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Church in Nigeria Grants Government “full access to” All Catholic Health Facilities

Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese with the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), Boss Gidahyelda Mustapha during the Wednesday, April 8 audience in Abuja, Nigeria.

In a move to boost Nigeria government’s efforts to contain COVID-19 in the country, Catholic Bishops in Africa’s most populous nation have granted their country’s task force overseeing the pandemic “full access to” all health facilities, which the Catholic Church owns, a Church official has reported.

The members of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Nigeria (CBCN) granted Nigeria’s Presidential Task Force committee, a select group of individuals appointed by the Government to lead the fight against COVID-19, “full access to 435 Catholic hospitals and clinics in Nigeria,” the Secretary General of the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria, Fr. Zachariah Samjumi reported Wednesday, April 8.

“Considering the grave danger posed by COVID-19 pandemic, the world over, and in particular, Nigeria, the Catholic Bishops Conference of Nigeria (CBCN), today 8 April 2020, paid a solidarity visit with the Secretary to the Federal Government (SGF), who is also the Chairman of the Presidential Task Force committee,” Fr. Zachariah stated in a report seen by ACI Africa.

Led by the Archbishop Ignatius Kaigama of Nigeria’s Abuja Archdiocese, CBCN delegation “acknowledged the excellent efforts of the Government in curtailing COVID-19,” Fr. Zachariah noted.

Nigeria has reported at least 276 confirmed cases of COVID-19; 44 patients have recovered and six have died of the disease that has claimed more than 88,400 lives globally.

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Some of the measures the Government has put in place to contain the spread of the disease include the closure of all airports to international flights, a restriction on the number of people at any public gatherings, a two-week lockdown of the country’s largest city, Lagos, neighboring Ogun state and the political capital city, Abuja, among other restrictions.

The lockdown has affected an estimated 25 million people, with majority of them being casual laborers who have been rendered jobless. The country, which is Africa’s largest oil producer, has requested US$6.9 billion from multilateral lenders to combat the spread of the coronavirus pandemic in the country, the finance minister said Monday, April 6.

Besides the availing Catholic-run health facilities, the Bishops availed a medical personnel in the person of Dr Emmanuel Okechukwu, the Catholic Secretariat of Nigeria’s national Health Secretary, who is to serve as “the liaison person to the Catholic Health facilities in the country.”

During the April 8 meeting, “Copies of a booklet cataloguing the addresses of the health facilities were submitted to the SGF” and Archbishop Kaigama, on behalf of CBCN President, “informed the SGF that the Catholic Church has the structures, track record, and the reach in terms of public mobilization,” Fr. Zachariah reported.

On their part, SGF expressed gratitude to the Catholic Bishops in Nigeria for the solidarity exemplified in availing “about 400 health facilities to contribute to the efforts being put in place to curtail the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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The Secretary of Nigeria’s SGF “further urged the Church to help in disseminating the message of personal hygiene and compliance with Government directives,” Fr. Zachariah reported.

Meanwhile, at a recent conference, Bishop Denis Isizoh who heads CBCN’s Social Communications Directorate challenged Catholic journalists in his country to avoid “armchair” journalism that is prone to reporting from “hearsay and falsehood” and instead venture into real situations, particularly now when the COVID-19 pandemic requires accurate media reports.

“Reaching out with the Good News of Christ, through the communications apostolate, is not an armchair work,” Bishop Isizoh told those at the helm of communication in various Catholic media outlets in Nigeria.

Referencing the possible risks involved in reaching out to patients with COVID-19 in a bid to tell their stories, the Local Ordinary of Nigeria’s Onitsha diocese challenged the 25 diocesan and religious directors of communication who attended the meeting to “take the risk.”

“The proficiency of the practice of Journalism is more profound in times of challenges; as practitioners who take the risk report the truth, while those who go into hiding or are afraid of taking the risk report hearsay and falsehood,” the 64-year-old Prelate said.

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He was addressing Catholic journalists at the opening of the first Plenary Meeting of the Diocesan/Religious Directors of Communications Association held at the Bishop James Moynagh Pastoral Centre Uyo in the Akwa-Ibom State.

He further challenged the Catholic communicators to borrow a leaf from their Western counterparts saying, “Be courageous enough to be like their overseas professional colleagues who take the risks to be on the field to report the truth and inform the people accurately.”

Magdalene Kahiu contributed to this news report.