The Coronavirus diaries (12)

The Coronavirus diaries (12)

 Festus Eriye

Through the ages, science and religion have largely travelled different roads: one works with evidence as a basis for establishing things, the other demands faith as the trigger for action. Whenever their paths intersect, fireworks inevitably follow.

Since the outbreak of Covid-19, agents of state working with what scientists tell them, have rolled out a stream of mitigation measures that have set them on collision course with church leaders.

While some pastors have gone with the flow, claiming the Scriptures command obedience of laws made by secular authorities, the more militant like David Oyedepo of Winners Chapel, Chris Okotie of Household of God and Chris Oyakhilome of Christ Embassy, have pushed the envelope to the point of revolt.


Oyedepo argues it doesn’t make sense keeping churches shut while choked markets are permitted to operate several times a week.

For his part, Oyakhilome points out Jesus laid hands on lepers and healed them. He mocks church leaders who are tolerating the restrictions, or have encouraged people to wear gloves before laying hands on the sick, as having renounced everything Christ taught about healing.

It is a disagreement that’s mostly playing out verbally. A couple of pastors have been arrested for breaching rules against holding services. But last weekend, things got physical in Akwa Ibom State.

On Sunday, government officials sealed off the Christ Embassy Church, Nung Akpa Ime branch in Uyo, accusing its leaders of attacking members of the state’s Coronavirus Compliance Monitoring Team.

Dr Emmanuel Ekuwem, Secretary to State Government and Chairman of the COVID-19 Management Committee said pastors and other members allegedly involved in the incident would be prosecuted.

Now, the church is fighting back with a law suit accusing the government of unlawfully arresting and detaining Pastor Emmanuel Effiong and a videographer, Gabriel Ekpa. It denies its members attacked state officials – arguing instead that they were the ones on the receiving end of physical assault.

This case could have been a turning point if it went beyond demand for release of the detained and enforcement of their human rights.

Right from the beginning of the lockdown, people have accepted government actions meekly without challenging their legality or constitutionality.

It is an interesting paradox that a people who can be quite litigious in almost every area haven’t sought to interrogate the legality of certain actions. A case in point is the recent demolition by the Rivers State government of two hotels in Port Harcourt for violating lockdown rules.

In the US and several others, pressure groups and some church leaders have fought everything from lockdowns to wearing of face masks in the law courts.

While many admit the pandemic is real, they are unwilling to accept anything that infringes their freedom to associate or worship – even when such restrictions are supposedly for their wellbeing.

Nigerians may not be trooping to the courts, but many by their actions are executing some form of protest against government measures. It is an attitude which Boss Mustapha, head of the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on Covid-19, warns is reversing gains made so far.

At a press conference this week, he painted a grim picture of how non-compliance with protocols is fuelling a spike in cases. On April 16 there were only 442 cases in the country. This rose to 5,621 infections a month later and tripled to 17,148 cases by June 16.

This week, Nigeria marked a morbid milestone – over 500 deaths had been recorded and confirmed cases are now in excess of 21,000.

But these may be middling numbers if the projection of Dr. Patrick Dakum, Chief Executive Officer of the Institute of Human Virology of Nigeria, is anything to go by.

He warns there could be over 100,000 cases of coronavirus by September if state governors don’t take responsibility in tackling the spread of the virus.

People may not be quaking in their boots because of these statistics, but their leaders are certainly sitting up and taking notice. Over the weekend, Rivers State locked down Bonny Local Government and Onne community with the threat of a state-wide shutdown if cases spiral out of control.

Up north, Kaduna State issued a similar threat. In Ondo, Governor Rotimi Akeredolu, raised the alarm that the state was approaching an emergency following the discovery of 80 new cases within a week.

In Imo, the picture is even more dramatic with 14 members of the House of Assembly laid low by coronavirus – that is fifty percent of the 27-member legislative chamber.

One fallout of this pandemic has been an increase in violence and sexual assault against women and minors during the lockdown. To that ugly list you can now add a rise in drug abuse.

Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the National Drug Law Enforcement Agency (NDLEA), Col. Muhammad Mustapha Abdallah (rtd) says as drugs of choice became scarce, there was increased experimentation with newer concoctions.

But here’s a bit of good news to roundup this week’s diary. Last Friday, Nigerian Universities’ Scientists, under the aegis of Covid-19 Research Group, announced the discovery of a vaccine for the prevention of coronavirus. Don’t go dancing in the streets just yet – we don’t know if it works. Leader of the team, Dr Oladipo Kolawole, says the product wouldn’t be unveiled for another 18 months.

In other cheery news beyond these shores, it is reported that Britain’s coronavirus outbreak could have died out by July 13 – with daily confirmed cases dropping to zero, a study has claimed.

The study didn’t estimate how many cases will still be circulating in the community and only projected the number of confirmed infections.

Such reports hold out the prospect that the Nigerian trajectory won’t remain sky high. Several weeks back, many feared the worst about Kano, instead it has witnessed a collapse in numbers of new infections. Perhaps this is the true picture – meaning measures put in place are working.

But it could also be the government playing games with test samples, only time will tell. Until all is revealed, we can only look forward with hope to a truly post-Covid era in Nigeria.

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