for religious activities.

Yesterday, the Chairman of Borno State Committee on Prevention and Control of Coronavirus (COVID-19), Umar Kadafur, directed Muslims to perform their Eid-el-Fitr prayers at the Eid open grounds.

It was learnt that the decision to pray at Eid grounds was taken on Wednesday after consultations with Islamic clerics who agreed to conduct the exercise in
the open.

The Borno COVID-19 response team secretary, Dr. Salihu Kwayabura, who doubles as the Health Commissioner, disclosed this in a statement yesterday in Maiduguri.

In Kano State, the government has relaxed the lockdown for three days of Wednesday, Friday and Saturday to enable residents to observe open religious and social activities while adhering strictly to the Nigerian Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols.

While meeting with central mosques Imams drawn from across the 44 local government areas at Government House yesterday, Governor Abdullahi Umar Ganduje disclosed some rules that would guide Eid-el-Fitr activities in the mosques.

Among the protocols is that prayers should be conducted within a period of one hour, so as to allow people to disperse quickly. The wearing of face masks remains compulsory forMuslims to be allowed access to mosques and they must observe physical distancing.

“It is necessary for whoever wants to enter into a mosque or its surrounding to wear a face mask to protect himself and others. Water and soap will be placed at the entrance. Anyone attending must wash his hands. Sanitizer will also be there,” Ganduje said.

But the Council of Ulama of the Ilorin Emirate Council, Kwara State cancelled the annual Eid-el-Fitr congregational prayers in the state capital, citing the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The council, led by the Chief Imam of Ilorin, Muhammad Bashir Saliu as well as other clerics, on the authority of the Emir of Ilorin and Chairman, Kwara State Council Chiefs, Alhaji Ibrahim Sulu-Gambari, said Muslim faithful should observe the two ‘rakatnafilah’ (Rakat prayers) in their respective homes.

Meanwhile, the Federal Government, has declared Monday 25 and Tuesday 26 May, 2020 as public holidays to mark the Eid-el -Fitr celebration.Minister of Interior Rauf Aregbesola who congratulated all Muslim faithful on the successful completion of the Ramadan fast, called on them to replicate the life of kindness, love and good neighbourliness, as exemplified by the Holy Prophet Muhammad (Peace be upon Him).

He decried the spate of ethnic conflicts that have resurfaced in some parts of northern Nigeria in recent times, advising Nigerians to see themselves as a single entity and learn to tolerate one another despite their ethnic and religious differences.

Besides, the minister assured Nigerians that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari was fully committed to battling the scourge of COVID-19 with the cooperation of all Nigerians.

While commending the security agencies for the successes so far recorded in the fight against the Boko Haram insurgency in the North East, he advised Nigerians to take responsibility against the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic and also stay safe by observing physical distancing.

Also, the Plateau State Police Command said it would deploy over 2,089 personnel to checkmate criminal elements during the festivities.The command enjoined members of the public to be security conscious, and give useful and timely information to the police and other security agencies in order to curtail the pre-celebration illegal activities of Sara-Suka and other cult groups.

The spokesman of the command, ASP Ubah Gabriel Ogaba, who made the appeal in a statement yesterday in Jos, said the command had drawn out elaborate security strategies to ensure hitch-free celebration throughout the state.

Ogaba disclosed that the state police command held a meeting on May 20, 2020 with security chiefs, religious leaders and other critical stakeholders in Plateau State in order to fine-tune its strategies to ensure a crime-free Eid-el-Fitr celebration across the state.

“In view of the above, the command wishes to remind members of the public that the federal and state government safety directives on COVID-19 Pandemic are still in force.”

The command solicited the cooperation of the residents of Plateau State in the maintenance of law and order during the festivities. According to Ogaba, there will be no prayers on all Eid grounds but mosques where prayer will be observed and should not have more than 50 worshippers. “Physical distancing, use of hand sanitizers and wearing of face masks are compulsory for all.”

The PPRO also announced a total ban on the use of tricycles during the festivities, especially on Saturday and Sunday within the Jos metropolis and Bukuru areas of the state.

He said that all relaxation centres, including the National Museum, zoo, Wildlife Park, social joints and other recreational centers in the state would be closed down during the celebration.

“The ban on the sale and use of fireworks such as knockout, bangers and other explosives, is still in force and violators will face the wrath of the law,” Ogaba said.The command advised parents to counsel their children not to indulge in drugs/substance abuse as well as any other form of anti-social activity.