It was an unusual cross-over night in the country, as Nigerians bid 2020 goodbye with uncommon and uninterrupted display of fireworks, dancing and shouts of “Happy New Year” at midnight to mark end of the year, which many have described as a turbulent and horrifying.
Anxiety and uncertainty had pervaded the air in the last few days, as the Federal Government warned that there won’t be any crossover service for the incoming New Year, insisting on strict compliance with all COVID-19 safety guidelines, including ban on large gatherings, wearing of facemasks, keeping physical distancing, regular hand washing and use of sanitisers.
The Guardian learnt that these safety guidelines were largely ignored in most worship centres across the country and where they were observed, they were done haphazardly and only in half measure.
In Lagos, a lot of worshipers who thronged churches that opened for the crossover night service adhered to the protocols unlike restaurants, bars and street corners, where people showed a nonchalant attitude.
A few churches had urged their members to follow the service on TV and online, allowing only a few people into the church premises so they could observe physical distancing, but some of them were adamant. Not only did they hold services till the wee hours of the morning, but had full capacity attendance.
Raising concern over this, one of the ushers, who refused to disclose her name, said they had earlier disinfected the church, saying she had no idea on why hand washing station and sanitisers were not provided, but believed that the virus could not survive in the house of God.
A member of The Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Felicia Kolawole, said she could not attend the crossover service, but followed it online.
Another worshiper, who identified himself as Paul, however, expressed worries over the low compliance with COVID-19 protocols, saying he did not feel safe during the service, as people did what they liked without being cautioned.
At Century Busstop on Ago Palace Way, opposite the Okota Police Station, around 12:30a.m., there were different gathering of young people on the street, as drinking spots remained open to customers.
A hotel and bar nearby also served over 50 customers at about 1:50a.m., who came to eat and drink, without observing any safety measures.
In Makurdi, Benue State, there was large-scale violation of COVID-19 protocols, as only a few persons observed the guidelines at the crossover night service.
At the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), Abuja, residents attended church services to usher in the New Year. While some churches in the FCT held the traditional cross over night but in strict compliance with the safety protocols released by the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 (PTF), others held early services, which lasted for about two hours on Thursday evening.
At the Dunamis International Gospel Centre on Airport road, Abuja the 100,000-persons capacity Glory Dome was filled to the brims and the founder/presiding pastor, Dr Paul Enenche, directed the ushers not to allow persons without facemasks to sit among the congregation and also ensure that there was physical distancing.
Enenche told the congregation that it was predicted that over 30 million persons would die from COVID-19 in Africa, but God saw Africa through and disappointed the devices of the crafty.x
A member of the Church, Gloria Okoye told The Guardian that she felt safe throughout the service despite the large crowd, saying: “I felt safe. I prayed to God to take away the coronavirus from the surface of the earth.”
At the Living Faith Church, Phase 1 branch, FHA Lugbe, a two-hour service was held at 5:30p.m. on Thursday in place of the usual crossover night service and all the safety guidelines were adhered to by worshippers.
In compliance with safety protocols, hand sanitisers were dispensed to every person and children, while the worshipers observed other safety guideline like wearing of facemasks and physical distancing.
Pastor Seun Olatubosun admonished members to continue to adhere to non-pharmaceutical guidelines on COVID-19, even as God continues to protect and keep them safe.
The FCT Taskforce on COVID-19 Protocols rated churches high on compliance with safety guidelines during their crossover services. Head of Media and Enlightenment of the taskforce, Ikharo Attah, disclosed this while briefing newsmen on yesterday in Abuja.
Attah said most churches observed health protocols and guidelines issued by the Presidential Taskforce on COVID-19, the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) and the Federal Capital Territory Administration (FCTA).
At the Anglican Christ Church in Owerri, Imo State, only a handful of worshippers wore facemasks during the church service before dispersing at midnight contrary to Governor Hope Uzodimma’s directives.x
In Owerri North Council, over 1,000 persons converged on a field in the council headquarters, where a member of the state House of Assembly distributed poverty alleviation items to his constituents, with only about three persons wearing facemasks.
