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It’s unusual Easter, muted celebration across Nigeria

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Pope Francis is helped get back up after lying down in prayer prior to celebrate Good Friday Mass for the Passion of Christ, at St. Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican on April 10, 2020. Andrew Medichini / POOL / AFP

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• Religious Leaders, Ekiti Residents Lament Low- Key Observance
• Private Celebration In Adamawa, Moodiness In Benue
• Lockdown Or Not, 2020 Easter Is A Success, Say Enugu Residents
• PFN Calls On Christians To Reconcile With God
• Christians Are Not Restricted From Worship In Kano, Says CAN Chairman
• NMA Faults Govs’ Moratorium To Allow Services In Churches, Mosques

This year’s Easter, which started on Thursday, has been muted, sober and devoid of the usual boisterous celebration for which it has come to be associated with for decades, no thanks to the novel coronavirus, otherwise called COVID-19 pandemic. The Good Friday processions that traditionally enact the crucifixtion of Jesus Christ by devout Christians could not hold yesterday.

The lockdown and restriction of movements and gatherings across the states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT) in a bid to curb the spread of the disease have forced many Nigerians, especially Christians and churches, to scale down the celebration.

Most people will observe Easter Sunday service tomorrow online and via various social media platforms, just as some states relaxed the restrictions to allow for gathering/worships in mosques and churches, on certain conditions.

Even these actions the governments of Kogi, Katsina, Rivers and Ondo states have been faulted by the Nigeria Medical Association (NMA), which appealed to the Nigeria Police Force (NPF) and other security agencies to ensure that such gatherings do not take place.

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In a statement yesterday in Abuja, NMA President, Dr. Francis Faduyile, while appreciating the prime place of religion in our national lives and especially the value Christians place on Easter, noted that the Church should understand that there is now the evidence of community transmission of COVID-19.

Faduyile expressed concern that some state governors have since ordered the relaxation of the lockdown orders and authorised mass observance of Jumat prayers and Easter Sunday services and called on them to rescind their decision in the interest of safety of lives.

He said: “The attention of the NMA has been drawn to some isolated statements negating the established measure of preventing COVID-19 and orders by some state governors authorising the mass observance of Jumat prayers and Easter Sunday services.

“Of particular concern are the moratorium on the lockdown to allow mass gathering in mosques and churches starting from Friday (yesterday) to Sunday (tomorrow) in Rivers State and the lifting of the ban on Friday prayers by Katsina and Kogi states governments.

“We are aware that similar orders have also been given in Ondo, Ebonyi and Imo states, which have approved mass attendance of Easter services. We are also worried about declaration by the Cross River State governor that social distancing is not needed while wearing a face mask.”

In the midst of this, the National President of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN) and General Superintendent of Gospel Light International Ministries, also known as New Covenant Gospel Church (NCGG), Rev. Felix Omobude, has called on Nigerians to use the Easter lockdown to reconcile with God and express their gratitude to Him.

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Omobude in a telephone interview with The Guardian said although the whole world is presently living in very perilous times, Christians should celebrate Easter in whatever situations they find themselves with heart of gratitude, whether in the house, with or without fanfare, and put their faith and trust in God.

“Certainly, we are living in very perilous and challenging times, the whole world is affected by this challenge and the church cannot live in isolation. In whatever situation we found ourselves as Christians, we should be grateful to God for sending Jesus Christ to die for our sins. In our houses and in whatever situations, we should, with a heart of gratitude, thank God for this Easter.”

Omobude said PFN was in support of the social distancing and both personal and environmental hygiene enforced by governments, urging Nigerians to obey instructions.

“The world is in a panic, but our God is not panicking. We must trust God that He will allow this season to pass quickly.
In Kano State, preparations remained in full gear yesterday, as unlike some states on lockdown, residents still went about unhindered.

At the popular Yankura Market in Kano, there was a crowd of buyers making last minute shopping ahead of the celebration. 

Nevertheless, schools and some public facilities remain shut, as all bordering points into the State are shut.

Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) in the state, Rev. Adeyemo Adeyemi, said Christians were not restricted from worshiping, despite observance of the social distancing directive.

Holy Cross Cathedral Church, Lagos Island … yesterday PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI

But he said the churches have suspended all special programmes that attract 100 and above worshippers to avoid crowding, saying: “We appreciate the state government for allowing worship at both mosques and churches. But that is not to say we are not respecting the law of social distancing and that is why we now have multiple Masses, especially at some cathedrals, to maintain social distancing.”

The Chairman, Enforcement of the Quarantine and Restriction of Movement Regulations (2020) in Akwa Ibom State and the state Commissioner of Police, Edgal Imohimi, said the lockdown order was still in force.

