By Sam Eyoboka

EXPERTS in political engineering have advanced several reasons why citizens should exercise their franchise at elections. In the Americas and Western Europe where demo-cracy had taken firm root experts believe that as soon as a citizen attains adulthood, he/she gains certain freedoms including the all important freedom to vote at elections. According to them there are many reasons why people should participate in the electioneering process.

The reasons include: Govern-ment control, personal freedom, taxes and funding. A breakdown of the reasons which may not be applicable to the Nigerian situation indicate that the individual ballot has the capacity to enable the citizen to have a control of the government; exercise the ability to decide his/her own level of freedom; deciside on the merits and drawbacks of tax hikes to governments during elections and sometimes the individual’s vote makes decisions regarding the funding of public institutions like schools and museums.

Whereas advanced democracies of the world had used their electoral commissions, which had over the years developed into independent institutions that arouse public interest in the electoral process and their involvement in the process of electing political leaders, voter education in this clime is still at its rudimentary stage. Thirteen days before the next presidential elections millions of Nigerians are yet to receive their permanet voters cards, one crucial elements that can restore public confidence in the electoral process and en-courage active public parti-cipation in the process especially in a year that more and more Nigerians are enthusiastic in the process.

A nation with over 35 million adult illeterates, it is still doubtful how majority of our rural dwellers, who are essentially unleterred, will cope with the new computerised system of voting adopted by the Independent National Electoral Commission, INEC without a massive voter education on local televisions and radio stations demonstrat-ing how the system works. Nevertheless, this piece is not about shortcomings of INEC. Rather, it is about the growing number of Nigerians who will be disenfrachised for one reason or the other.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church is a Protestant Christian denomination distinguished by its observance of Saturday, the original seventh day of the Judeo-Christian week, as the Sabbath, and by its emphasis on the imminent second coming (advent) of Jesus Christ. The denomination grew out of the Millerite movement in the United States during the middle part of the 19th century and was formally established in 1863. Among its founders was Ellen G. White, whose extensive writings are still held in high regard by the church today. Much of the theology of the Seventh-day Adventist Church corresponds to common Protestant Christian teachings such as the Trinity and the infallibility of Scripture. Distinctive teachings include the unconscious state of the dead and the doctrine of an investigative judgment.

The Seventh-day Adventist Church, is a major denomination with a significant presence in Nigeria and has been a partner with Nigeria in her develop-mental efforts. Unfortunately, this group of Nigerians has again and again been disenfranchised in elections, which are usually held on Saturdays, a holy day of worship for the church and other Sabbatarians in the country.

In a telephone interview during the week, the President of the church and pro-Chancellor of the Babcock University, Pastor Oyeleke Owolabi reiterated their demand from the Federal Gov-ernment for elections to be shifted from Saturdays to weekdays, as it is done in America and other developed countries of the world.

Pastor Owolabi, like other presidents before him, expressed disappointment that a country like Nigeria can be so insensitive to the plight of over five million Sabbatarians in the country, threatening to drag the Federal Government to court to enforce their rights to vote for candidates of their choice. According to him, Saturday is the day of their worship just as Sunday and Friday are set aside by other Christians and Muslims respect-ively to wirship, stressing that more than five million members of Sabbatarians gather on that day to worship in over 3,500 branches in the country, includ-ing the days of the elections.

The cleric therefore appealed to the Federal Government to consider the plight of such a huge number of Nigerian citizens who are being disenfrachised and denied the opportunity to elect their leaders, by declaring a public holiday and conducting elections on weekdays. He also used the opportunity to appeal to other Nigerians to collect their permanent voter’s cards to ena-ble them exercise their franchise.

Prophet Ezekiel Osuchukwu is a presbyter of one of the several Sabbatarian churches in Niger-ia. Asked how many churces fall under the group, he could effectively answer the question knowing that there are more than 200 founders in Nigeria, noting that in Lagos alone “we have Anthony Okeke in Ketu, we have someone like Egbule in Satellite Town. In Imo State, we have House of Sabbath Mission under Bishop Benson Okorie. We have Onabuchi who is the founder of Grassroots Sabbath Nation. There’s Committee of Hearing owned by late Michael Onacheze before they chose Victor Anwuzia. There’s Samuel Inobi from Inobi. We have Sabbath Nation by Dada Nwanka. There are so many of them.”

According to him, Saturday is all about worship. “We cannot leave our worship to go and vote and even if there is restriction of movement…as Sabbatharians, at times members begin their worship from 4:00 p.m. on Friday evenings till 4:00 p.m. on the Sabbath day.”

To Prophet Osuchukwu, Sabba-tarians will appreciate if the Federal Government can con-sider giving them an opportunity of voting any other day besides Saturday to vote, “there’s no how we can leave our God and go to vote. It’s against our worship. If they can give us another day, that will be better. If they can arrange the elections for another day, we can follow up because I have my voter’s card.”

The story of the Jehovah’s Witnesses is different. There are over 362,000 Jehovah Witnesses in Nigeria but sadly they will not participate in the electioneering process though a large number of them have registered and have their PVCs.

According to the Jehovah Witnesses Media contact for Nigeria, Mr. Paul Andrew, the number of Jehovah’s Witnesses in Nigeria today is put at a little over 362,000 (as at August 2014).

Why do Jehovah’s Witnesses maintain political neutrality?

Sunday Worship findings revealled that Jehovah’s Witness-es worldwide remain politically neutral for religious reasons, based on their interpretation of Biblical teachings. “We do not lobby, vote for political parties or candidates, run for govern-ment offices, or participate in any action to change governments. We believe that the Bible gives solid reasons for following this course. We follow the example of Jesus, who refused to accept political office. (John 6:15) He taught his disciples to be “no part of the world” and made it clear that they should not take sides in political issues. (John 17:14, 16; 18:36; Mark 12:13-17).”

According to a post in the JW website: “We are loyal to God’s Kingdom, which Jesus spoke of when he said: ‘This good news of the Kingdom will be preached in all the inhabited earth.’ (Matthew 24:14) As representatives of God’s Kingdom, commissioned to proclaim its coming, we remain neutral in the political affairs of all countries, including the one where we live. (2 Cor-inthians 5:20; Ephesians 6:20).”

There are pockets of Christians including internally displaced persons, IDPs across the nation who for one reason or the other may be cowed into withdrawing from the exercise. In parts of the North, reports reaching us indicate that Christians in areas dominated by other religious groups are already being denied the opportunity to educate their kith and kins on how to vote and the direction to go on election days.

A Christian voice in Bauchi told our reporter that indications abound that Christian will not be allowed to vote anybody of their choice freely the way it is expected. “Nobody will be free as a Christian in Bauchi town to vote for the party he/she wants. It is not possible. We have already foreseen that and that is why we are taking time to pray. We are calling on God to intervene in the ugly situation,” the cleric spoke on behalf of several Christians.

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