As Christians across the world celebrate the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, no fewer than seven states in Nigeria have relaxed the restriction orders earlier imposed to curtail the spread of the COVID-19.
The states say the relaxation of the orders is meant to enable the residents, especially Christians, to engage in religious activities.
As of Saturday, Kogi, Bayelsa, Akwa Ibom, Katsina, Rivers, Delta and Ondo States, have all eased the lockdown to allow Christians go to church to observe the Easter celebrations.
Some states also urged Muslims go to mosques last Friday to observe the Juma’at prayers.
There are indications that other states which also imposed lockdown will the tough measures. The states include Taraba, Imo, Abia and Ebonyi.
Many states had earlier imposed a total lockdown as part of measures to check the spread of coronavirus. They also banned large religious gatherings and markets and restricted movements.
As of Saturday night, Nigeria has a total of 318 COVID-19 cases in 20 states. Of the figure, 70 infected have recovered and discharged while the number of deaths now stand at 10.
Southern Nigeria is predominantly populated by Christian population while the north is dominated by Muslims.
In Rivers State where there are two confirmed cases of the virus, its governor, Nyesom Wike, said in a state-wide broadcast that the restriction would be temporarily reviewed in the spirit of Easter.
“In the Spirit of Easter and after a careful review of the state of COVID-19 situation in our State, we have decided to temporarily relax the restriction on large religious gathering,” he said.
“Friday 10th April 2020 – all Moslem faithful should observe Juma’at prayers in their mosques or prayer grounds throughout the State and pray for the peace, forgiveness and the blessings of Allah upon the State.
“Sunday 12th April 2020 – all Christians should have Easter Church Services with their full congregation and pray to God to forgive us of our sins, continue to intervene in our affairs and protect the State and our people from the Coronavirus.”
The governor however added, “We have no other choice but to fight this mass killer virus with all of our might and every weapon and resource at our disposal, less we all perish, for our inactions and indiscretions.”
In the neigbouring Bayelsa State, Governor Douye Diri, said asked Christians to worship in their churches during the Easter period.
He said he took the decision to relax the restriction order based on the appeal from Christian leaders in the state.
He however said the state would be locked down again after the Easter celebration. So far, no case of coronavirus has been reported in the South-South state.
Akwa Ibom, another state in Nigeria’s South-South, also gave the same reason for lifting the restriction order.
The Udom Emmanuel-led administration said it was lifting the order to enable residents go to church to celebrate Easter.
Governor Yahaya Bello of Kogi State in north central Nigeria asked Christians and Muslims to go to churches and mosques for their normal worships prayers.
There are almost equal numbers of Christians and Muslims in the state.
Bello nevertheless advised that social distancing should be observed during the services.
“Sitting arrangements in mosques and churches should be done to ensure social distancing,” he said.
“We also urge churches and mosques to make their services as brief as possible in order not to keep a large crowd of worshipers within enclosed confinement.”
Ebonyi State Government led by Governor Dave Umahi relaxed the ban on burials by giving those in the state between April 9 and April 20 to bury their dead.
Worshippers in the state are expected to attend their normal service only on Sunday for Christians and Friday for Muslims with effect from April 12.
In Ondo State, the governor, Rotimi Akeredolu, approved the request of the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to observe the Easter Sunday worship in various churches across the state.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa of Delta State also a 14-day restriction order he imposed on the state.
In the Muslim-dominated Katsina State in north western Nigeria, the governor, Aminu Bello Masari, ordered the suspension of the ban earlier placed on Juma’at prayers on Fridays.
“The Juma’at Imams should avoid prolonged sermons in order to discharge their followers within the shortest period.
“People are also strongly advised to maintain social distancing and adhere strictly to all the rules and regulations provided by the health experts in fighting the contagious disease,” the state government said in a statement by the Secretary to the State Government, Mustapha Inuwa.
Although, Bauchi State in the north eastern flank of the country has not lifted the restriction order, its governor, Bala Mohammed, who had earlier tested positive to the coronavirus, attended April 10 Jum’at prayers at Bauchi Central Mosque alongside some government officials.
Mohammed came out from a 14-day isolation about 24 hours ago after recovering from the virus.
There is a significant Christian population in Bauchi State.
However, two of the states – Ondo and Delta – on Saturday reviewed the restrictions order citing the fresh cases of coronavirus infection discovered.
Ondo State Information Commissioner, Donald Ojogo, said government had cancelled the special concession granted Churches across the state to celebrate the Easter Sunday/Service.
The statement said, “The Ondo State Government notes with deep concern the second index case. This development has once again, reinforced the need to deepen our collective efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The Ondo State COVID-19 Response Team has reported that the second index case having travelled from Lagos to Ondo State must give the Government greater concern to avoid community transmission.
“Against the backdrop of the above, the Ondo State Government has directed the cancellation of the special concession granted Churches across the State to celebrate the Easter Sunday/Service. This decision was taken after due consultations with the leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).”
Also, Delta State which also relaxed the lockdown to allow residents of the state celebrate Easter order has reinstated the order.
Governor Ifeanyi Okowa announced this on Saturday after another case of the virus was discovered in the state. The state now has three confirmed cases.
In Cross River State, the government merely directed workers from grade level 10 to resume work on Tuesday April 14 but insisted that mass gatherings of all kinds such as worships, weddings, burials remained prohibited.
But the relaxation of restriction orders by the governors has drawn the ire of the federal government, which had earlier imposed total lockdown in some parts of the country to check the spread of coronavirus.
President Muhammadu Buhari had on March 29 announced total lockdown of the nation’s capital, Abuja, Lagos and Ogun State to contain the spread of the virus.
Answering questions in the federal government-owned Nigeria Television Authority (NTA), Information and Culture minister, Lai Mohammed, denounced the governors for relaxing the restriction orders.
Mohammed alleged that the governors were playing politics with the directives issued to contain the novel Coronavirus spreading across the country.
He said the federal government has responsibility to all Nigerians irrespective of the state they reside.
“A situation where the federal government needs exemption for a certain category of people but the state government will not cooperate is not helpful.
“We will not succeed if there is no cooperation with the state governments,” he said.
The minister underscored the need for harmonisation of the directive of the president Muhammadu Buhari for lockdown in the FCT, Lagos and Ogun states.
“We have a very little window, and as of today, there is no known cure or vaccine for this disease. All we have is Non Medicinal Intervention basically on prevention and management.
“We need the cooperation of the populace as a whole and they need to listen to what the federal government is saying.
“The whole essence of the lockdown is that by the time we lockdown for 14 days, it is a presumption that whoever is incubating the virus must have manifested.
“However, people can contact the disease by not staying at home or not adhering to the hygiene instructions like washing of hands regularly, using hand sanitiser and social distancing,” he said.