This is despite a statement by the Secretary to the State Government (SSG), Dr. Emmanuel Ekuwem, that the government had relaxed the law to enable residents celebrate the season.

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Ekuwem said all religious gatherings must not be over 20 worshipers, including the pastors and choir, per church, irrespective of the size of the church, while sitting arrangements must be social distancing compliant, among others.

Imohimi said the window provided by the government for religious activities to hold on Friday, April 10 and Sunday, April 12 between 6am and 1pm, respectively, must be observed strictly in line with the provisions of the Order, insisting that religious activities would be allowed only on the said date and time.

In Adamawa State, the Easter would be celebrated at individual private homes as directed by the state Chairman of CAN and Catholic Bishop of Yola Diocese, Dr. Stephen Dami Mamza.

Mamza stressed the need for Christians to worship and celebrate in their homes, saying only the living can worship God and He can accept any good prayers anywhere people or individuals say the prayers, adding: “As a church, we shall continue to comply fully with the directives of the authorities in curbing the spread of the virus.

“We, therefore, call on you to cooperate maximally with the relevant agencies in their efforts and measures towards the welfare of our people in the face of this killer disease.”

The 14-day lockdown on Adamawa is still in force and has denied Christians the opportunity to shop for the Easter, while the social gardens remain closed.

The Jimeta Ultra-modern Market along Galadima Aminu Way opened only for foodstuffs while customers lamented government’s reluctance to relax the lockdown to enable Christians celebrate.

Mrs. John Peter regretted her inability to buy clothes for her children and the fact that the foodstuffs she needed were not in the market since transporters stopped working during the lockdown.

“Easter is celebrated once in a year, so I think that since there is no case of the disease in Adamawa, government should have relaxed the lockdown to enable us have our celebration as it is supposed to be celebrated.

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“I am sad staying at home during Easter, with no church activities and no good food for our children. I expected that government would be more considerate to make special provisions, like foodstuffs for churches to share to their members, since market will not be opened. But government officials are sharing the foodstuffs to their relatives in the villages. It is not fair,” she lamented.

After a lull in church activities, thousands of Christians would throng the various churches across Rivers State tomorrow, even as some hold services via radio, television and online in strict compliance with the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended safety procedures.

Wike had on Thursday announced a temporary relaxation on the restrictions on large religious gatherings to enable Christians carry out their religious obligations during the Easter period tomorrow, while restrictions, including closure of markets, nightclubs, cinemas, beer parlours, weddings, parks, as well as closure of entry points remain in force until further notice.

Senior Pastor of Kings Assembly, Chris Ugoh, yesterday expressed gratitude to the governor, but enjoined members to continue to fellowship online, saying the church was still adhering to strict compliance with the WHO recommended safety procedures.

Bishop of Niger Delta North Diocese, Rt. Rev. Wisdom Budu Ihunwo, said despite the governor’s decision, any church without the small communion cups should not have a communion service, urging members to spend time to pray for the state, Nigeria and other countries battling with Coronavirus for God to show mercy and heal the land.

Some clergymen and residents of Ado Ekiti, the Ekiti State capital, bemoaned the low-key celebration of this year’s Easter due to the stay-at-home order imposed by the state government.

State Chairman of CAN, Rev. Fr. Peter Olowolafe, said the possibility of observing tomorrow’s service at various parishes was very bleak due to the response received from the state government, which indicated that there would be no religious gathering during this Easter.

He urged members to adhere strictly to government’s directive on gathering, praying that they live beyond the present situation to freely and joyously gather together again to celebrate Easter in the land of the living, warning that CAN would not in any way be responsible for any individual or group of people who flagrantly disobey the directives.

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In Benue State, it is likely to be a moody Easter, devoid of fanfare, as residents concentrated on buying foodstuff during the season, even as both the state government and CAN shut markets and banned church activities, respectively, across the state.

All transport companies operating in the state observed the “stop overloading” order by the state government, with all motor parks shut.

Meanwhile, many of the recreational centres visited in Makurdi and environs were empty. A parent, Zechariah Ape, said he would not even allow his children to go out to mix with others in the name of celebration.

He said he has provided enough food in the house for his kids and would rather use the opportunity to pray for God’s intervention.

Plateau State Governor Simon Lalong admonished Christians not to despair over government’s decision to lockdown the state during Easter, saying: “Like Archbishop Jose Gomez, President of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops, said: ‘Our Churches may be closed, but Christ is not quarantined and his gospel is not in chains.’

“Even though we cannot worship together, each of us can seek God in the tabernacles of our hearts.”

