The guidelines were issued by the state government after due consultation with the state chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria, led by Rev. Dr Nduese Ekwere, as a means of containing the coronavirus pandemic in the state.
I Reacting to the guidelines in a statement, Pastor Effiong, said the CAN’s agreement with the government on the guidelines would not be binding on members of the church.
He added that the use of face masks throughout the congregational worship as stipulated in the guidelines exposes worshippers to health hazards, noting that the seating arrangement of not more than 200 no matter the size of the church is a clear attempt to gag the church.
Making reference to the Nigerian Constitution to buttress his points, Effiong said the guidelines issued by the state government was against the fundamental right to worship and made it difficult to exercise one’s faith as a Christian.
He said, “Our church is a global ministry and we do not believe or advocate unionism, rather we believe in the unity of faith. Today, we state without equivocation that we are not members of CAN or any other association in the country and as such hold the strong belief that we cannot and should not be bounded by whatever decision the association reaches out with government.
“While we do not question the right of anybody or churches forming association nor are we against CAN or any association setting up guidelines for their members, it is unacceptable to believe that such guidelines will be binding on non-members of their groups.
“The use of face masks for the entire duration of congregational worship is an act, which has been scientifically proven to be hazardous to the health as uninterrupted use of face masks over a long period of time may cause hypoxia- the absence of oxygen to sustain bodily functions.
“Also, we are expected not to sit more than 200 worshippers during each church service, among others. This is a clear attempt to gag the church.”
The Founder of Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome had earlier lashed out at Church leaders who agreed with the governments around the world to shut down churches to purportedly halt the spread of Coronavirus.
Read Full Statement
C.A.N. guidelines for the opening of church: Impracticable – Christ Embassy, Uyo
We are members of Christ embassy a.k.a Loveworld Incorporated. LoveWorld Incorporated is a worldwide ministry with laudable impact all around the world.
Our ministry reach cuts across the State, with visible presence in every local government.
Presently, we have 90 branches networked within the state, 26 major branches within Uyo metropolis alone and over 20,000 worshippers on a Sunday morning. This shows that we represent a sizeable number of Akwa Ibom people, residents and their faith.
It is no news that the global state of emergency the whole world has been experiencing for the past few months, has rendered millions of people all over the world helpless and distressed; the effect of the pandemic presents a worse threat than the pandemic itself, as we have seen nations on lockdown, economies falling, businesses closed permanently, means of livelihood destroyed and most importantly, the Church of Jesus Christ grossly undermined.
Christ Embassy, though on lockdown, continues to be a source of hope and succour to the good citizens of this state as millions of relief materials have been sent out through our various churches in numerous zones all over the world to those in need; with Christ Embassy Uyo taking a firm lead in sending out, on two different occasions, millions of relief materials to men and women in Akwa Ibom State.
Furthermore, in keeping with the instructions of the President of the Loveworld nation, Rev Dr Chris Oyakhilome (D.sc D.D), Christ Embassy Uyo under the leadership of the Zonal Pastor for the Nigeria South South Zone 2, Pastor Olawale Adenuga, is once again taking the lead to send out relief materials for the third time in four months, under the G.E.R.A PROJECT (Global Emergency Relief Aid), for ministers of the gospel in dire need across the state.
Recently, the Akwa Ibom State Government lifted the ban on congregational worship in churches within our dear state which was placed by the state government in an attempt to control the spread of the novel coronavirus (Covid-19).
According to the government, the lifting of the ban is predicated on what it described as an agreement reached with the State chapter of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). The state government adopted the guidelines as proposed by the said association for opening of churches in the State; a guideline that stifles our fundamental rights to freedom of religion /worship.
Our Church is a global ministry and we do not believe nor advocate unionism of the church, rather we believe in the unity of the faith; this, our Statement of Faith clearly reflects. Today, we state without equivocation that we are not members of CAN or any other association in the country and as such, hold the strong belief that we cannot and should not be bound by whatever decision, the association or any other association reaches with the Akwa Ibom State Government. We have not relinquished our rights to CAN and accordingly under the law of the land, the body cannot speak for us or enter into any legal binding agreement on our behalf.
While we do not question the rights of any body of churches forming an association nor are we against CAN or any association setting up guidelines for their members, it is totally unacceptable to believe that such guidelines will be binding on none members of their groups. Government on the other hand failed, refused/or neglected to involve all parties with vested interest in Christendom in the consultation to reopen churches, thereby arrogating non-existent powers to the association, which acted only to the limit of its leadership knowledge.
Like you all are aware, freedom of religion is a matter of general consensus in the international community and as such, genuine steps have been taken by government and international institutions to protect this right. The Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 (as amended), African Charter on Human and People’s Rights, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and other international treaties which our country have subscribed to, protect this inalienable right.
After the right to life, the next most fundamental is the right to freedom of religion. The right concerns not only the freedom to hold one’s belief and faith, but also to express it and share it with others. Freedom of religion encompasses the words and act, both in private and in public.
Section 38(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, 1999 makes provision for the citizen’s freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or private), to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.’
Section 39(1) of the same constitution, further, provides that ‘every person shall be entitled to freedom of expression, including freedom to hold opinions and to receive and impart ideas and information without interference’, while Section 40 guarantees that ‘every person shall be entitled to assemble freely and associate with other persons.’ These are the granting clauses that give the citizens of Nigeria the constitutional right to engage in religious propagation within the shores of Nigeria among other rights; to associate and to hold opinions or to impart ideas without any hindrance or let.
With the above background, it is clear that the said guidelines as given by the Christian Association of Nigeria in Akwa Ibom state totally derogates this fundamental right and make it extremely difficult, if not near impossible for us to exercise our faith as Christians. It is trite that though the constitution gives the state powers to derogate these rights, such powers are not omnibus in nature. They must be exercised through laws that ‘are reasonably justifiable in a democratic society.’
The strict guidelines laid out by CAN make it impracticable for the Church to exercise their rights. A cursory look at the said guidelines will expose a clear picture of experimentation with the Church as a guinea pig. Some of the steps outlined include basic hygiene procedures like washing of hands with running water, sanitizing the hands, applying social distance in arrangement of seats which the Church finds acceptable in the circumstances, but to ridicule the entire process, the use of face masks for the entire duration of congregational worship; an act which has been scientifically proven to be hazardous to the health, as uninterrupted use of the face mask over a long period may cause “Hypoxia”; the absence of enough oxygen to sustain bodily functions. Also, no matter the sitting capacity of the hall and the congregation, we are expected not to sit more than 200 (two hundred) worshipers during each church service among others.
This is a clear attempt to gag the church. Why these strict guidelines for a body that has its internal protocols and mechanisms to regulate her members during congregational service at all material times? Same is not applicable in the market place, where decorum is usually thrown to the winds and every vendor and purchaser left to their fate. While some claim the market is economic based, does an activity being economic based immune one from the said coronavirus disease?
The Church is more essential than a lot of other sectors and must be allowed to hold its services freely as she can regulate the conduct of her members. We deem it very important to not only set the record straight, but further place it on the public domain for the information of the government, security agencies and the general public that we as a Church shall soon commence our normal services, while adhering to the basic guidelines as stipulated by the state government, in keeping with international hygiene best practices.
Pastor Charis Owoeye
Christ Embassy Nigeria South-South Zone 2