Church service was held in several churches across Akwa Ibom on Sunday in defiance of the state government’s order prohibiting public gathering. The directive was issued last Thursday to halt the spread of the novel coronavirus.
Many residents were seen on Sunday walking about or congregating in the streets of Uyo as if there was really no restriction order at all.
Church service was going on at the Apostolic Church, Ikot Oko Idio community in Anua, at about 10:41 a.m., same with a few other churches around Ekpri Nsukara which is in the outskirt of Uyo, when a PREMIUM TIMES reporter visited the area to monitor compliance with the government order.
Commercial tricyclists, otherwise known as keke, were ferrying people in and out of Ekpri Nsukara, with most of them carrying maximum number of passengers in contravention of an initial order of the Akwa Ibom government which said only two passengers should be at the backseat.
The presence of security officials at several check points on the major roads in Uyo did not scare residents who were either going or coming back from church. Some motorists were seen driving on the wrong lane just to avoid security checkpoints.
“The virus can infect some people. In fact, it can infect everybody, but not me,” said one man who was returning home from church service at All Nations for Christ Church in Uyo. “We were about a hundred people inside the church, we have a big space (for people to observe social distancing).”
At Oron Road, which is one of the major roads in Uyo, some youth were seen playing football in the middle of the tarred road, less than 30 metres from a security checkpoint.
“Obongowo, virus ibaha mi (chief, there’s no virus in this city)!” one of the young men playing football said to a PREMIUM TIMES reporter.
Some young men were also playing football in the middle of another major road – Aka Road – in Uyo, not far from a security checkpoint.
A police officer at the checkpoint said there was not much they could do to stop them.
“We get insulted whenever we try to stop them,” the officer said. “The government is not serious, they shouldn’t just restrict movement, they should stop people from leaving their homes,” he said.
Perhaps because of the absence of security officials, the lockdown appeared to be completely ineffective inside the streets in Uyo where people could be seen going about their normal businesses – selling food, drinks, akara, and other things, and holding meetings in clusters.
At Mbierebe Obio, another community in the outskirt of Uyo, it was also business as usual – shops and the local markets were open for shoppers. Churches, including a local branch of Salvation Ministries, had their Sunday service. Commercial motorcyclists, otherwise known as okada, were busy transporting people in and out of the community.
At Mbiokporo 1, in Nsit Ibom Local Government Area, a number of people were seen at a local stream, swimming or doing their laundry. The people at the stream who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES said they have heard of the coronavirus, but they were not afraid of it. Some said they did not believe the virus would come close to their community.
One woman who was doing her laundry, however, said she could stop coming to the stream if she has public power supply and tap water running at her home. Her comment underscores the challenges – including food shortages – which most people are facing while struggling to cope with the lockdown.
At Etinan Local Government Area, churches such as Christian Methodist Episcopal Church, Salvation Army Church, and Catholic Church in Ikot Essien Oku had their Sunday service, unmindful of the Akwa Ibom State government’s order.
The deputy head of Ikot Essien Oku community, Monday Obot, told PREMIUM TIMES he had just passed the information on the coronavirus to the churches and that he was sure no Sunday service would take place again in any of the churches in the area.
The Commissioner for Information in Akwa Ibom state, Charles Udoh, admitted that some churches did not comply with the lockdown.
“People have never been used to lockdown and so there are some gabs here and there, we understand that there will be these issues at the initial stage,” Mr Udoh told PREMIUM TIMES.
He said the lockdown would become more effective as people begin to adjust to it and with the enforcement team going round the state to ensure compliance.
On the general ignorance about the coronavirus, the commissioner said the state would continue to review its information dissemination strategies and that he hopes “things will take shape as it progresses”.