On Sunday, Easter celebration was low key for many Christians across the country as several Churches were shut in compliance with lockdown orders.
The Easter celebration, which represents the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross, his death and resurrection, in Christianity, was disrupted by the coronavirus pandemic across the world which has caused about 100,000 deaths.
The quiet celebration in Nigeria is also not unrelated to the increasing cases of the disease as well as the lockdown order imposed in many states and the Federal Capital Territory.
The lockdown imposed by federal and state governments is aimed at curbing the spread of the virus which has caused ten deaths in the country and infected 318 people.
However, while churches in many states complied with the directives, others did not.
Christians in parts of parts of Maiduguri, Borno State, attended Church services to celebrate this year’s Easter. This is in defiance of lockdown order given by Governor Babangana Zulum to prevent further spread of coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state.
Most churches in Maiduguri metropolis, including New GRA, Post Office, Wulari, Bulumkutu and Polo areas, remained open for services, the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports.
The churches include Christian Church Maiduguri, First Baptist Church, EYN Church Maiduguri, Living Faith Church, Catholic Diocese of Maiduguri and Saint Patrick Catholic Church.
Some of the churches directed their members to attend service in spite of the lockdown order.
Simon Jude, a worshipper at Saint Patrick Catholic Catholic Church, said thousands of people have been turning up in many churches so that people can seek refuge and true healing.
He said that the prevailing circumstances of the COVID-19 outbreak in other parts of the country necessitated the need for everyone to pray to seek divine intervention.
Another worshipper, Julius Emmanuel, however said that the congregation was divided into four while the social distancing restriction was strictly adhered to and worshippers were encouraged to use hand sanitisers and wash their hands properly before coming into the church.
“The church service was divided into different sessions to include between 5 a.m and 6.30 a.m.; 7.30 a.m and 9.30 a.m while during the evening, the congregation open at about 4.30 p.m. and run till 6.30 p.m.,” he said.
Some churches like Christian Church Maiduguri, First Baptist Church, EYN Church Maiduguri, Living Faith Church, recorded low turnout of worshippers.
This is because many of them prayed from home, Godwin Abdul, a worshipper at First Baptist Church, said.
Mr Abdul said: “In compliance with government directive of social distancing, many residents marked services in their respective homes.”
NAN also noted that mosques, churches, markets and clubs have remained open in Maiduguri despite the lockdown order.
Similar cases were observed in Lokoja, the Kogi State capital.
Christians in Kogi on Sunday gathered in their various churches to worship and celebrate Easter.
This is justified by the fact that the state government had, on April 9, lifted the ban on all religious gathering.
The governor, Yahaya Bello, however, urged religious leaders to put in place preventive measures such as maintaining social distancing, provision of hand washing materials and sanitisers in their various worship centres in order to contain the spread of Coronavirus in the state.
According to NAN, all the churches visited adhered to the directives of the state government on preventive measures and the worshipers maintained social distancing, while hand washing materials and sanitisers were provided for their members at the church entrance.
The turnout of worshipers was averagely low in some churches, but was impressive in most of the Pentecostal churches visited.
The churches visited were Living Faith Church (aka Winners Chapel) Lokongoma, Lokoja, The Apostolic Church, Chapel of Freedom Int’l Churches, Deeper Life Church, First Baptist Church, Catholic, Anglican Church and Christ Embassy, among others.
Some of the worshippers who spoke to NAN, said that they were excited about the lift of ban on congregation and commended the state government for the gesture.
”I am not used to staying at home on service days, so this two Sundays that we remained at home was like six months to me. We thank the governor for lifting the ban to enable us to celebrate Easter,” Esther Alobo, a worshiper at Winners Chapel, said .
Pastor Dapo Olumuyiwa of Living Faith Church, Lokoja, commended the state government for taking spiritual bold step by allowing the people of God to worship.
In Yola, Adamawa State, some Christians celebrated their Easter at home in compliance with the state government’s lockdown order due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Some churches conducted Easter services with no fewer than 50 followers as advised by the state government as part of measures to contain the spread of the disease in the state.
In his Easter message, Dami Mamza, the state Chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), called on Christians to intensify prayers, vigilance and comply with the lockdown directive.
”The pace at which the coronavirus is spreading in our country today calls for prayer, vigilance and compliance with relevant bodies in the struggles to curtailing the further spread and the far-reaching damages of the disease.
”As a church in Adamawa State, we shall continue to comply fully with the directives of the state authorities in curbing the spread of the virus.
”We therefore call on you dear brethren to cooperate maximally with the relevant government agencies in their efforts and measures towards the welfare of our people in the face of this killer disease,” he said.
The spokesman of the state police command, Sulaiman Nguroje, told NAN that so far there has not been any report of breach of peace in the state.
There is also no case of coronavirus in the state.
Many churches in Lafia, Nasarawa State, were under lock and key – in compliance with the government’s restriction order on gathering to curtail the spread of the virus as Christians celebrated Easter.
Joseph Masin, Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) who is also the Bishop of Word of God Ministry in Nasarawa State, said Christians celebrated the Easter in their houses.
This is even as he commended churches for adhering to government order to shutdown worships centres for now in view of the efforts to contain the virus.
