Assessing Lagos State’s Effort in Curbing COVID-19
I believe that here in Lagos State, we can say without much fear of contradiction that the government has tried and is trying. The speed with which they took action when the index case was mentioned is very commendable. The steps that have been taken since then to establish isolation centres and to solicit the support of all are very commendable. The steady flow of information from the state task force is also worthy of commendation. I believe the federal government’s Presidential Task Force also took a cue from that by ensuring daily briefing and working with the states. In view of these, one can say to a large extent that government is doing a lot.
No to stigmatization
I think we can only appeal to people; to the public to believe, to have confidence that those who contracted the virus and have been declared free of the virus are truly free and therefore, there’s no need to stigmatize them. And in any case, it is not as if they have stolen, it is not as if they have committed a major sin, and therefore, it is not appropriate to stigmatize people who have gone through treatment and are well. Remember that through scientific testing at the laboratories they were told they had tested positive; the same laboratory test later shows that they were free from the virus. There are therefore no reasons not to believe them. So, I think we need to work on ourselves in regards to stigmatization and let people live. In any case, who knows who is next? So don’t stigmatize so that you will not be stigmatized.
Downsizing of Work Force Obviously it’s a problem.
As it is, the economic environment is very bad. It was bad before; the coming of COVID-19 has worsened it. Our oil is not being sold as much as it should, even the cost has gone down. This has generated chains of reactions in the economy. So, we can only ask and hope that our government takes some steps to ensure that the economy becomes healthier. We know, too, that in so many other countries, government is giving out some incentives to assist the private sector in order for them not to disengage their workforce; and assisting them in many other ways. We hope that our government can provide some stimulus to aid the country’s work force. I think our government needs to think in this direction in order to cushion the economy and save workers from being sacked unceremoniously.
Position of the CBCN on Opening of Churches
The Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, and the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN have been engaging with government with regards to the lockdown. We believe that social distancing, or rather, physical distancing is very important. We are also looking at the possibility of people being allowed to worship God safely. In determining the level of physical distancing that should be allowed in a Church, we believe this should be determined according to the size of the Church. If a Church can ordinarily contain about one thousand people, for instance, and a distance of about two meters in-between is ensured, that should help to determine how many can worship at any point in time. Government should recognize that pastors of our Churches (Catholic) are responsible enough to be able to determine what will keep them safe and keep their flock safe as well. Apart from that, the use of sanitizers being made available, running water to wash hands with soap and ensuring appropriate control of crowd at any point in time would suffice. There should also be proper control of the entrance and exit points. People can come in through one gate and exit through another gate. There should also be effort to know who and who is in Church at any point in time for easy identification. All of these things are part of the things we are considering as a Church and I think that government should be able to take us into confidence, knowing that we are as responsible in taking care of the situation as they are also responsible of taking care of people. So these are the kind of things we have in mind.
On Use of Health Facilities as Isolation Centres
Well, I’ve been hearing about donation of Church health facilities to government. It is not true that the Church donated health facilities to government. What the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria, CBCN, has done is to make available for government the use of those health facilities if and when there are needs for them. Of course before government will use those facilities, it will enter into discussion with the owners of the institution to know, in the first instance, the suitability of the facilities and the modus operandi. This is why I think people should not have any cause to worry. I know that in the Archdiocese of Lagos, for instance, government has not approached us for that purpose. If it does, our people will be properly informed and carried along. Even after the isolation is ended, the hospitals will still remain safe because they will be well disinfected. In any case, it is not all parts of the hospital that will be used. The parts that are used will be disinfected and made ready and safe for people again. So, there is really no need for the kind of anxiety that I’m hearing. We are all aware of the need for safety, of the need for an environment that is conducive for healing people, for bringing healing to people rather than infecting them with a virus.
