Kano is now at the mercy of the Ulamas

Kano state government has decided to allow Friday and Eid prayers to go on despite the objections of the PTF COVID Taskforce and in contravention of the presidential lockdown extension within the state. The decision has left the public divided between those seeing the move as irresponsible and careless, arguing that the social distancing measure cannot be observed, and therefore no way of engaging in the activities safely; and others who perceive the government’s actions as ‘necessary’ given the importance of the occasions within the Islamic calendar, citing the ‘compromise’ they’ve engaged in during the suspension of all prayer done communally since the lockdown was initiated. 

The debate has deteriorated into name-calling and accusations by both parties, for lack of better terms, the pros and anti-lockdown. The Pros accuses the antis of endangering lives of the public, while the accusation of curtailing religious freedom is thrown the other way. Politics as well isn’t neural within this circumstance. Despite the council of Ulama within the state calling for a review of the state’s pronouncement, a powerful and loud group of singular imams (and other religious leaders) have difficulty in understanding why there are two daybreak within the week for essential shopping and not a few minutes for what they see as equally if not higher degree essential activity – nourishing the soul. As is the nature with any debate, all sides are trading ‘evidence’ for their positions.

Taking a step back from the intense discussion, one is left wondering if there are legitimate reasons for backing a particular position. So far, given what we know, there have been less than 3000 and 900 COVID tests and cases respectively within Kano. It is safe to say that whatever the actions we’re taking, we are flying blind within this pandemic. The government and its pro-opening supporters cannot legitimate claim or assure that cases will not rise significantly from the temporal opening. We have already seen how religious gathering during the pandemic can lead to spikes in infections in Malaysia and India. Moreover, the problem with this position is that even after the gatherings, given our current testing regime, the pro-opening camp cannot ascertain the effect of the festivities on transmission, which might provide cover for their (we suspect) politically inclined positions to claim ‘success’.

On the anti-opening gang – which we subscribe to though limited to the Eid case – we are less likely to persuade any individual or group on continuous lockdown given we don’t even know the shape of the curve, let alone to know if it is flattening or not. A 3000 number testing regime (within Kano) is no good measure for basing policy or enforcing draconian measures. People can argue that the virus is within the population, and therefore we must continue to shelter. Nevertheless, if we are not aggressively testing for it, how can we with a straight face say we are battling the virus. We must submit here, that we are all sitting ducks and hoping for the best – which, ironically, we can’t even tell when it arrives. 

As for the moment, with regards to the Eid in Kano, we are in the hands of the Ulama. Government mosques may take their cue from the state. However, since the majority of mosques are private/charity own or led – and also organise Eid’s albeit on open grounds –  by deciding not to congregate and cautioning their followers against assembling, they might be doing us a world of favour. Some have begun indicating such position. This, for now, is our best outcome in navigating the Eid dire straits.

Written by: Muhammad Kabir Balarabe, a Ph.D. Candidate at  Özyeğin University, Istanbul And Abubakar Tijjani, health systems monitoring and evaluation expert at Palladium International Limited. 

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