The Akwa Ibom State government said it has sealed off the headquarters of the popular pentecostal church, Christ Embassy, in Uyo.
The Secretary to the Akwa Ibom State Government, Emmanuel Ekuwem, said the church’s pastors and members “attacked and brutalised” COVID-19 monitoring team who were at the church on Sunday to monitor compliance with the guidelines and protocols adopted to prevent community spread of coronavirus in the state.
The monitoring team comprises government officials and officials of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
“In response to this act of lawlessness by that church and in order to avoid the risk of community transmission of COVID-19 in Akwa Ibom State, the Christ Embassy Church building and premises are hereby sealed up with immediate effect till further notice,” Mr Ekuwem said in the statement.
“The suspected pastors and relevant members of the church will be made to face the wrath of the law,” he added.
Christ Embassy has, however, refuted the claims made by the Akwa Ibom government.
The government, the church said in a statement, acted “based on tissues of lies and absolute falsehood that only occurred in the figment of the imaginations of those peddling same”.
The statement, signed by Kelvin James, a pastor, said the church was already done with its Sunday service when the monitoring team arrived, and that a church worker who filmed the arrival of the team was assaulted and a church camera confiscated from him.
The church said it adhered to the guidelines by the Nigeria Centre for Disease Control in its Sunday service.
One of their pastors, it said, has been detained by the police on the instruction of the Akwa Ibom government.
Christ Embassy said the crisis was instigated against it because of its refusal to be a member of CAN.
“While we are not against the state government carrying out its statutory duties, we state with all amount of humility that Christ Embassy Church has existed in our dear state for over twenty five years without any issue with any of the past governments or any association, rather we have contributed immensely to the development of the state through our several people oriented projects and word based ministry.
“We have been partners in development with the Akwa Ibom State Government and chosen to remain bipartisan at all times.
“We totally condemn the closing down of our Church and detention of our Pastor, Pastor Emmanuel Effiong, who has been detained by the Commissioner of Police, without giving us the right to fair hearing and state that this action is borne out of malice, deep seated hatred and calculated attempt to malign the Church for disassociating herself from the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN).
“We call on the Akwa Ibom State Government to unconditionally release Pastor Emmanuel Effiong, the church camera which captured a true reflection of what transpired today and withdraw the order closing our Church,” Mr James said, in the statement.
The church’s founder, Chris Oyakhilome, has been one of the vocal Nigerian clerics who have kicked against the stringent restrictions placed by the authorities on worship centres in the wake of the pandemic and also criticised church response.
He recently attracted criticisms when he linked the controversial 5G technology to COVID-19.