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Catholic Activists Condemn Move to Bar Unvaccinated Nigerians from Going to Church

COVID-19 Vaccine. Credit: Courtesy Photo

Officials of CitizenGo Africa, the African branch of the International Catholic entity of social activists, are calling on the government of Nigeria’s Ondo State to stop an order that requires residents to get vaccinated before they are cleared to access essential services including going to places of worship.

In an online call circulated on Monday, September 13, the entity that uses online petition platforms to champion for family rights describes the move by the Nigerian State as “ridiculous.”

“Nigerians have been asked to obtain a vaccine before going to church which is ridiculous,” officials of CitizenGo Africa say in the online call.

They add, “We support the measures and guidelines applied to contain the pandemic worldwide but it is against the rights and freedoms of citizens to force them to take vaccinations against their will.”

“In some states in Nigeria, you will be required to show a certificate proving you are vaccinated for you to access essential services,” the leadership of the organization states, and adds, “This goes against the freedom of religion and conscience and thus must be stopped.”

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Earlier this month, Nigeria’s Ondo government gave civil servants in the State two weeks to get vaccinated against COVID-19.

According to a statement issued on September 4, workers who have not received the COVID-19 vaccine were asked to ensure that they get inoculated.

The statement added that after the grace period, workers will be expected to present their vaccination cards to access some government facilities.

“The Ondo State government has made COVID-19 vaccination compulsory for all workers in the State,” the statement reads and goes ahead to give public servants in the State two weeks to take the vaccine.

The circular stated that vaccination cards will henceforth be required from Public Servants in order to access some facilities; it also charged workers on strict adherence and compliance to COVID-19 protocol.

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In a Monday, September 13 communiqué shared with ACI Africa, Anne Kioko, CitizenGo Campaigns Director in Africa, notes that as the world grapples with the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic, many are dealing with the consequences, which include loss of relatives, high medical bills, loss of livelihoods, and even jobs.

Ms. Kioko acknowledges that to contain the pandemic, various governments have put in place measures and guidelines to help mitigate the spread.

She says that some of the measures, however, like the closure of churches and demand for compulsory inoculations are “punitive to the citizenry.”

“Soon, Nigerians could be required to produce a vaccine certificate for them to go to church and or access essential services like food, water and clothing,” she says.

The Kenyan Catholic activist adds in reference to the directive by the Nigerian State, “According to Ondo State Commissioner, the council had approved that residents be given two weeks ultimatum for vaccination after which evidence of vaccination will be criteria to access churches, mosques, hospitals and other public places including government offices.”

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“We support the measures and guidelines applied to contain the pandemic worldwide but it is against the rights and freedoms of citizens to force them to take vaccinations against their will. We thus call upon the ministers of the Federal Minister of Health in Nigeria to reconsider this directive with immediate effect,” the CitizenGo official says.

In their petition published September 11, the officials of CitizenGo appeal to members of the public to urge Nigeria’s Federal Minister of Health to stop coercing the people into vaccination.

The petition dubbed, “Stop forced vaccination in Nigeria”, reads in part, “Dear Federal Minister, I demand you to stop any orders for Nigerians to be vaccinated if they have to obtain essential services which include and are not limited to going to church.”

“As much as we support all government guidelines to contain COVID-19, it is against my conscience to obtain a vaccine when I can choose not to,” CitizenGo officials say in the petition, and conclude with, “Kindly revoke this order as soon as possible.”

The move by various governments to force the COVID-19 vaccination on the people has also been condemned in other African countries including Kenya and Zimbabwe.

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In Kenya, Members of the Kenya Catholic Doctors’ Association (KCDA) have condemned the directive to force people to get the COVID-19 vaccination, terming the move “unethical and in bad taste.”

An earlier directive by the government in Kenya required all civil servants in the East African country to get the first jab of COVID-19 vaccine by August 23, failure to which they would have their salaries and allowances stopped.

In their September 5 statement, the Kenyan medics called for support for those who express their reluctance to get inoculated and those who oppose it altogether.

“We strongly oppose the said directive and opine that it is not only illegal, but unethical and in bad taste. We advocate for voluntary enrolment in the ongoing COVID-19 investigational vaccine trials,” the medics said in the statement that was signed by their chairperson, Dr. Wahome Ngare. 

Last month, Christian leaders in Zimbabwe cautioned the government of the Southern African country against reopening places of worship only for vaccinated people.

In their statement, the leaders under the Zimbabwe Heads of Christian Denominations (ZHOCD) described the move to prevent those yet to be vaccinated against COVID-19 as one that raises “theological and practical challenges.”

“Though welcome by the churches, this staggered opening of Churches on the condition of being vaccinated raises both theological and practical challenges,” members of ZHOCD said.  

On August 11, Zimbabwe’s government spokesman, Nick Mangwana, announced the reopening of places of worship for “only those with evidence of being vaccinated”. 

Mr. Mangwana said that religious leaders found in breach of the government directive would be arrested.