A directive from the Lagos and federal governments asking residents to stay at home, avoid large gatherings and not show up for church service due to the increase in confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in the state and countrywide, was largely ignored or flouted.

Nigeria currently has 31 confirmed coronavirus cases, with 22 of them in densely populated and boisterous Lagos, where over 20 million people often hustle and jostle for the tiniest of spaces.

Lagos also serves as Nigeria’s commercial hub.

Only a handful of churches obeyed a government directive to close shop or reduce physical participants to 20, as Pulse would observe on the morning of Sunday, March 22, 2020.

The Faith Sanctuary in Abule-Oja, Yaba, was open for worship as was the Redeemed Christian Church of God outreach in the same neighborhood.

Faith Sanctuary in Abule-Oja held services (Pulse)
Faith Sanctuary in Abule-Oja held services (Pulse)

One Redeemed church outreach in Ebute-Metta also opened its doors to worshipers.

Pulse also observed that Winners Chapel (or Living Faith Church Worldwide) outlets across town defied the Lagos state government’s directive to pipe down for now.

The church’s presiding Bishop, David Oyedepo, conducted service normally from the church’s mega 50,000 capacity Faith Tabernacle headquarters in neighboring Ogun State.

The Tabernacle was also filled to capacity.

The Redeemed church on Adebo close, off Wilmer street, Illupeju, which sits between 50 to 60 persons, was not about to be left out as well. Here, church business went on as usual.

Church activities didn’t take a break as well at Foursquare Gospel church, Gate bus stop, Abesan estate, Iyana-Ipaja road.

The churches in and around Gowon estate in Egbeda, also conducted services normally.

The Corner Stone Parish of Redeemed at Okota, was also fully opened. Our correspondent noticed hand sanitizer bottles and temperature scanners at the church’s entrance, however. There was also observance of ‘social distancing’ at this outlet, as worshipers were asked to stand as far as possible from the next person.

Social Distancing adhered to in Redeemed, Okota. (Pulse)
Social Distancing adhered to in Redeemed, Okota. (Pulse)

Most of the churches around Ijesha and Aguda in Surulere didn’t care for social distancing or precautions regarding the novel coronavirus. For instance, all the churches on Ilamoye street, Ijesha, conducted services normally, blasting songs from decrepit speakers strategically placed outdoors and on rooftops.

The Redeemed church on Ilamoye conducted service normally as did the Apostolic church on 37 Sanya street in Ijesha.

CAC and Destiny Chapel on Sanya, Ijesha, also didn’t care about the directive abhoring gatherings. All the churches on Sanya were guilty of this, to put it rather mildly.

The Assemblies of God church on 3, Onikoyi street, Aguda Surulere, also operated normally.

Pastor Chris Oyakhilome oversees the Christ Embassy Church, one of Nigeria's largest pentecostal gatherings (Guardian)
Pastor Chris Oyakhilome oversees the Christ Embassy Church, one of Nigeria's largest pentecostal gatherings (Guardian)

Christ Embassy held gatherings under what was called PCF (Pastoral Care Fellowships). There was an instruction from church headquarters that there shouldn’t be more than 45 persons at one PCF unit. “This was the instruction given in an online meeting yesterday,” a member of Christ Embassy, told Pulse.

Closed on Sunday

However, there was some level of compliance with the government’s directive.

Pulse noticed that most Catholic churches in Ikeja, Surulere and Yaba, were closed to worshipers. Queen of the Most Holy Rosary Catholic church and Our Lady of Fatima in Ijesha and Aguda areas of Surulere, respectively, cancelled services.

Saint Mary’s Catholic church in Isolo had only a sprinkling of members in attendance.

Most Catholic churches, like ST JUDE in Ebute-Metta, closed shop (Pulse)
Most Catholic churches, like ST JUDE in Ebute-Metta, closed shop (Pulse)

At ST Jude’s Catholic church on Church street, Ebute-Metta, worship was cancelled as well.

At a nearby Catholic church in the same neighborhood, parishioners who met a locked gate bent the knee in prayers while holding onto the locked gate.

Churches around Obadore, close to the Lagos State University (LASU), also obeyed the directive abhorring large gatherings. One pastor told Pulse that "the state government has asked us to observe social distancing. I will only pray for the few people here and they'll go home. It's in the Bible that we should obey our authorities, and I believe that the government's order on this disease is for the good of us all. We are under the authority of the state governor and we shouldn't flout his order."

Churches around LASU-Iba, complied largely with the directive (Pulse)
Churches around LASU-Iba, complied largely with the directive (Pulse)

The Realm of Glory church in Okota, the biggest in the area, was locked as well.

Pastor Tunde Bakare’s Latter Rain Assembly has also closed shop till further notice.

At Mountain of Fire and Miracles (MFM) ministries, worshipers were turned back at the gates after being handed sanitizers and anointing oils for their troubles.

Some churches in the metropolis also streamed their services online, after asking church goers not to bother showing up.

Hand sanitizer and temperature scanner at the Redeemed church in Okota, Isolo (Pulse)
Hand sanitizer and temperature scanner at the Redeemed church in Okota, Isolo (Pulse)

On the dusty streets of Lagos, at bus stations and in pubs, most residents still consider the novel coronavirus outbreak a hoax.

"Let me tell you, this coronavirus no go affect us. Our system no go allow am, iwotago," one bald, pot bellied Igbo man belched to applause from his 10 friends, at a drinking spot in Ijesha, Surulere.

Some worshipers believe COVID-19 is an ailment they can pray away and attending church services to do just that, shouldn't be frowned upon.