© 2019 - International Centre for Investigative Reporting
Over a dozen churches in FCT disregard warning against large religious gathering, hold Sunday service
By The ICIR reporters
DESPITE directive by the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA) against religious gatherings of not more than 50 persons, not fewer than 20 churches in the FCT, Abuja held church service, opening gates to hundreds of worshippers, The ICIR can report.
The ICIR visited over 20 churches in different areas of the FCT and found that 90 percent of them held physical services and some even held multiple services to accommodate large numbers.
In a press statement shared on its official Twitter page, the FCT Administration on Saturday, warned against religious and public gatherings, limiting such meetings to a maximum of 50 persons.
The announcement was made in line with public health guidance – to curb the spread of coronavirus in the country and to make contact tracing by health authorities easier.
However, the directive was disregarded by many churches as church leadership across the FCT encouraged members to attend worship services with no adequate measures in place to identify suspected case of the virus.
Rather, in attempt to keep members ‘protected’ against the virus, some of the churches provided hand sanitizers at the entrance of the church, pouring it on the palms of members as they enter into the church.
Then members proceeded to sit close to one another in the church where service continued for an average of two hours.
As at the time of filing this report, Nigeria has recorded 27 cases of the coronavirus.
Lagos has recorded 19 infected persons, Abuja has four cases, Ogun has recorded two cases and Ekiti and Oyo have registered one case each.
FCT churches visited by The ICIR
The ICIR reporters who went round Abuja found contrary to the government’s directive that many churches indeed held Sunday services with members in full attendance.
Winners Chapel also known as Living Faith is one church with thousands of branches across Nigeria.
In the FCT, all branches visited by The ICIR were in full service.
The branches include Living Faith Gwarimpa, Nyanya, and Dawaki. All the three branches started church service as early as 9 am as indicated in their programme of service.
Also in Gwarimpa, The Transforming Church (TTC), resumed at 8:30 am, while the church authorities advised members on the threat of coronavirus. The church service commenced officially by 9 am and members were instructed to sit one seat apart from one another .
Most Redeemed Church branches in Abuja visited by The ICIR followed the directive of the Church General Overseer, Enoch Adeboye that members should stop holding physical service in view of the pandemic coronavirus.
Members were advised to gather in house fellowships for worship. Some held their service online, The ICIR gathered.
Redeemed Christian Church of God, Yimi road, Ikwa, appeared to be an exception as it held its church program with scores of members in attendance despite warnings from the FCTA.
In Zuba/Madalla axis of FCT, at least 11 churches were seen holding their services with hundreds of members in attendance.
They included Ikwa All christian Fellowship, Zuba, Rock of Ages Zonal Headquarters, FCT Province 2, Living Faith Church Zuba, a.k.a Winners Chapel, Winners High Way, behind Pantaker, Zuba, St. Augustine’s Anglican Church, church road, Zuba.
Others that held their church program, with members in attendance exceeding 50 persons were Christ Apostolic Church, Zuba, Catholic Diocese Abuja St.Jude Parish, Zuba, Assemblies of God Church, Ikwa-Zuba 1, The Lord of Chosen Charismatic Revival Ministry, Zuba Regional Headquarters, Mountain of Fire and Miracle Ministries, Zuba Regional Headquarters, National Evangelical Mission inc. (the people that love) Ikwa -Zuba, Jehovah Witness Church, Zuba.
Also, Christ Embassy Church was not left out as the Nyanya branch of the church held its church program as usual except with the addition of automatic dispensing hand sanitizers made available at the entrance of the church.
The Dunamis International Gospel Centre, a 100,000 seater capacity church located along Airport Road held three different services, with each service held between 7am- 12am packed with at least a thousand worshippers in attendance.
Holy Rosary Catholic Church at Mambolo Street, Wuse Zone 2 also carried on with church service as well, opening its doors to hundreds of members in clear disregard of the FCTA directive.
Churches that defied FCTA orders can explain their choice, CAN reacts
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), the umbrella body of all Christians in Nigeria said churches that held services against the directive of the FCTA administration were in the best position to explain their choice.
Bayo Oladeji, spokesman to CAN President told The ICIR, that the leadership of CAN supports the position of the government in placing restrictions on social and religious gatherings amidst the fight against the spread of coronavirus.
Oladeji however pointed out that the churches that chose to flout the directive are in the best position to defend their decision.
According to him, the FCTA released the restriction order during the late hours of Friday, March 20, and while the motive was clear and useful, some pastors ‘complained’ of their inability to reach their members within such short period of notice and settled to use the church service to sensitize their members about coronavirus.
“Some pastors were complaining that some of their members could not be reached on the new directive and they asked for the grace to allow those who couldn’t hear of the directive to worship in their usual way. But they would use the service to sensitise them on the coronavirus,” Oladeji told The ICIR.
The CAN also argued that the government wasn’t proactive in announcing restrictions in the FCT.
Oladeji pointed out that President Muhammadu Buhari’s spokesperson, Garba Shehu, recently attended a gathering of old students of his alma mater.
The meeting which Shehu announced on his Twitter was a call to everyone interested to attend the 2020 Annual Leadership Lecture, by Barewa Old Boys Association on Saturday, March 21, in which the presidential aide was to deliver the keynote address.
“Please find time to join us at the Barewa Old Boys Association (BOBA), 2020 Annual Leadership Lecture, where I will be speaking on “Media and Democracy: Challenge of Journalism,” Shehu posted on his Twitter page which boasts of over 800,000 followers.
Pandemic and outbreak lurking
The World Health Organisation (WHO) declared coronavirus officially called COVID-19 a pandemic, given that it has infected over 260,000 people globally, killed over 11,000 persons and has spread to every continent on the planet except Antarctica.
Countries have banned international travels, shut down borders and instructed citizens to restrict movement and avoid large gatherings, all in attempt to arrest the spread of the deadly virus.
In the past month, the virus has spread to five states in Nigeria, raising concern over possible outbreak.
With no known cure or vaccine, a fragile health care system and a population estimated to be 200 million, Nigeria remains at the mercy of citizens abiding by rules guarding prevention.