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Coronavirus: Mixed messages from Nigeria’s pastors

10 April 2020

Religious leaders have asked their congregations to respect governments’ stay-at-home advice; others are defying it. With Easter coming in a few days, followers are confused and this is risky.

Nigeria is home to most of Africa’s mega-churches – you can call it the Vatican for Africa’s televangelists if you like. A federal government lockdown imposed on three states – Abuja, Ogun, and Lagos – to curb the flow of COVID-19 forced most of these churches to shut their doors to the public. That meant a halt to much-needed revenue to finance their pastoral activities. DW takes a look at what clerics have been telling their congregants.

Easter celebrations have been limited to small groups of persons, and the traditional Good Friday procession canceled in many parts of the country. Some churches and mosques have had to stop in-person gatherings, shifting congregations from auditoriums to social media platforms, such as the now popular chatroom Zoom.

“Muslims and Christians must obey what the constituted authorities say,” says Yohanna Buru of the Christ Evangelical and Life Intervention Fellowship church. The pastor is one of the many Christian and Islamic leaders asked by the government to educate the public about strict adherence to the measures put in place to fight the coronavirus outbreak.

“God made us know that there are pandemics, and there are ways to take care of them. If they are not going to obey that of the government, then they should obey that of the Quran,” Pastor Buru tells DW.

However, not all religious preachers had been so keen to preach the government’s message. The self-ordained divine preacher TB Joshua, known across the African continent, had been sending mixed messages and claimed that the coronavirus outbreak would be over by March 27. But when that date past, he said he meant the virus “would be halted, where it began:” Wuhan – China.

Another preacher Kingsley Innocent, who goes by the name Talknado, denied on March 15 in a YouTube video seen by dozens that there was no recorded coronavirus case in the country.

“Say Talknado said so. It’s not in Nigeria,” he says. “That thing cannot survive in Nigeria. What do you mean by coronavirus when there are corrosive anointing. I don’t know about other places, and there is no coronavirus here. Coronavirus does not exist in Nigeria.”   

A version of this report was first published by DW, the German public service broadcaster.

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