•Ondo insists on curfew enforcement
•Osun bows to pressure, relaxes regulations
By Onyebuchi Ezigbo
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) yesterday urged churches to comply with all government regulations to combat the spread of COVID-19 while conducting their crossover services.
Against the backdrop of the controversy between churches and the association on the duration of crossover vigil, the association directed its members to close up shop by 11pm.
CAN President, Rev Samson Ayokunle, in a statement, said the advice was necessary to prevent the spread of COVID-19 infection.
“We understand the unfortunate state COVID-19 infection has put everybody world over, which caused some state governments to place total ban on crossover night service and we are not happy that we would not be able to enter into the new year prayerfully in joint fellowship with our brothers and sisters.
“We, however, urged you all to abide by the directives of each state government on this so as to prevent the spread of the infection,” he said.
According to him, there is no sacrifice too much to end the pandemic once and for all.
“The CAN advises that where the government places an embargo on the crossover night service, churches may meet earlier to praise and give God praises for the gift of life despite the pandemic and to place their requests for 2021 before God.
“In those states, services should be closed about 10:30p.m. or at most 11p.m. to enable worshippers to return home on time. It is a passing phase and this too shall pass away in Jesus Name. Very soon, the pandemic will become history and we will return to our usual routine services in Jesus’ name,” he stated.
Ondo Squares up to CAN, Insists on Curfew Enforcement
However, the face-off between the church and states continued yesterday as the Ondo State Government talked tough on its directive banning crossover vigil on December 31. It warned that violators would face consequences of their actions.
The warning came against the statement of the state branch of CAN directing churches to hold the crossover vigil because the body was not consulted before the government banned it.
The government had directed churches not to hold the crossover services in view of the rising cases of COVID-19 in the country and the need to curtail the spread.
The Ondo State CAN Chairman, Rev. John Oladapo, was reported to have called on Christians to disregard the government’s directive on the curfew currently in operation from 10 pm to 4am, aimed at controlling the spread of COVID-19
But determined to enforce its directive, the government in a statement by the Chairman of the Inter-ministerial Committee on COVID-19, Prof Adesegun Fatusi, said the government did not need to consult any group before taking a decision in the interest of the well-being of the citizenry.
Fatusi said: “COVID-19 is primarily a health issue and not a religious issue; it is, therefore, not in the domain or area of competence of any religious group and for CAN leadership to indicate that technical decisions on health matters cannot be validly made by the state government without first consulting with the association. That is implausible and absurd.
“The order of a curfew from 10.00 pm to 4.00 pm is a subsisting public health order that has been in operation for several months and aimed fundamentally at safeguarding the health of the citizens.
“The decision to maintain the curfew through and beyond 31st December, 2020 in Ondo State was taken jointly with a deep sense of responsibility by a body of leading health experts at a meeting convened by the inter-ministerial committee on Thursday, 24 December 2020, and involving the leadership of the major health professional groups.
“Government has the primary and primal responsibility to protect and safeguard the health of her people and the Ondo State Dangerous Infectious Diseases (COVID-19 Emergency Prevention Regulation) signed into law on 31st March 2020 empowers the governor to take relevant actions to curb the spread of the COVID-19, including restriction of movements. The governor does not need to consult with CAN or any religious or civil group before exercising the power that is duly vested in him by the law of the land.
“It is dangerously misleading for anyone in a position of leadership in the civil society, including religious leaders who are expected to be role models by the tenets of their callings and the clear teachings of the sacred books that they are called to uphold, to openly call on citizens to disobey government’s public health orders made to ensure the health of people, with the implication of putting the health of the people at risk.
“The evening and night of December 31st marks the end of the year for all people and not for any religious group and in the face of the threat of the second wave of COVID-19 in Nigeria, all individuals and groups – whatever their religious leaning may be – have a duty to celebrate the events marking the entry into a new year sensibly, responsibly and safely to ensure that they do not put the health of other citizens at risk.”
The state government warned that while it is the prerogative of the people and groups to obey or disobey laws, the government has a duty to enforce laws.
It added that any individual or group that disobey the government must be ready to face the consequences of their actions.
“We deeply appreciate the efforts of Christian leaders who had acted responsibly and responsively to inform their branches and members of the subsisting curfew and encouraged them to follow the government’s orders
“The Inter-ministerial Committee hereby calls on all the people in Ondo State to celebrate the end of the year with a deep sense of responsibility and a strong commitment to safety and resist any call by anyone, no matter how highly placed, for them to disobey government health order and, therefore, put themselves at the risk of COVID-19 and its consequences as well as legal penalties, including fines and jail terms as specified in the Ondo State COVID-19 laws,” it added.
Osun Issues Fresh Guidelines on Crossover Vigil
The Osun State Government has issued a fresh guideline permitting churches in the state to hold crossover services.
A statement yesterday by the Commissioner for Information and Civic Orientation, Mrs Funke Egbemode, said the government’s sensitivity to the mood of the season necessitated a review of its earlier position.
The state had earlier banned crossover services.
The government, however, warned that any organisation holding crossover service must close the service early and everyone must be off the streets by 1:00am.
“Security operatives have been given the directive to enforce this guideline. Religious bodies and citizens are therefore advised to comply because we do not want anyone to spend the first day of the year in police custody.
“Also, the leadership of religious bodies must ensure strict adherence to safety protocols, which include accommodating only 50 per cent capacity of their normal attendance, ensuring social distancing, use of nose mask or face shields by participants, avoidance of sharing materials and instruments and avoidance of any other action that can help the virus to spread,” Egbemode said.