As Nigeria battled the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, Ituah Ighodalo, Senior Pastor of Lagos-based church, Trinity House, has advised governments at all levels to shut down churches if the measure would ensure public health safety.
He, however, said churches were not responsible for the rising COVID-19 cases in the country, adding that the government should focus more on public places like markets and bus stops.
The cleric spoke on Monday while featuring on Arise TV’s The Morning Show monitored by The PUNCH.
Religious centres and other public places were shut nationwide in March when the novel coronavirus disease was first recorded in the country. Public places were, however, reopened months later following a decline in the number of daily infections published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
But with the rising number of COVID-19 cases recorded recently, many state governments have renewed COVID-19 protocol enforcement while some states have shut down schools and a few social places.
When asked whether the government should also shut down churches again, Ighodalo said, “If we need to. There is nothing sacrosanct about a religious house; a religious house is a gathering of people wanting to worship God. If that gathering and that intimacy in the gathering will lead to the spread of germs or disease, God, because you want to worship Him, would not say that the physical things that you need to do should not be done.
“So, if we need to shut down the churches, why not? Churches were shut down several months ago. We didn’t die, we survived. The churches learnt to go online, on Zoom. Christianity benefited from it because we now began to use more of technology to offer our evangelism and our worship of God and we quite enjoyed it.
“The Zoom meetings are not as intimate but we have managed to reduce things to house fellowships and life must go on.”
But the cleric said most churches have been compliant with the Covid-19 protocols put in place by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 when it approved the reopening of worship centres months ago.
He said, “To speak to the issue as to whether churches are the ones who have not allowed COVID-19 cases to go down or who are the ones going against COVID-19 protocols, I regret to say I don’t quite agree. I think the government has bigger fishes to fry –If you go to any of the markets, any of the bus stops, any of the busy places, people don’t even wear masks. So, those gatherings of people are much more than the gathering in any church from time to time.
“In fairness to most churches, they have tried, a few no doubt have flouted the rules here and there but most of them have tried to keep to the Covid protocols…So, it is not fair to say that it is the big churches that are flouting Covid guidelines.”
Ighodalo also urged the leadership of churches not to feel persecuted should the government chose to shut down churches to curb the rising coronavirus infections amid the second wave of the pandemic.
“No church should feel the government is against them. No, we are a social gathering, the same way the government is against night clubs, event centres and so on. It is nothing personal and I don’t take it personally. I think we are in a moment of crisis and if the churches need to pay some price and go through some situations, let’s do it,” he said.
Ighodalo, therefore, advised Christians and Nigerians, in general, to trust in God to overcome the situation while observing all preventive guidelines by health authorities.