President General of Okwu Uratta Community, Val Okara, lamented that weddings, church activities were going on with utter disregard for no social distancing and other safety measures, lamenting that people were seemingly oblivious that the COVID-19 pandemic existed in rural areas.
Besides, in Kogi State, most places of worship defied COVID-19 directives during crossover services, as most worshippers failed to wear facemasks, provide hand sanitisers or observe social distancing in some churches in Lokoja and Ajaokuta Council.
Some of the clerics said although they believed that the COVID-19 pandemic was real and crippling the global economy, they were optimistic that God would protect their members from the deadly virus.
Pastor Paul Olukunle of The Apostolic Church Nigeria (TACN) said the pandemic was a test that God could destroy the world in a twinkle of an eye.
He admonished Nigerians to believe in God and do His will, expressing hope that the year 2021 would be full of testimonies and fruitfulness.
In Taraba State, preventive measures were ignored in most of the worship centers visited during the cross-over night, just as activities at clubs, restaurants and bars, as well as other social activities went on unhindered in total disregard for precautionary measures.x
Churches visited in Jalingo, the state capital and other areas where activities were held, people failed to observe social distancing as they exchanged pleasantries, shook hands and hugged without restraint.
Most residents of Kebbi State also cared less about the virus, as people gathered to play games, buy snacks and drinks without social distancing, use of face masks and failed to observe other precautionary measures.
A customer at Azibr Centre in Jalingo, who was accompanied by his family, insisted that there was COVID-19 in the state, adding: “You see how people are moving around and they didn’t even wear face masks, we are safe in Kebbi.”
At Ebonyi State, almost all churches observed crossover night except Living Faith Church, aka Winners Chapel, but there was partial observation of the restriction orders.
In Enugu State, churches and worshipers observed the crossover services to usher in the New Year 2021, and like in Ebonyi State, downplayed Covid-19 protocols.x
The Guardian observed that activities in most of the churches commenced between 8.00p.m. and 9.00p.m. An earlier announcement by the state government cancelling conventional crossover night activities was misinterpreted as cancellation of the crossover services in the state.
Similarly, unlike previous years when Christians stayed in church until 12:00a.m. for the usual crossover services, this year was different, as churches in Rivers State ended their services before midnight.
The Guardian observed that the development followed Federal Government’s directive on COVID-19 protocols that citizens should not stay outside beyond than 12 midnight.
At Our Saviour’s Anglican Church on One Day Road, the crossover service, which began at 9:00p.m. recorded impressive attendance, but the worshippers did not wear facemasks.
A visit to the Showers of Blessings Christian Centre in Port Harcourt revealed that they observed the COVID-19 protocols by providing a bucket of water and hand washing soap at the entrance of the church.
Meanwhile, as the Delta State Government directed Christians to hold crossover service to usher in the New Year with strict adherence to COVID-19 protocols, most churches in the state that experienced large turn out of members observed half of the rules.
At Champion for Christ Chapel and Salvation Gospel Mission International in Asaba, there was huge attendance, but with little adherence to precautionary measures.x
Only about 50 per cent of the people were sighted wearing face masks, while seating arrangement was not done to COVID-19 rules, due to lack of space.
Presiding Pastor of the church, Reverend Akpan-Isong Samuel said: “We had the cross-over service and people kept to COVID-19 protocols, as much as they could. We thank God that Governor Ifeanyi Okowa permitted church services across the state, but our expectations this year is on ‘divine recovery,’ while government should focus on delivering the economy from total collapse.
“Government at all level should pay better attention to security, agriculture, education and employment through the relevant governmental agencies and try to be forthright with people-oriented policies.
“President Muhammadu Buhari and his men should try to unify the country, while citizens should show more patriotism. I believe 2021 will be great if the nation’s leaders get things right.”
A member of salvation Gospel Mission International, identified as Chukwuma, said the church Service was fantastic, adding: “And as law-abiding citizens, we complied with the COVID-19 rules, even if not 100 per cent.
“A good number of us wore our facemasks and we sat as directed by the Pastor, because the church was filled to capacity. Many people were inside, while others were outside, so it was a bit difficult to maintain social distancing.”