By Idowu Bankole
As the worldwide COVID-19 confirmed cases top over 11 million and still counting, the Federal Government of Nigeria has urged religious bodies in the country to direct their members to fast and pray against the pandemic.
The Chairman of the PTF and the Secretary to the government of the federation, Mr Boss Mustapha, at one of the daily press briefings on COVID-19 succinctly stated that ”in furtherance of the synergy being built, the Co-Chairmen of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council NIREC, would be directing Muslim and Christian adherents all over the country to go in for a period of fasting and prayer.
“The NIREC will announce the details and we urge all Nigerians to participate in this effort to seek divine intervention.”
The Co-Chairmen are His Eminence Alhaji Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, CFR, the Sultan of Sokoto/President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, and His Eminence, Rev. Dr Samson O. A. Ayokunle, President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN.
While the call to go spiritual took many health experts and medical scientists by surprise, it also further emboldened the call by some religious leaders, who had said that “COVID-19 healing lies in the church“.
They had argued that if churches were opened COVID-19 would have disappeared in Nigeria.
Some went as far as predicting the date COVID-19 will end, but when the prophecy missed its target, they quickly resorted to prayers.
“In Jesus’ name, we present the nations, the world at large to You, Lord. Forgive them their iniquities. Forgive them their wrongs. Forgive them their sins, Lord Jesus. There is a cure in the Blood of Jesus. Heal our land! Heal the world! Heal them of fear of COVID-19!” a popular Lagos-based pastor had prayed.
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Well, now, the call for prayers and fasting by the Federal Government seems to give wings to the numerous criticisms levelled by the opposition against this current administration, labelling it clueless and calling for a new strategy to combating COVID-19.
Many have said that the government has got to its wits end on the fight against the dreaded the pandemic.
If you think the recent call for fasting and prayers is a confirmation of its critics’ standpoint you may be right and if you also think that it might not be unconnected to the fact that Nigeria has never been prepared for a devastating pandemic such as this, even with the Ebola experiences, you might also be correct.
But while trying to wrap minds around what could have necessitated such call, it is expedient not to kill this government at any given opportunity because even the advanced countries of the world where our politicians run to each time they feel a headache are currently struggling to contain the raging virus.
Many of these nations, recording high mortality rates and highest numbers of confirmed cases, are currently reopening their economy even without a solution to the pandemic.
This might signal to lose the fight to the pandemic already, but it is pertinent to note that while it does seems as though these countries are opening up the economy without a clear-cut solution in sight, there are researches ongoing to win the battle against COVID-19 pandemic.
The Nigerian case might not be so. Many have indeed called for the resumption of schools and lifting ban on worship places, which the Federal Government and some state governors are beginning to adhere to.
If that call is finally heeded, then the spike might totally cripple our already stretched moribund health care system. There is neither an underground research ongoing or a clear cut mapped out strategy in place to help salvage what might likely rise from the effect of hastily reopening the economy.
Prior to the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, there have been calls for funding of the health sector, but just like the case is with nonchalant handling of critical calls to national service, crucial to the life of her citizens, it was politicised and, as usual, ignored.
There were reports of strike warnings from residents doctors of some states prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. Worse, during the COVID-19 outbreaks, some doctors went on strike. If that was the only way to press home their demands to leaders who have concrete for eardrums, then we need not cast the stone at the striking doctors.
Many expected the President, on the assumption of office in 2015, to among other things, declare an emergency on the health sector or better still, address the age-long of brain drain in that sector. Some medical analysts also suggested revamping it and ensure it saves the nation millions of dollars expended on medical trips, especially by those who ought to, in the first place, make the sector work.
However, to the chagrin of Nigerians, ‘Oga at the top’ would have ‘jets-out’, as some sensational headlines read, of the country to the UK on medical vacation at the blink of an eye.
When it became routine, the opposition cried foul, some went further as taking pictures of what they said was a presidential jet parked at one of the London international airports, spotted at a private jet hangar, for close to a week or more and still counting.
Aviation experts, accountants and financial experts were quick to tell Nigerians what it would cost to have a private jet parked on a foreign airport — the figures could induce dizziness.
“It is appalling that the number one citizen of a country doesn’t even believe in his own health care system, expending billions of naira abroad on medical check-up,” some have said.
Fast forward to March 2020, when COVID-19 came visiting and caught us napping. It is believed in some quarters, that the current administration went to sleep on health care matters, basking in the euphoria of what was achieved by the immediate past administration of Dr Goodluck Jonathan on the Ebola outbreak, in that it can win whatever battle posed by this world-feared virus.
As if it were a political contest, some ruling party members said the government is better prepared to defeat any disease than the previous administration handled ebola.
Politics and senseless grandstanding aside, a consolidation of what was done by the previous government would have helped mitigate the current challenge facing the health workers and the nations at large, and needless death would have been avoided.
Fasting and Prayers
The religious leaders, especially few charlatans, are now emboldened by the federal govt’s statement calling for fasting and prayers, to further lay claims to cosmetic miracles and healing prowess, which was actually missing inaction when COVID-19 startled their congregations.
Just recently, a popular bishop said he healed 114 coronavirus cases in his church. Does one wonder if those that escaped from the isolation centres found their ways to the church? Or how did a COVID-19 patient, who was supposed to be in a government isolation centre, find his or her way to a church which should apparently be under lockdown restrictions?
A religious leader once said: “Permit us so that the ridicule and all that can reduce. We’re not telling you we can heal all of them, but by the time we are through with them, you’ll see a significant difference. If they are 20 before, at least 18 will be cleared because that is what God can do.”
Little wonder, Singapore and India are building factories, while we turn our warehouses to praise and worship centres.
Calling for prayers and fasting is total ridicule and a big slap to the faces of our frontline health workers, who out of little or nothing, have sacrificed their precious lives to fight this ravaging menace, which has been emboldened by the lacklustre and nonchalant attitude of our dear government.
Calling for prayers and fasting is a simple way of telling your teeming population that they should resort to self-help! That the government is no longer responsible enough to remain alive to its primary, constitutional responsibility of securing their lives and property.
When a government is at its wits’ end, one should rather recalibrate efforts than calling for spiritual help when small countries continue to innovate and seek ways to face the challenges posed by the virus. It is now no longer surprising that we are purchasing COVID-19 herbal medicine from a small tiny island nation. Where are our scientists? Biologists?
You can’t reap what you didn’t sow
Equipped medical institutions and highly-trained health professionals would have easily been turned to in this crisis period, but when you owe months of salaries, ill-equip critical institutions with little or nothing done in recent times to upgrade to world standard, while others are digging deep on past investment for results, one would continue to seek divine help which eventually won’t come because God promised to “bless the work of your hands.”
The result of looking to heaven for what we can do is regrets and deaths of promising leaders with a wealth of experience, who would have helped steer the country out of trouble and guide the youths the way to go.
The COVID-19 experience should serve as a wake-up call and as a matter of urgency, we must enact laws the will enhance the repositioning of our health care sector in such a way that will become very attractive to even foreigners, limit brain drain and totally discourage medical trip.
Prayer and fasting work only with preparations, for “Faith without work is dead”.
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