In Taraba State, markets, shops and other businesses that were earlier shut were ordered to re-open to customers, though the rule of social distancing was being strictly adhered to, even as worship centers were also allowed to host worshippers.

State Chairman of CAN, Rev. Jerapi Isaiah Magaji, urged the people not to abuse the opportunity but adhere strictly to social distancing during and after the celebration.

Christians in Kogi State were in high spirits following government’s conditional lifting of the ban on religious gathering by Governor Yahaya Bello.

One of them, Emmanuel Daniel, told The Guardian that they were happy because it would enable them celebrate Easter in their various churches this year.

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He added: “God has answered our prayers. The state is one of the lucky states that has not recorded any case. We are grateful to government for the decision to allow us to worship in our various churches.”

State Chairman of CAN, Bishop John Ibenu, commended Bello for the decision, adding: “I want to assure the government that we are working hand in hand with them to ensure the safety and good health of the public, urging the people to observe the set out rules.

“The battle is not over yet; we must continue to fight it until there is a zero case in Nigeria,’’ he said.

State Pastor of Living Faith Church in Lokongoma, Lokoja, Pastor Dapo Olumuyiwa, said everything in the physical has their root in the spiritual and “it is also reasonable that some of us in the priesthood call on God to intervene in our affairs. At the end of the day, we have multiple dimensional attacks against this common enemy called COVID-19.

Saint Mary Catholic Church, Oke Padre, Ibadan deserted as Catholic faithful mark Good Friday. PHOTOS: NAJEEM RAHEEM

“The end result is that we would rejoice together and our nation will move forward.’’
In Imo State, church leaders, faithful groan over closure of churches, as Governor Hope Uzodinma ordered partial opening of foodstuffs markets yesterday.

The church leaders, led by CAN Chairman in the state, Apostle Iheanyichi Godson-Ibeji, wondered if the foodstuffs markets directed to be open between 6am and 6pm are more organised than the church.

Godson-Ibeji said: “Our neighbouring states in the Southeast have opened churches for Easter celebrations, giving opportunity to worship. I do not know why it is different here. Markets were opened today. Are they observing social distancing. We are more organised in churches than the markets, where there is no social distancing.

“How about the markets where they touch things and cough anyhow? That is more dangerous.”

Bishop of Anglican Diocese of Ohaji/Egbema, Dr. Chidi Collins Oparajiaku, said: “The church has need to meet this (Holy) week. If this is denied us, at least it will be part of history till eternity.”

General Overseer of Charismatic Ministries, Dr. Cosmas Ilechukwu, insisted that the church leaders should always be carried along by the state government, saying: “There is the need for churches to meet and pray this Holy week.”

State Chairman of PFN and the leader of the Seed of Life Evangelical Christian Mission, Bishop Titus Akanabu, cautioned that putting churches under lock and key was inimical to God’s kingdom, while Archbishop of Owerri Catholic Ecclesiastic Province, Dr. Anthony J. V. Obinna, has scheduled to stream live all Masses this season on the Catholic-owned Ozisa FM, Owerri.

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In Enugu State, some residents said irrespective of the lockdown, this year’s Easter is a huge success, insisting that the joy brought to mankind by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ could not be dwarfed by any challenge.

Rev. Edwin Okpara of Assemblies of God, Church told The Guardian that the success of Easter was not about food, drinks and clothes the people wear, but their salvation, which was bought on the Cross of Calvary by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“That is the foundation of our faith and that is our hope. A lot of people would say that we should declare Good Friday as Black Friday because it was the day Jesus died, but we said no, that it was the day our salvation was brought.

“Without his death, there won’t be resurrection and without his resurrection, our faith is in vain. This is what we are celebrating and it does not matter what COVID-19 has brought with the lockdown we are witnessing in the country,” he said.

Enugu did not relax its lockdown, rather, Police surveillance increased yesterday, as some businesses that opened were forced to close and some residents who defied the order to close their businesses were arrested and made to secure their bail on payment at between N5, 000 to N10, 000, depending on where the person was arrested.

Sokoto State Governor Aminu Waziri Tambuwal extended the partial lockdown by another two weeks, following the expiration of the first leg of the ban, which elapsed at midnight.

The extension was announced after about a two-hour stakeholders’ meeting, which reviewed the subsisting ban imposed on March 27.

He reminded the people that the pandemic was real and there was need to step up surveillance, adding that with the rising number of cases in Niger Republic, residents of the state should desist from travelling to the neighbouring country until the situation normalised.

In his contribution, Sultan of Sokoto, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar 111, enjoined the people to be vigilant and prayerful, “as prayer is the shield of the believer,” and do all what was expected of them to win this battle for humanity.

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