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JEGA BURDEN: DISENFRANCHISING THE ADVENTISTS

By NBF News
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I choose the word burden for the title of this piece for a quite significant reason. The reason is that despite all representations made by the Seventh Day Adventist Church on behalf of other Sabbath keeping Christians to the effect that they would be deliberately and inexcusably disenfranchised in the forthcoming elections, there is no official reaction from Attahiru Jega, the boss of the Independent National Electoral Commission (INEC). Jega, in the impolite manner of spiteful silence, merely treated the over five million Sabbath keeping Christians, all eligible Nigerians whose political right to vote and be voted for is being infringed upon, as if they do not matter.

The Adventist worldwide do not only worship on Saturday, but in adherence to God's command on the sanctity of the Sabbath, honour and hallow the seventh day of the week. Their case which they brought before Jega, the Senate, Federal Government and the courts is that they have, over the years, been hindered from participating in the political process of Nigeria due to the inexplicable insistence of the authorities to voting on Saturdays.

The Adventists had proposed that elections be held during the weekdays, from Monday to Thursday, like it is done in other nations of the world as to allow all major religious groups including Muslims who worship on Friday the freedom to cast their votes. But, it does appear, and quite regrettably, that their complaints are falling on deaf ears.

Thus, by the time Jega is done with his job, it is not only the frustrations with the untidiness over the voters' registration exercise that would follow his name, but the burden of not defending the people's right as represented by the right of the Adventists to vote and be voted for. The Adventist are merely demanding for a policy change.

They are merely asking for accommodation in a matter that concerns them. They simply are asking the authorities not to shut them out in a matter as crucial as the determination of the political destiny of the land. Jega has antecedence and a reputation of being an advocate for social justice. Part of that responsibility demanded that he would have used his good office to advance the argument of the Adventists because it borders on a people's fundamental human right.

As a matter of fact, there is no statutory or constitutional provision supporting this strict adherence to Saturday voting in Nigeria which hinders the right and interest of a substantial minority. Nigeria can well comfortably declare a public holiday on a weekday for the elections as it is the practice in other countries of the world as to give all the citizens the chance for full participation in the process. Significantly, many Sabbath worshippers, essentially, the Seventh Day Adventist, have had a long presence in Nigeria for close to a century and have fully integrated into the nation's polity and its socio-economic development initiatives. In some parts of Nigeria like Ngwaland and Ubakala in Abia State, Jengre and Bukuru in Plateau State, Ekiti State, Elele and Ahoada in Rivers State, the Adventists are the predominant majority of the population and any public event fixed on Saturday in these areas is an instant failure.

The process of determining a nation's leadership is a serious affair which requires the full participation of the general public. Thus, it becomes morally and legally reprehensible for the authorities to continually infringe on the fundamental right of the Sabbath keeping Christians. Yet, these segments of our polity have the full backing of the constitution of Nigeria for their case. Both article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the constitution provides for the freedom of religion. Particularly, section 38(1) of the constitution provides for the freedom of religion. 'Every person shall be entitled to a freedom of thought and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance'

Following from this background, there is no justification by the authorities to disenfranchise this significant minority. The message that emerges from the action of government is that of insensitivity to the feelings and rights of the people. Nigeria will not loose anything to properly integrate the Sabbath keeping Christians into the political process by guaranteeing their right to vote. The silence of INEC on this issue signifies an attitude of indifference and aloofness over a matter that otherwise deserves serious consideration.

For those who may not know, the Seventh Day Adventist Church, for over a century that it has existed in Nigeria has contributed tremendously to the socio-economic development of the country.

ight of these important stakeholders to the Nigerian project.

For Jega, his offence is the moral evil of treacherous silence, the inability of taking a position at a critical hour of history. He is to bear the burden of this angry denial of the right of the Adventists.

By Godwin Adindu