Three Imams (Islamic clerics) in Maiduguri, Borno State, are to face disciplinary actions for defying the government’s social distancing order which they did by hosting Friday congregational prayers.
Borno had on Thursday declared a total lockdown as a measure to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lockdown involved complete restriction of movement and a ban on all kinds of social, commercial, and religious gatherings. In effect, no mosque or church would be allowed to open for prayers and service until the status quo is reviewed after 14 days.
While the restriction order was still in force, the three Imams of the weekly Friday mosques went ahead and encouraged worshippers to congregate for the Friday service.
The Borno committee on COVID-19 had while going round to access the situation found the three mosques performing their congregational services at three different locations of the town.
Babakura Abba-Jato, the Borno commissioner for home affairs, information, and culture, confirmed this at the daily briefing on COVID-19.
Mr Abba-Jato said the committee and government were disappointed by the action of these popular Imams.
He said the three scholars have been reported to the Shehu of Borno and the Chief Imam preparatory for other punitive measures to be adopted.
”It is disheartening to tell you that three Islamic scholars today violated the total lockdown rules by conducting Juma’at prayers in their respective mosques in the metropolis,” he announced.
“The violators have been fished out and would definitely face the full wrath of the law.”
The action of the Imams, despite the directive of the Jamaatul Nasirul Islamic, is an indication of the challenges being faced by many religious leaders in northern states while attempting to manage the COVID-19.
Speaking on the matter, Borno Deputy Governor of Borno, Umar Kadafur, who chairs the COVID-19 Committee, said, “the errant Imams include Goni Isa of Flatari North, Goni Bashir CMC Lawan Bukar and Goni Gapchia, Imam of the University of Maiduguri.
“They are aware of the lockdown order but went ahead to call for the Jummat congregational prayers, an action against the directive of the government to safeguard its people against COVID-19.
“It is unfortunate that some people are taking the COVID-19 pandemic lightly, which explains why they were defying the lockdown order.
“We shall send their names to the Shehu of Borno, Alhaji Umar-Ibn Garbai who is the Chairman of the Borno State Traditional Rulers Association, to direct the Chief Imam of the state to suspend them from conducting further congregation,” he said.
The action of the three Imams and the response of the state government has attracted divided reactions and comments in social media.
Bashir Muhammad Bukar on Facebook said: “Suspending Islamic Ulamas particularly in religious state of Borno is not a remedy to the problem, you should either call upon them to not repeat congressional prayers henceforth.”
Bukar Petrol II said: “Who will punish those that went to a funeral without observing Covid 19 safety protocols. Double standard I guess…?”
Wakil Muhammed Multe said: “Please I suggest they should be issued with strong WARNING; If they repeat the action they should face disciplinary measure particularly those that are government employees.”
Muhammed Zannah Wiroma said, “I’m not in support of what of the Imams did.. but then the committee should also arrest all the uninvited people that attended the funeral of Galadima Modu Sheriff. Including government officials and traditional title holders.”
Also, Bukar Gaji said “Nobody is above the law of the land. Government is doing this for the welfare of her people. It is good for the government to demonstrate it’s power by sanctioning the erring Imams.”
In Borno, the Shehu, being the foremost monarch has the powers of appointing Imams for the Eid and Friday mosques in his domain. It is presumed that he also has the powers of sacking or suspending any errant Imam.
Historically, it has been relayed that over 50 years years ago, a certain Imam Edain (Imam of Eid prayers) in Bama was removed by the then monarch of Bama. The sacked Imam migrated to Maiduguri where he got reappointed as the Imam Eidain of Maiduguri.
About a hundred years ago, it was narrated that Imam Amsami was removed from his position by the then Shehu of Borno and replaced by Imam Ibrahim Ahmed who is the father of deceased Chief Imam Wupchama, and grandfather to the present Chief Imam of Borno,
It is not yet certain if the Shehu or the state government will suspend the three Imams, especially as one of them is a respected scholar and lecturer at the Department of Islamic Studies at the University of Maiduguri.