Court dismisses suit seeking to stop conducting election, exams on Saturdays

The Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed a claim filed by Ugochukwu Uchenwa, a Seventh-day Adventist Church member, to prevent elections and tests from taking place on Saturdays.

Justice James Omotosho ruled on Wednesday that the suit was frivolous, vexatious, unpleasant, and without merit.

Mr Ugochukwu, an elder of the church, told the court in his petition that Saturday was a Sabbath day of worship, and that scheduling examinations and elections on that day violated his and other church members’ fundamental rights.

To prevent interruption of their freedom to worship, the plaintiff requested that the court issue an injunction preventing the Federal Government from conducting future elections and examinations on Saturdays.

In his decision, Justice Omotosho ruled that the plaintiff’s fundamental rights were not absolute and could not be limited by government policy.

Furthermore, the judge stated that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was a minority in Nigeria, and its theology could not be imposed on the majority of the country’s Christian denominations.

Speaking with press after the judgement was handed, plaintiff’s counsel, Benjamin Ahaemefule, stated that his client was going to the Court of Appeal to further test the law.

Mr Ahaemefule said that although his client had victory in some aspects of the suit, they lost in the main suit hence the need to approach the appellate court.

He said, “The court agreed with us that it has jurisdiction to hear our matter. The court also agreed with us that elder Uchenwa has the locus standi to institute the action for the enforcement of his fundamental rights and those of the entire members of the Seventh-day Adventist church Nigeria. The court agreed with us that the rights of the adventists are breached.

“The court, however, refused to enforce our right saying that Adventists are a minority and not in the majority. The court held that although our rights are infringed upon, the infringement is legally necessary and justifiable. So the court refused to grant our substantive request because it said that granting it will open a flood gate of litigation by other citizens of Nigeria who will come out to enforce their own rights.”

The lawyer held that the court erred in law when it said that although the adventists had a cause of action and their rights had been infringed upon, such infringement was justified.

“The court erred in law, when it held that although the adventists have cause of action but that right cannot be enforced because the adventists are in the minority,” the lawyer said.

The plaintiff had dragged the defendants to court on the grounds that scheduling elections and examinations on Saturdays violated his and other church members’ rights to freedom of worship.

Listed as defendants in the suit were the President, the Attorney-General of the Federation, the Minister of Internal Affairs, the Independent National Electoral Commission and the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board.

Others are the National Examination Council, the West African Examination Council, the National Business and Technical Examination Board, Council of Legal Education and the Ministry of Education.

According to the plaintiff, fixing examinations and elections on Saturdays forces them to choose between their religious beliefs and participating in civic duties or educational opportunities.

He prayed the court to declare the fixing of elections and examinations on Saturdays unconstitutional.

In the alternative, he prayed the court to order the defendants to allow him and other members of his church to vote or sit examinations on any other day of the week including Sundays.

The plaintiff also asked the court for other reliefs including a declaration that the actions of the 5th to 8th respondents fixing examinations on Saturdays, a “Sabbath day of the Lord” was unconstitutional.

He also asked for an order restraining INEC from further violating the rights of members of the Seventh-day Adventist Church by holding elections on Saturdays.

The plaintiff further asked the court to make an order mandating the 1st and 2nd respondents (the President and the AGF) to declare Saturdays as public holidays just the same way Sundays are public holidays.

The defendants all opposed the suit.

They based their arguments for opposing it on the grounds that Nigeria was a secular state and had not adopted any official religion, adding that the constitution clearly stated that Nigeria shall not adopt any religion as its own.

They further contended that forcing them to accommodate the specific religious practices of one group would violate the rights of others.They prayed the court to dismiss the suit for lacking in merit.