Nigeria plans reopening religious centres despite rising COVID-19 cases
The commendations that greeted the effort of the federal government to reopen worship centres in the country as announced by the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19, Boss Mustapha obviously outweigh condemnations.
This is not surprising, because we are both a religious and hypothetical nation. We tend to let our sense of judgment be clouded with religious beliefs and hypotheses, and this has affected many results we achieve in all ramifications of our lives.
In a bid to curtail the spread of coronavirus pandemic, the Federal Government like every other nation of the world put almost all normal activities on hold since March. Our two main religious places – churches and mosques have been affected as well. Though it took time, we adjusted.
This brought about quick intervention resulting in the usage of social media platforms as well as other digital means to stream religious programs. Traditional media such as television and radio stations were also utilised. All these are blessings to allow worshippers to engage in services remotely.
It has to be stated here though, that churches mostly adopted these techniques. The point, notwithstanding is that we are never satisfied with all these modes of worship, leading to clamour for the resumption of religious services physically.
With Lagos State in top gear to recommence Muslim and Christian services in the worship centres from June 19 and 21 respectively, other states will likely follow suit. Benue has already done so.
But, we should ask ourselves if we are truly ready. The preparedness to enter into another phase of the fight against the pandemic cannot be taken lightly. It is rather a plus for us to embrace the fact that the post-COVID-19 era will continue to feature prominently technology for remote gathering. The whole experience requires 3 elements which are material, financial and human resources.
Are our religious places capable of delivering an COVID-19 measures capable of avoiding mass infection?
Can the churches observe and maintain the World Health Organisation (WHO) and Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) protocols of wearing face masks, observing social distancing and proper washing or sanitizing of hands? What are the plans put in place to test congregants and screen them with hand-held digital thermometers at the entry points of the places of worships? Can all the religious centres afford such measures, given their proliferation?
These other plans include the provision of microphones. It is hygienically advisable that all sanctuaries should have at least four microphones to be used by each spiritual leader in the conduct of service, especially in churches where order of service is observed by nothing less than four people.
The case has always been that when a minister leaves the altar or podium, another minister picks it and continue. In the case where four microphones are not available, are we prepared to comply in sanitizing one microphone before it is used by another religious minister?
Another important point of this discussion is the fumigation of the building and its surroundings. The entire religious premises must be sprayed with disinfectant before and after service. Windows are most likely to be opened, to be in tandem with the guidelines provided by the aforementioned health and government authorities in curbing the pandemic. Can the religious centres afford these measures?
Having established this, we should brace up for the challenges materially, financially and humanly. Adequate materials including hand gloves for those that will engage in environmental sanitation have to be supplied constantly depending on the number of worshippers of the churches and mosques in question.
Meanwhile, most of these materials are not re-usable. They cannot be shared as well. Apart from the safety materials, how about expansion materials to augment the modes of services? Churches and mosques in their bids to regulate members may have to purchase tents, chairs, tables, stools, etc. This then forces the question of funding! How many religious centres are financially buoyant to keep purchasing safety materials for the worshippers on a weekly basis, at least? What happens if two or three services are observed in a compressed Friday or Sunday as the case may unfold? Won’t this affect the hike in prices of these safety materials in the market when demand is higher?
Human resources are key to this phase. If we must bear in mind the roles of religious organisations according to Emile Durkheim, they provide social cohesion to help maintain social solidarity through shared rituals and beliefs. How convenient will it then be for brethren to worship without greetings which are wrapped in our hugs, shaking of hands, exclamations, and intimacy in holding of hands?
So, is it actually possible to maintain social distancing in our churches and mosques? We are social beings even in religious spaces. Bolstering the human capacity, are there going to be monitoring and enforcement teams to ensure members’ compliance? If there would be, are they from the government or within the circle of the spiritual families?
In another dimension, it has to be critically examined how children will fare with this arrangement. Children’s departments of religious places are not given green light, yet. They have to be kept at home or stay with their parents during worship. Will it count as social distancing when children are with their parents in public places?
Frankly speaking, the odds are not in our favour as a religious nation. Considering the alarming rate of cases, we have to deal with the pandemic ruthlessly before reopening religious centres.
One major approach that would help us is for the political and religious stakeholders to go back to the drawing board one more time and rethink this decision. It is never too late to do this. It is never completely erroneous to be addressed as a religious nation, but our religious activities should align with a reality check.