A Seventh-day Adventist Church leader has appealed to Nigerian authorities to stop holding elections on Saturday, saying the arrangement was disenfranchising Adventist voters.
Nigeria has scheduled local and national elections for Saturdays for years despite repeated pleas from the Adventist Church, which has about 223,000 members in the African country of 174 million people.
Oyeleke A. Owolabi, president of the Adventist Church’s Western Nigeria Union Conference, said Nigeria offers religious freedom in recognizing the church’s observance of the Sabbath from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday but it is depriving members from their right to vote.
“We are not feeling comfortable because we are being disenfranchised,” Owolabi said at a news conference in Ado Ekiti, a major city in southwest Nigeria. “We have written many letters to the INEC [the Independent National Electoral Commission] on the need to shift elections from Saturday, and I know that it will accede to the request one day.”
Owolabi, speaking at the opening of a five-day Men’s Conference organized by the church last week, said Nigeria’s traditionally low voter turnout improved significantly when a recent gubernatorial election was held on a Tuesday instead of the usual Saturday.
“We have seen a situation whereby a gubernatorial election was conducted in the country on Tuesday, and I think the country recorded the highest turnout in history,” he said, according to the Daily Trust newspaper. “So we are begging the INEC to put the interest of our people at heart.”
Adventist Church leader Ted N.C. Wilson, during a visit to Nigeria in 2014, personally asked then-President Goodluck Jonathan to avoid holding both elections and state exams on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays, thereby allowing Muslims and Christians of all faiths to worship as they wished.
More recently, Nigerian church leaders appealed to the Independent National Electoral Commission to change the 2015 presidential vote, which Jonathan lost, from Saturday to another day of the week.
In other remarks, Owolabi called on Nigerians to work together to eradicate corruption and urged the government not to levy taxes on churches and mosques, which he said are not profit-seeking ventures.
He also said the Adventist Church would establish a college of medical sciences in Otun Ekiti to train health professionals and provide health-care services to the community, The Nation newspaper reported.