The caption of a news item in the Vanguard newspaper of Friday, 3 July 2020 reads: COVID-19: FG goes spiritual, partners religious leaders on Prayers, Fasting’. According to the news report, the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force on COVID-19 and Secretary to the Government of the Federation, Mr. Boss Mustapha, said (during the National Briefing on COVID-19 on Thursday, 2 July 2020), that it had become necessary to call on Nigerians to seek the face of God in order to stop the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The report also revealed that “in furtherance of the synergy being built, the Co-Chairmen of the Nigerian Inter-religious Council NIREC, 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, 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” (see https://www.vanguardngr.com/2020/07/covid-19-fg-goes-spiritual-partners-religious-leaders-on-prayers-fasting/
This call for prayers and fasting is subject to various interpretations, and three of which will be examined here. First, some people may see the call as a sincere and humble resignation to the Almighty God to intervene in a novel pandemic that is presently incomprehensible to world’s greatest scientists, for after all, God and only God alone is omniscient. Seen in this light therefore, the call is in order. Any right thinking nation should be humble enough to do this, for as the saying goes: “when you are in crisis, your strongest position is on your knees” (See Fritz Chery: ‘Plagues’, Bible Verses About, May 9, 2020 via http://www.Biblereason.com).
And relatedly, as Jen Pollock Michel rightly said “as COVID-19 sends the globe into a crisis, it also sends us to our knees”, and again as Michel aptly said “prayer is never the last resort of God’s people. It is our first point of action”, (See Christianity Today International, March 18, 2020). There is every reason for all right thinking and humble hearts to pray fervently to God to come to the aid of Nigeria and this sinful world, by taking this plague away. Indeed, for men of humble hearts, worldly knowledge and wisdom alone may not defeat this pandemic scourge. For those who believe, science and faith are needed to work together in a novel pandemic like this coronavirus, despite our bragging as human beings.
The resort to prayers has long been in use since the outbreak of COVID-19 pandemic. Anyone who goes to the Internet would be surprised to see multiplicity of prayers adopted by groups and religious organisations throughout the world, and Nigeria is not an exception. The Catholic Archdiocese of Lagos for example, has its own prayer against the pandemic which is recited by the Priest every day towards the end of the celebration of 12 noon Holy Mass transmitted live on the Lumen Christi Television (Channel 350 on DSTV). Many of the prayers (in and outside Nigeria) were started as early as the months of March, through April and May. The bottom line, therefore, is that the adoption of prayers against the COVID-19 has been in practice since the outbreak of the virus.
Secondly, a second interpretation of this call for prayers and fasting is that the PTF on COVID-19 may be running out of ideas and steam in its efforts to contain this increasing and equally embarrassing spread of the troublesome virus in our dear country. Critics, therefore, see the call as a sign of failure of the Government to effectively confront the deadly disease. Such critics would likely cite the delay in paying the allowances of medical personnel who are fighting both at the front line of attack and at the last line of defence against this virus, as a demonstration of lack of seriousness on the part of the government.
The third angle of interpretation of the call is given by some critics who feel that religion should be separated from the State, and that the PTF therefore had no business in the first place calling for a spiritual intervention by the two main religions in Nigeria, since religion is a private affair. Dr. Obadia Mailafia (former Deputy Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria), is among those who share this view. Appearing on The Morning Show of ARISE NEWS Television (Monday, 6 July 6 2020), Dr. Mailafia criticised the introduction of religion to COVID-19 pandemic in Nigeria, on the basis that there is too much hypocrisy. For him, the government should keep religion out of it. He recommended, however, that people should pray privately against the scourge.
This column agrees with Dr. Mailafia that there is too much hypocrisy and manipulation of religion in Nigeria which may reduce the efficacy of such prayers and fasting, for after all, as the Scripture says ‘righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people’ (Proverbs 14:34). This column adds however, that a call for prayers and fasting is still necessary as a challenge to even the hypocrites. The presence of hypocrisy should not discourage the Saints since Jesus Christ himself spoke extensively against hypocrisy of leaders (which applies to both the Spiritual and Temporal in our case here) in the whole of Chapter 23 of the Gospel of Matthew. And in spite of the existence of hypocrisy, Jesus urged his Believers to do what the leaders tell them to do. He also told them not to imitate their actions, because they don’t practise what they preach.
This column argues strongly, that while the Federal Government made the initial mistake of delaying to take some proactive measures during the first and second weeks of the month of March 2020 it has demonstrated some level of seriousness through the PTF on COVID-19 and the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control (NCDC) under the Federal Ministry of Health, in fighting the spread of the virus. The ever-presence of verve and steam on their part (as monitored by this column), is a measure of its strength when benchmarked with some other countries like the United States for instance.
Again, although this column feels that the federal and sub-national governments need to stay focused and redouble their efforts in fighting the virus (with Nigerians cooperating by taking full personal responsibility), the accusation of complete failure or running out of ideas and steam by critics, therefore appears over-exaggerated. This is because evidence across the globe strongly demonstrates that many nations are seriously struggling to contain the spread of the virus also, though with success stories of some notable exceptions that can be counted within our hands.
The spiritual root or otherwise of COVID-19 pandemic is a controversial one. This column does not claim any expertise to discuss the matter authoritatively, but in faith, it believes that there is a spiritual dimension of it, after all, there is a science of spirituality which works for those with enough faith.
Be that as it may, this column believes that COVID-19 pandemic has a spiritual root or dimension. If the Holy Scriptures have 50 major verses about plagues (See Fritz Chery: ‘Plagues’, Bible Verses About, May 9, 2020, via http://www.Biblereason.com), then tell me whom those plagues are targeted at or what they are meant to achieve? Some of the plagues mentioned in the Bible had actually taken place (that is if you believe – a matter of faith), while some others are yet to happen. So plagues have a biblical root and they exist to achieve different purposes. As Fritz Chery rightly mentioned: (a) God uses plagues for His glory, e.g. 2 Samuel 24:13, Habakukku 3:5-6, Psalm 91:5-6; (b) God used plagues to demonstrate his great power in punishing the stubborn Pharaoh of Egypt in the Ten Plagues (See Exodus Chapters 7-12); (c) In the Book of Revelation, seven plagues that will occur in the Tribulation Period are well revealed. These plagues demonstrate the wrath of God.
Perhaps we should end the discussion here because there are many things to talk about plagues, pestilence, scourge, and famine in the Holy Scriptures. Over the centuries in history, plagues in the form of pandemics have been recurring events at least once or more than once in a century. The 1918 Flu pandemic regarded as one of the deadliest pandemic in human history infected 500 million people and killed between 17 million and 50 million plus people (See http://www.en.m.wikipedia.org).
The lesson for all of us (big and small, rich and poor, strong and weak) is to know always that the mercy and wrath (justice) of God are both a reality. Human beings who truly seek God understand that God’s words always come to fulfillment. And as J.I. Packer in his Is the coronavirus a Plague from Revelation (50 Important Bible Verses About Plagues) aptly concludes, “to know that nothing happens in God’s world apart from God’s will may frighten the godless, but it stabilizes the Saints”.
•Prof. Isaac N. Obasi, a public policy expert (& former columnist in the Daily Trust, Abuja, March 2003 to October 2006, & Daily Champion, Lagos, April 2005 to December 2008), is of the Department of Public Administration, University of Abuja. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org