The outbreak of COVID-19 has caused many changes in various spheres of human life and institutions, including religious and educational ones, that are central to human and social relations around the world.
Religious centres on many university campuses in Southwest Nigeria organize activities for the members of their immediate and host communities. These centres were closed to worshippers as part of the measures announced to contain the spread of the coronavirus. So, religious leaders sought alternative ways to keep up with the religious practices of their congregation especially devotional activities. The changes to these activities are remarkable. At the University of Ibadan, churches, mosques and other grounds appropriated for such purposes saw some interruptions and adjustments to their programmes.
COVID-19 in Nigeria: Actions and Reactions
In Ibadan, Nigeria, despite the relative adherence to abstaining from religious and school gatherings, the city is still bubbling. Operators of commercial transport, commuters and market traders in Agbowó, a mini-market opposite the main gate of the University of Ibadan (UI), conducted their business with no social distancing. Though a few are conscious of the problem, discernible in their use of face masks, wrapping of hands in plastic bags in place of hand-gloves and comments from some, whom to reassure others gesturing towards restraint from physical contact, claim they “don’t have Corona.” The latter habit is common among transport workers for whom grabbing and dragging commuters to board their vehicles have always been the usual practices.
This city hosts the country’s premier university, the University of Ibadan established in 1948. The University is a federal university bound by federal regulations on holidays, as with the lockdown recently instituted. On the evening of 19 March, Nigeria’s Minister of Education, through the ministry’s permanent secretary, ordered the closure of tertiary, secondary and primary schools in the country. Following this directive, the university management released a statement closing the University, ordering students to vacate their residence halls.
At the University of Ibadan, non- academic and academic unions of the university had earlier embarked on an industrial strike because of both internal and external default in remuneration. This action impaired operations and left the students in a precarious situation. Students took up the roles of security officers and porters in their halls of residence while writing their final examinations since the members of the non-academic staff charged with these responsibilities stopped working in mid-February. The order to vacate the university buildings applied to postgraduate students, though they have not started their examinations. As a result, they had to forgo a host of their activities and gatherings – social and religious, that would characterize the end of a session.
COVID-19 and the Adjustments to Devotional activities at the University of Ibadan
The nerve centres of religious activities on the University of Ibadan campus are the Chapel of the Resurrection, Our Lady Seat of Wisdom catholic chapel, University Central mosque, Mount Zion Ground and Baptist Service Centre. Other places appropriated for this purpose include cafeterias in residence halls and sports centres.
Towards the Northeast gate of the University is the Awo Hall, named after Obafemi Awolowo, a key nationalist figure who played a fundamental part in Nigeria’s struggle for independence. Beside this hall is the Mount Zion Ground, a crucial religious landscape of the campus. It is a space for postgraduate students (PG) fellowship hosting about 7 – 8 Christian denominations. Competing soundscape – buzzing instrumentals and varying human melodic tunes mark the presence and activities of the different Christian denominations worshipping on this site every Sunday and sometimes even during weekdays when school is in session. But on this first Sunny Sunday in April 2020, the sonic atmosphere was entirely different except the chirping birds. I felt here the disruption to religious activities caused by the lockdown measure the most.
Before the official closing of the university and religious centres across the country by the federal government, a letter signed by UI’s Chief Imam had been circulating on WhatsApp. It was the notice of suspension of the “weekly Jumu’ah prayers’ and any other mosque events that will create a gathering of up to fifty people in the general interest of the Muslim Ummah.” Of course, this is the first religious centre in Nigeria to take precaution against the spread of the virus by deciding to put a hold on religious gatherings in the physical congregation.
For a mosque that hosts not less than one thousand worshippers from within and outside the campus for its weekly Jumu’ah service, this is an important decision. Asides this, observing physical distancing which is one of the cautionary steps to curb the spread of the virus appears unrealistic. Particularly because the doctrinal position encourages standing in close contacts while observing congregational prayers. Also, no room because the mosque management just embarked on an expansion project for the increasing number of worshippers.
From Friday 22 May, the Chief Imam delivered the Khutbah (Friday sermons) on the mosque’s YouTube and Facebook channels. These channels also complemented the customary broadcast of sermons delivered on Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha; Islamic festivals, by the university radio station.
A mellow, melodic sound assumed to be from a piano lured me to the chapel area on Easter Sunday from behind the mosque. I watched the priests in their white cassocks go into the chapel in a procession with cameras and audio equipment surrounding them to aid their current means of conducting church services. In contrast to the mosque’s action, the Chapel did not stop their physical services until a few weeks after the closure of the university. The adjustments to their activity did not start until 29 March when moves their Sunday services and other programmes online and on-air broadcasting via the church’s online radio station, YouTube channel, and sometimes on a private radio station in Ibadan. Despite these provisions, a few worshippers still make it into the chapel to worship and some others in the car park (tarmac).
From the sounds and sights in some staff quarters in different parts of the University, I could tell that some Christian families on campus have turned to house fellowships held in their living rooms or outside in their compounds since they cannot go to their worship centres.
Without a doubt, there have been some modifications to religious activities in the University. An example is the suspension of devotional activities, held physically in groups. The social detachment arising from this informed the need to find alternative ways to stay spiritually connected. Thus, the broadcasting of sermons via YouTube, Facebook, online radio platforms and traditional radio stations became alternative ways of keeping up with religious practices and the community.
But, in a country with an often poor internet connection and unequal/less access to such facility, I expect the transition to virtual programming will not provide the intended effect for some people. On different occasions, even I had problems enjoying some programmes disseminated via the chapel’s online radio because of the incessant pause while streaming. However, the traditional radio stations like the university-owned Diamond FM specifically prove to be a suitable option, particularly for this year’s Easter Sunday, Eid-al-Fitr and Eid-al-Adha celebrations. Although, it is customary for the radio station to broadcast sermons delivered on the campus during Christian and Muslim festivals.
There is a group of people that stand to benefit from these alternative forms of conducting devotional activities on university campuses. These are former university students, who often share posts on their social media pages about their favourite religious preachers or leaders when they were on campus. For instance, after my undergraduate programme at the University of Ilorin, I would often mull over how much I missed the Imam’s delivery of the weekly Khutbah at the central mosque. Perhaps, the online broadcast of services and hymns by the chapel and Khutbah by the mosque is a blessing for some people, as they can now enjoy what they have so far missed even it if it is in the interim.
Cite this blog post
Remoboko (2020, August 4). Socially Distant, Spiritually Connected: Religious activities on the University of Ibadan campus amid the coronavirus pandemic. Remoboko. Retrieved February 29, 2024, from https://doi.org/10.58079/tlco