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.

READ MORE: Nigeria’s locked-down drinks industry raises bootleg alcohol risks

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?

Understand Africa's tomorrow... today

We believe that Africa is poorly represented, and badly under-estimated. Beyond the vast opportunity manifest in African markets, we highlight people who make a difference; leaders turning the tide, youth driving change, and an indefatigable business community. That is what we believe will change the continent, and that is what we report on. With hard-hitting investigations, innovative analysis and deep dives into countries and sectors, The Africa Report delivers the insight you need.

View subscription options
Also in this in Depth:

Youssou N’Dour to Bobi Wine, African musicians join fight against coronavirus

African music stars are taking more action than ever before to combat the pandemic, through donations, songs, awareness-raising music videos and appeals to fans.

Nairobi’s fight against Coronavirus gets violent

Nairobi is a city on edge, as its 4.4 million residents try to avoid getting infected from coronavirus during the day, during the dusk-to-dawn curfew, they try to avoid police brutality.

Nigeria introduces stimulus package to ease coronavirus hit

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has introduced a stimulus package to help households and small businesses hardest hit by the adverse impact of the coronavirus pandemic. 

Exclusive – UN’s Antonio Guterres: “In the face of the pandemic, a moratorium on African debt is necessary”.

The world is facing a crisis of the likes not seen since 1945 and the creation of the United Nations. Antonio Guterres spoke about this on Tuesday 31 March to Jeune Afrique, while unveiling the report which takes stock of measures to be taken to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. Measures that address health, economic and social aspects of the crisis.

Nigeria’s banks face direct hit from geared-up oil producers

The leverage and hedging strategies against lower prices used by Nigeria’s oil producers will determine their chances of survival – and the size of the hit to their lenders.

South African corporates step up to fight coronavirus

The spike in demand for hand sanitiser has spurred Sasol to develop a new variant of its alcohol-based chemicals to help manufacturers fill the gap.

Nigeria’s locked-down drinks industry raises bootleg alcohol risks

Disruption to supplies of alcohol in Nigeria due to coronavirus risks spurring the consumption of dangerous illicit brews.

Coronavirus in Algeria: A country’s last warning

The coronavirus outbreak has deepened Algeria’s legitimacy crisis. This could easily become a crisis between the state and Algerians, leading to a radical revolt. But it has also given Hirak the opportunity to think about new forms of peaceful struggle and the possibility of providing an alternative to the system.

Coronavirus: Africa must act on World Bank/IMF debt-relief proposal

Coronavirus compounds existing poverty challenges in sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) and requires urgent action to avoid economic collapse.