On 5G/COVID-19 Conspiracy One Mr. Joseph Okechukwu
I believe that’s his name, wrote some things about the 5G technology, trying to connect it with the COVID-19 pandemic and about science wanting to create humans with artificial intelligence. I believe also there were some things allegedly said by Apostle Suleiman. I think it is important to express our opinion and decision regarding that particular allegations because some people went as far as to declare the Pope as the anti-Christ and I think that that is completely absurd and it is beyond what a reasonable person can conceive. I believe that the issue of the connection between the 5G and the pandemic is in the realm of the sciences. Scientists are the ones that are able to say whether there is a connection or not. And so we leave that to the scientists to do. But to now try to connect the establishment of an artificial intelligence to the Church is what is beyond my understanding. And then to claim that the Holy Father is part of those wanting to create an artificial intelligence is totally absurd. That is beyond rational reasoning, particularly when we recognize the fact that the Pope is one of those persons who constantly says that economy and politics should not be used to dehumanize people. He is one of the people that have been saying very clearly that nothing can, and should have precedence over human dignity. He has constantly and consistently said that. So if 5G is going to have an impact on human dignity, if an artificial intelligence is being concieved, how can anybody link that to the Pope? I think it is preposterous and we should really ask those who are misusing the Bible to make such assumptions to go back and read and study the scriptures well, particularly the book of Revelation; study it well, study the context in which the book of Revelation was written and understand what the book of Revelation is all about. Those who push such theories need to be more careful. Indeed, this is almost like a reference to what the Holy Father is saying about fake news and allegations that create conflict and hatred rather than those that bind people together. Those in Nollywood, actors and apostles should be careful in dabbling into area that are not within their competencies.
On Alleged Bill for Forceful Vaccination of Nigerians
When we heard that our own Representatives at the Houses of Assembly were trying to pass a bill to compel everybody to receive the COVID-19 vaccines, we said no, that it is not right! Not because vaccine is bad, but because it is not right to force people to take any vaccine that they don’t want to take. And then to compell them by saying that you cannot go somewhere or that you cannot travel to another place unless you receive vaccination is infringing upon the rights of the people; it is infringing upon their personal decision to do that which they consider right for themselves. I think no government has the authority to do that. We are happy that the legislators are now saying the proposed bill would be subjected to public hearing and we hope that the public hearing will be truly free and fair.
Assessment of the Distribution of Palliatives
I am aware that people have been expressing their varied opinions on how the various palliatives were distributed. I know several groups and individuals made efforts to help cushion the efforts of the lockdown on Nigerians through donations of palliatives at the States and federal levels. I believe that it is necessary that the feeling of not paying adequate attention to the people of Lagos needs to be addressed very frontally because it was here in Lagos that the first index case was identified, and this is also where most of that which sustains the economy of Nigeria subsist. This is the state where the largest variety of people from different areas of life are living; very cosmopolitan. Therefore, it is necessary that government, federal government in particular, should take more steps and take more action to ensure that the people of Lagos State feel the presence of government more than ever before. Of course the people of Kano needs all the grains that have been sent to them and one cannot in anyway say that assisting them is wrong; that that is not right. It is true that they get what they needed to get but it is also important that the same sort of assistance should be given to people across the various states of the country.
Effects of COVID-19
There have been positive and negative outcomes. I think one of the positive outcomes is that it has helped everyone to recognize that the state of health delivery in our nation is far below average. It is completely below average; that has been revealed very clearly during this COVID-19 pandemic. It is positive to the sense of the fact that it ought to make our government to pay more attention to health facilities and make them easily available to the people across the country. And one was very inspired to see that the Prime Minister of United Kingdom, Boris Johnson, when he was diagnosed positive of COVID-19, just walked across to a nearby hospital in order to get treated. He didn’t have to start looking far; he went into just the same hospital as any citizen would go to. That is how it should be. And so, I think that our government should use this opportunity to begin to improve on the health facilities of our nation. This should be done in such a way that any government official should be able to work into any hospital to get treated for any ailment even after this pandemic is over. The other positive I can say is that all along people are able to stay in their homes and be with their families. I think the days of saying, “I am going to work; I am going to club; I am going to meeting and I’m flying here and there” have been minimized. That’s something positive for family bonding. So, that’s something positive that I think we can take from COVID-19. The fact also that more than ever before, the Church is recognizing the value, or rather, the role that the media can play more than ever before in communicating with people. That’s also very positive. It is not as if we have not been doing that before but this has underlined the value or the role that they can play even more. That’s a positive that we are also taking from this experience.