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Religion in Nigeria despite coronavirus measures

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Corona Chronicles: 30 March – 3 April

By 'Tofe Ayeni
Posted on Friday, 3 April 2020 12:56

Worshippers leave Dunamis Church, following the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Abuja, Nigeria 22 March 2020. REUTERS/Afolabi Sotunde

Around Nigeria, religious and social gatherings have been restricted to 20 people, in an effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus. This is having a big impact on the country's churches and mosques.

According to estimates, 46.3% of the population is Christian, 46% is Muslim and 7.4% worship traditional gods. Yet there is no available data on the exact number of churches and mosques. It is often said there are more places of worship than schools or hospitals.

READ MORE: Nigerian private sector needs to stay home

Religion and information

In a country with around 41 million illiterate adults, where only 92 million have internet access, religious and traditional leaders are crucial in the transmission of information.

In addition, a lack of trust in the political class means that many people are more likely to listen to and believe the words of their religious and traditional rulers. Thus, what they say is important.

For example, Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, a church with five million members, predicted that the disease would soon dissipate but not die out completely.

Religious leaders are adopting different strategies in the face of the pandemic:

  • Adeboye held a service on Sunday 22 March, but it was a congregation of less than 20 in compliance with a Lagos State directive. In addition, those at the service observed social distancing by sitting apart from each other.
  • Sam Adeyemi, the senior pastor of Daystar Church, is holding online services. Various other churches are doing the same across the country.
  • The Council of Imams and Ulama, Kaduna State Chapter, has suspended the congregational Friday and five daily prayers that would host more than 20 people until further notice. Malam Yusuf Arrisgasiyyu, secretary-general of the council said on 24 March: “The council insists that this directive is in accordance with the teaching of Prophet Muhammad, may peace and mercy of Allah be upon him.” He added: “The council appeals to Muslims to intensify prayers for Allah’s intervention so that the coronavirus may never find its way to Kaduna State and all other parts of Nigeria that it is yet to reach.”
  • The Kogi State chapter also suspended prayers, to take effect from 27 March.

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Violations despite official measures

However, not all are heeding the government’s directive:

  • On 22 March, Winners Church and COZA in Abuja went ahead with services. Pastor Paul Enenche of Dunamis International Church, Abuja held regular service at his 100,000-person-capacity auditorium.
  • There is now footage circulating on social media of police officials shutting down services, weddings and other such gatherings, making it hard for pastors to continue to defy the law.

Although it seems clear that these services cannot continue, places of worship are not simply to pray in Nigeria.

Churches have long held a tradition of giving their congregation free meals after church. For some, this is just a welcome free meal; while for others, it is a necessity.

The bottom line: Although some churches are trying to find a way to keep giving out food on Sunday, the banning of large religious gatherings brings up a recurring problem with the government’s directives – what alternative are they giving to the masses?

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