Top Nigerian clerics are currently divided over COVID-19 vaccination, leaving millions of their direct and indirect followers confused whether to take jabs or not.
Some of the pastors encouraged their teeming members to take the vaccine, others have yet to make their positions on the matter known to the public, while some already instructed their members not to do so but to believe in God’s healing power.
The pro-vaccine pastors so far include the General Overseer, Redeemed Christian Church of God, Pastor Enoch Adeboye; founder of Kingsway International Christian Centre, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo; General Overseer of The Redeemed Evangelical Mission, Dr Mike Okonkwo; Senior Pastor of Trinity House, Ituah Ighodalo; founder of Daystar Christian Centre, Pastor Sam Adeyemi, among others.
Those indifferent or who haven’t made any pronouncement for or against vaccination include the General Overseer, Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministries, Dr. Daniel Olukoya; General Superintendent of the Deeper Christian Life Ministry, Pastor William Kumuyi, founder of The Sword of The Spirit Ministries International and President of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, Bishop Wale Oke, among others.
Top clerics who have made their positions known against COVID-19 vaccination are the General Overseer of the Living Faith Church International (Winners Chapel), Bishop David Oyedepo; the General Overseer of the Omega Fire Ministries International, Apostle Johnson Suleman; Shepherd of the Household of God Church International Ministries, Pastor Chris Okotie; Founder, Christ Embassy, Pastor Chris Oyakhilome, among others.
Nigeria has so far recorded over 200,000 cases of COVID-19 and more than 2,700 associated deaths since the index case of the deadly virus was reported in the country in March 2020, according to statistics by Nigeria Centre for Disease Control.
The Federal Government through the National Primary Health Care Development Agency has since been encouraging Nigerians to take COVID-19 vaccines in order for the country to achieve herd immunity.
About five million Nigerians have since received their first shots of COVID-19 vaccination while about two million have completed their second doses, according to NPHCDA statistics as of end of September.
The Federal Government also encourages religious and political leaders to take the vaccine to dissipate vaccine hesitancy among the populace.
Addressing congregants on Friday night during the monthly Holy Ghost service of the church at the Redemption Camp along the Lagos-Ibadan Expressway, Adeboye said, “I have never said to you, ‘Don’t be vaccinated.’ You’ve never heard that from me. Rather than live in fear or doubt, get vaccinated. If you believe that getting vaccinated will put your mind at rest, then go ahead.
“Daddy, are you saying that you too could be vaccinated? If there are nations in the world that say that I cannot come to preach the gospel there because of vaccination, I will do anything for Jesus Christ.
“If vaccination or no vaccination is going to hinder me from doing the work God has called me to do, even if they ask me to be vaccinated 100 times, I will be vaccinated. So, don’t ever say that you heard from me that I said that you should not be vaccinated.”
However, Oyedepo had said that he wouldn’t get vaccinated, adding that he was not a guinea pig.
In May 2021, during the 40th anniversary thanksgiving service of the church in Ota, Ogun State, warned his members not to take the “deadly thing” called vaccine.
“Let me warn you against this deadly thing circulated around the country, because it has not been duly tested. An elder of this church, who works with the World Health Organisation, confirmed this, thanking me for always speaking the truth about the authenticity of the COVID-19 vaccine,” he said.
Like Oyedepo, Suleman had also told his followers, “I don’t say it is spiritual but I see something medical; that thing is not good and I’m hearing in some places now, they are making it compulsory. People are watching online; they will misunderstand me. If you want to take it, take it, but I’ll advise anybody who has consciousness not to take it. It’s not healthy.”
Similarly, Okotie had said, “Since the blood of Jesus is not what he (Satan) is talking about, or what he has to offer, he will require you to seek blood somewhere else. And the only place where you can find blood is in another human being. So, one of the things that the vaccine will make you do is to become a vampire who needs to drink blood for sustenance.”
On March 30, Oyakhilome was seen in a video published on the church’s YouTube channel, condemning fellow Christian clerics for telling their followers to receive the vaccine.
Oyakhilome had said, “I can’t understand how a minister of the gospel would be waiting for some vaccine to be the solution for the world. Where is your faith? Where is the Word of God in your mouth? If I say to someone, “You shall live and not die,’’ that’s it for him.”
But Ighodalo dispelled the claims about the vaccine in an interview, saying, “It is foolishness to keep having faith that God will protect you from an infection (for which) He has made provision for vaccines that can provide a high percentage of protection.”
Ighodalo advised his fellow pastors “to do their research, get the knowledge and stop misinforming and improperly educating people on guesswork, instincts and mere suppositions.”
Members of Kumuyi, Olukoya and Oke’s churches who spoke in separate interviews with our correspondent said their leaders had not made any pronouncement for or against COVID-19 vaccination.
Efforts to get comments from Oke, Olukoya and Kumuyi’s ministries proved abortive as of the time of filing this report.
Also, efforts to get the position of a former General Evangelist of the Christ Apostolic Church, Prophet Samuel Abiara, were not successful.
When contacted, CAN General Secretary, Joseph Daramola, said, “CAN has not made any official position on the matter.” He also refused to respond to further inquiries on the matter.
However, the President of the Nigerian Medical Association, Prof Innocent Ujah, in an earlier interview with Sunday PUNCH, lamented that people took the opportunity to deceive people as Nigeria “is a diverse country that is largely illiterate.”
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