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Court dismisses suit seeking to stop conduct of elections, examinations on Saturdays

The Federal High Court in Abuja has dismissed a suit filed by Mr Ugochukwu Uchenwa, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Church, seeking to stop the conduct of elections and examinations on Saturdays.

Delivering judgment in the suit on Wednesday, Justice James Omotosho held that the suit was frivolous, vexatious, irritating and baseless.

Ugochukwu, an elder of the church had told the court in his suit that Saturday was a Sabbath day of worship and fixing examinations and elections on the day was a violation of his and other church members fundamental rights.

The plaintiff prayed the court to make an order prohibiting the Federal Government from further conducting elections and examinations on Saturdays so as to stop disruption of their right to worship.

Justice Omotosho, in his judgment, held that the fundamental rights being claimed by the plaintiff were not at large and could not be curtailed by a government policy.

Moreover, the judge said  that the Seventh-day Adventist Church was in the minority in Nigeria and its doctrine could not be imposed on the majority of other religious denominations in the country.

Speaking with newsmen after the judgment was delivered, counsel to the plaintiff, Mr Benjamin Ahaemefule said that his client was heading to the Court of Appeal to further test the  law.

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.

“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 minority and not in 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 can not be enforced because the adventists are in the minority,” the lawyer said.

The News Agency of Nigeria, (NAN) reports that 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 (INEC) and the Joint Admission and Matriculation Examinations (JAMB).

Others are the National Examination Council (NECO), the West African Examination Council (WAEC), the National Business and Technical Examination Board (NABTEB), 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 write 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.(NAN)

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