Covid-19: How Borno churches, mosques flout safety protocols during worships

Despite being one of the states with high number of COVID-19 related deaths, and one with high risk factors, residents of Maiduguri hardly use face masks or obey social distancing rules during their worships

By Abdulkareem     Haruna

Borno is the second state in northeast Nigeria to record an index case of the new Coronavirus when the killer disease broke out in the country.

Since Sunday, April 19, 2020, when the first case was recorded and reported by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control(NCDC), at least Borno has so far recorded 1,344 out of which 38 were reported dead.

As of June 16, 2021, the state has only one case on admission even as over 95 per cent of the residents now disregard all COVID-19 safety protocols.

Despite the seemingly low case on their record, which obviously because of poor testing, Borno state ranks the number 16th state in Nigeria in terms of the number of people that died as a result of COVID-19 complication; and the second-highest after Gombe state in Northeast Nigeria.

Without Facemasks worship at a church in Maiduguri continue to violate laid down safety protocols

The state government had in May 2019 relaxed the three weeks COVID-19 restrictions even as it enforced strict usage of facemask, proper washing of hands and observance of social distancing.

It was on record that Governor of Borno state, Babagana Zulum had in May, shortly before relaxing the imposed COVID-19 restrictions, met with the Christian and Muslim clerics in his office where he emphasized the need to comply with the usage of Facemask, washing of hands and strict observance of social distancing.

Sadly, all of these safety protocols are today been ignored by most churches and mosques as officials and congregants go about their worship without worrying about their health.

Maiduguri, a city with over 3 million people is regarded as a very religious society where hundreds of worshippers converge daily or on weekly basis for devotions and listening to sermons.

In the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak, it was a common sight to see worshippers queuing to wash their hands at various handwashing stands before entering the places of worship. While inside the mosques or church, all persons must adorn their face masks as they sit in compliance with the protocol.

“Some churches in my area would ask worshippers to go back if they don’t wear their face masks, and hand washing was made very strict at the entrance,” said Martha Bitrus a government worker in Maiduguri.

Muslim worshippers violating COVID-19 safety policies during a congressional prayers in Maiduguri

“We used to have a strong committee that does not allow people inside the mosque without using Facemasks,” said Abubakar Saleh, an official of a famous Friday mosque in Maiduguri.

The Humanitarian Times‘ checks around town, recently, discovered that the culture of observing COVID-19 protocol has not only been long abandoned by most the places of worship, but many of the worshippers have over the months built up the attitude of doubts and cynicism about the reality of the disease itself.

During a recent Friday congregational prayer mosque in New GRA Maiduguri, this reporter was an incongruous sight for all because he was putting on a Facemask.  None of the over 5000 worshippers that filled inside the mosques as well as the outside perimeters wore Facemasks. The congregants sat tightly close with each other in observance of the Islamic congregation prayer rites which permits bodies and toes to touch one another. After the prayers, worshippers freely shook hands with one another as they squeeze out of the mosque.

“We in Borno don’t believe in this your Corona (COVID-19) thing, ” said a worshipper, who identified himself as Abdullahi.

“As you can see, it is only you and maybe some few scary souls that are seen putting on a facemask. We don’t believe in it because we know God has seen us through Boko Haram will not allow any calamity in the name of pandemic befall us again,” said Abdullahi.

At one of the Living Faith Church’s branches in Maiduguri, The Humanitatian Times observed how the earlier enforced usage of wash hand point and sanitizers have been discontinued.

A cross section of worshippers at a church in Maiduguri

An usher at the church said “the use of facemask is optional but social distancing is still being observed.

“We have ensured that there is enough space between the chairs in line with the COVID-19 protocol,” the user who simply identified herself as Murna said.

The Borno state high powered committee on the prevention of COVID-19, which is headed by the state’s Deputy Governor, Umar Kadafur, has not been physically operational as it used to be at the peak of the pandemic last year.

The Humanitarian Times has observed that the weakening of the enforcement powers of the Borno High Powered Committee on COVID-19 Prevention has continued to embolden the cantankerous attitude of the residents towards complying with the life-saving safety protocols.

“It is for now, still better and safer for government to reinforce the use of facemask rather than making it a ceremonial adornment,” said Muhammed Adam, a medical practitioner in Maiduguri.

* This story is published with support from PAGED Initiative’s COVID-19 Media Response project funded by Free Press Unlimited.

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