Rivers Governor, Nyesom Wike, has made a volte face on his earlier decision to permit churches and Muslims to worship in full congregations for Easter celebration.
The Commissioner for Information and Communication, Paulinus Nsirim, in a statement at the weekend, said the decision was taken after due consultations with eminent clergy men, well-meaning Nigerians and civil society groups.
“For the avoidance of doubt, churches should stick to the 50 persons per service to maintain social distancing,” he said.
Wike, in a statewide broadcast, temporarily relaxed the restrictions on large religious gatherings directing Muslims to observe their Jumaat prayers and Christians to worship in full congregations on Sunday.
Rivers has two confirmed cases of COVID-19 based on statistics published by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC).
The governor said: “In the spirit of Easter, therefore, and after a careful review of the state of COVID-19 situation in our state, all Moslem faithful should observe Juma’at prayers in their mosques or prayer grounds throughout the State and pray for the peace, forgiveness and the blessings of Allah upon the State.
“All Christians should have Easter Church Services with their full congregation and pray to God to forgive us of our sins, continue to intervene in our affairs and protect the State and our people from the Coronavirus”.
It was, however, gathered that religious leaders in the state while appreciating the generosity of the governor and his passion, opted to toe the path of caution.
The Muslims reportedly turned down the offer as they shunned large gathering for their Jumaat prayer on Friday while most residents expressed fears that allowing larger gathering of worshippers could reverse the gains of the governor in his fight against the pandemic.
The Catholic Diocese of Port Harcourt also wrote a letter dated April 10 to all the priests in the zone, urging them to stick to all health tips against the prevention of the pandemic.
The diocese, in a letter signed by its Bishop, Camillus Etokudoh, appreciated the Governor but turned down the offer after considering its health implication.
The letter said: “We deeply appreciate statewide broadcast of the governor during which he temporarily relaxed the restrictions on large religious gatherings for Moslems on Friday for their prayers and for Christians on Sunday to have their full congregation for Easter celebrations.
“However, in the face of the threat of COVID-19 and having prayerfully considered the implications of the risks to our expected crowded congregation on normal Easter celebration, we hereby request you our priests and lay faithful to continue to keep to the CBCN and our diocesan pastoral directives”.