Mr Masin, however, called on the Nasarawa State Government to provide food items and other palliatives to the poor to cushion the effects of the lockdown.
Similarly, Bishop Godwin Robinson, Bishop of Lafia Anglican Communion said he and his members in the state worshipped in their houses to maintain the social distancing order by the government.
“It has come to a stage where we celebrated in our hearts, rejoicing God’s faithfulness and mercy,” he said.
The cleric also sympathised with artisans, petty traders and others who earn their living daily describing them as the categories of people worst hit by the partial lockdown as their means of livelihood has been blocked.
He, therefore, urged the government to provide palliative to cushion the effects of the partial lockdown in order to avoid another disaster emanating from lack of access to means of livelihood.
Speaking on the level of compliance with the state government’s restriction order, Bola Longe, Nasarawa State Commissioner of Police, said he was impressed with compliance by Christian leaders.
The commissioner said he went round on inspection and he can confirm that no church was opened as everybody celebrated in their houses.
Churches in Ilorin, the Kwara State, remained shut as Christians remained indoors in compliance with the total lockdown of the state to curtail the spread of coronavirus pandemic.
NAN reports that churches around Sabo-Oke and Taiwo Isale in Ilorin, were deserted while their gates were locked.
Governor AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq had on April 9 ordered a complete lockdown of all the 16 local government areas in the state as a result of two confirmed cases of COVID-19 in the state.
At the Catholic Cathedral Church in Taiwo Isale, a young priest, who did not disclose his name, said there was no Easter service in the church.
He said all parishioners have been directed to comply with the stay at home order of the state government especially on the Easter Sunday. And that the Diocesan Bishop has also asked all the Parish Priests in the Diocese to observe the Easter Sunday service in their various homes with members of their families.
Some worshippers expressed shock over the closure of churches.
Taiwo Ezekiel, a member of ECWA church, said since he was born over 60 years ago, he had never witnessed an occasion when the church was shut preventing Christians to worship on a special day like Eater Sunday.
He however prayed that God would remove the dreaded COVID-19 from the surface of the earth.
Another worshiper, Lanre Adams of C&S, described coronavirus pandemic as a period for all mankind to be closer to God.
In Enugu State, many Christian families worshipped online to mark the Easter celebration in compliance with the lockdown directives by the state government.
Most of the churches visited were under lock and key.
The churches visited include St Paul’s Catholic Church Awkunanaw, Emmanuel Anglican Church, Achara Layout, and some Pentecostal churches on Agbani Road.
Others are the Cathedral Church of Good Shepherd, Independence Layout, Wesley Cathedral, Uwani, Holy Ghost Cathedral, the Living Faith Church, Presidential Road and the Redeemed Christian Church of God, Abakaliki Road.
A resident, Ikem Odenigbo, told NAN that he joined the church service conducted by Pope Francis in the morning on the television and was satisfied with the service as he received the spiritual sacrament he craved for.
It is not about being inside the church but being close to God. The people are the church and not the building, he noted and urged the people to stay at home and comply with other hygiene protocols directed by governments and other agencies.
Meanwhile, some markets in parts of the coal city were open for business as people were still busy shopping for Easter at the Artisan Market on Ogui Road, Kenyatta Market, Uwani and the Ochanja Market at Abakpa Nike, Enugu.
The state has recorded two cases of the virus.
Some churches in Okitipupa Local Government Area of Ondo State, on Sunday, were shut, in compliance with state government’s lockdown order.
No Easter service was held in any of the churches in the council area, NAN reports.
Tthe Ondo State Government had on April 17 granted the churches a concession to hold Easter services after a meeting with the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). But the state government later rescinded its directives after a positive case of COVID-19 was reported in Akure on Friday.
Churches like Christ Apostolic Church, Foursquare Gospel Church, Anglican Church, Mountain of Fire Ministries, Methodist Church, Stella Maris Catholic Church, Winners Chapel and the Redeemed Christian Church of God did not open for Easter celebrations. And Christians in the council area observed the Easter celebrations at home.
Pastor Mathew OgoOluwa, the Chairman, Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), Okitipupa chapter, said Christians had been implored to ensure total compliance with government’s order in their own interest.
“We have earlier been instructed to open churches today for the Easter celebration after deliberations between Christian bodies and the government. But we were later instructed not to open our worship centres again because of the latest development on COVID-19. So we have no choice than to comply.
“Since it is all for our wellbeing, I urge all Christians to comply with all the precautionary measures prescribed by government and health professionals in order to contain the pandemic,” he said.
The case was the same in Akure, the state capital, as churches around Owode and Oba-Ile remain locked.
Many of the big denominations, however, held live Easter services on different social media platforms.
Message of hope
As Nigerian Christians join their counterparts globally to celebrate Easter, President Muhammadu Buhari urged Nigerians to emulate Jesus Christ by imbibing the spirit of sacrifice and perseverance to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
“I urge you to imbibe and live the values of humility, discipline, perseverance, sacrifice and obedience which Jesus Christ demonstrated during His stay on earth,” he said.
He said there is no better opportunity than now for all Christians in particular, and Nigerians in general, to remain faithful and hopeful that, with intensified prayers backed by personal and collective responsibility, the nation would pull through the trying time.
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