By Laide Akinboade, Abuja
In spite of pressures from Muslim and Christian religious leaders, Minister of the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Malam Muhammad Bello has said places of worship will remain shut in.
Bello said the FCT was guided by advice from medical experts and guidelines from the Presidential Task Force (PTF) on COVID-19, which had directed that all measures approved two weeks earlier be extended for another two weeks and these, he said include the restriction on religious gatherings.
He gave the explanation in his office during a meeting between the FCTA and representatives of the FCT Christian and Muslim communities led by the FCT Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) Chairman, Dr Samson Jonah and the FCT League of Imams Initiative, Dr Tajudeen Adigun.
“Based on the guidance of the medical experts and consultations with highest authority, the Presidential Task Force gave a decision and communication on the fact that all the measures approved two weeks ago be extended for another period of time to enable organisations, individuals and all of us plan for a gradual opening up of the society”.
According to a statement issued by his Chief Press Secretary, Anthony Ogunleye, the minister said the meeting acknowledged that the primary concern of all leaders and public officials was to “save lives and this involves monitoring very closely reports from the health authorities, which indicate that after 9 weeks of the pandemic and attempts to curtail its spread not much has changed”.
He further explained that all actions on the re-opening of the society were hinged on the advice of medical experts who at the moment do not support it.
At the meeting were the FCT Minister of State, Dr Ramatu Tijjani Aliyu, the Permanent Secretary of the FCTA, Sir Chinyeaka Ohaa, the Acting Secretary of the health and Human Services Secretariat, Dr Mohammed Kawu and other leaders of the Muslim and Christian communities in the FCT.
“The leaders of the religious organizations have agreed to work towards the eventual opening up of worship places at a time to be determined by the Presidential Task Force, based on medical advice”, he stressed.
In the interim however, Bello explained that a team consisting of representatives of the religious organisations and their leadership, as well as the FCT has been constituted to gradually look at what the modalities and protocols of operating places of worship will be when COVID-19 lockdown of the FCT is relaxed.
He said that such modalities were not new considering that certain protocols were put in place at the height of insecurity in the country when religious places were the targets for terrorists.
“Therefore, certain protocols such as use of face masks compulsory hand washing and social distancing will have to be adhered to when places of worship eventually re-open.
“This, will also include the identification and placement of modalities for the decontamination of all places of worship adding that these protocols are necessary so that when eventually places of worship are re-opened, they will be done with minimal risks to the worshippers”, the minister said.
The religious leaders in their comments appreciated the efforts of the FCT Administration in the fight against COVID-19 especially in the distribution of palliatives and the meeting agreed that whatever palliatives were available following the extension of the lockdown will also be re-distributed through the organs and structures of the religious organisations.
The meeting, the statement said was called at the behest of the religious leaders who requested for the re-opening of places of worship in the FCT, following pressure from their followers.
It would be recalled that President Muhammadu Buhari ordered the closure of places of worship due to the outbreak and widespread of the COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria.