Nigerians love God and believe in Him. This is evident in the zest with which they attend to places of worship, whether as Christians or Muslims. This attribute is being deployed as part of the country’s arsenal to combat the ravaging Covid-19 pandemic, as the number of confirmed cases on Thursday reached 27,110, with 616 deaths.
The government announced the search for divine weapons against the virus, saying there were plans to galvanize the two major religious groups, Christians and Muslims, to pray for God’s intervention.
The Sultan of Sokoto, who is the President-General of the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs, Mohammed Sa’ad Abubakar, and his counterpart, Samson Ayokunle, head of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), are to mobilise their groups for the prayers, according to Boss Mustapha, Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on Covid-19.
The two groups would be working under the aegis of the Nigerian Inter-Religious Council (NIREC), the organization that aims to ensure religious harmony in a country that has witnessed countless religious conflicts.
Mustapha, who is also Secretary to the Government of the Federation, announced this on Thursday in Abuja at the daily briefing on the pandemic.
“NIREC will announce the details and we urge all Nigerian to participate in this effort to seek divine intervention,” Mustapha said.
This is not the first time that Nigerians in their numbers would be praying for a global crisis that threatens them locally. During 2008-09 financial meltdown, stockbrokers on the Nigerian Stock Exchange turned to God for his intervention in a situation that had obviously gone beyond their control.
Within the period they watched the crisis decimate the financial market that had blossomed in the years before; cumulatively the market lost about 70% of its capitalization. There was visible trouble for both the traders and their clients.
So they turned to God. At the start of trading in the morning, for instance, a Moslem would say the opening prayer. At the end of trading, the closing prayer would be said by a Christian, and vice versa.
That is the kind of position Nigeria, like most other economies, has found itself in. Economic activities have contracted, blighted by the impact of an unseen enemy whose reality is evidenced only by dead bodies piling up in morgues – and in some countries – by the roadsides.
This call for prayers is the Nigerian government’s latest response to the pandemic. At the federal level, it imposed full restrictions on the Federal Capital Territory, Lagos and Ogun States. It also imposed a ban on interstate travels. The states on their part also imposed restrictions. These have had some results, although many believe that a lot more could have been achieved if the lockdown, for instance, had been imposed earlier and nationwide, simultaneously.
Unfortunately, many of its citizens believe Covid-19 is nothing but a hoax, while others have clothed it with a sinister motive having some apocalyptic fulfilment.
While the various interpretations subsist, the reality is that, as Mustapha pointed out, “there is presently no known vaccine for the virus.” And perhaps as if to justify the call for prayer, he noted that “all over the world non-pharmaceutical measures still remain the most effective fighting opportunity we have for overcoming this pandemic”.
In other words, the hand of man has failed humanity thus far (or has been unable to help). It makes sense therefore to turn to God. If this pandemic is a pestilence, God can intervention can come man’s rescue. He did in the case when King David provoked divine displeasure by embarking on a needless census. In one day, pestilence from God killed 70,000. Then David cried to God, and He in turn stayed the hand of the killing angel.
While the prayers would be going on, let realism prevail. Nigerians must adhere to the protocols designed to help prevent the community spread of the virus. They must wear facemasks and maintain social distancing and observe personal hygiene.
These should even be part of the prayer points: that God should touch Nigerian to change their behaviours in the light of the new realities. God will answer.