The High Court of Akwa Ibom State, Uyo judicial division is scheduled to deliver a judgment on Thursday in respect of a case which has been ongoing for the past nine months between the Atheists Society of Nigeria (ASN) VS. Akwa Ibom State Government.
An article published by Bill Flavell, the President, Atheist Alliance International (AAI) on their website on the 10th of May partly read: “The governor, an outspoken Christian, has played a leading role in promoting and supporting the building of an 8,500 seat ultra-modern worship center. We believe the state donated land for the project and has provided other resources to support it. Problem is, Nigeria’s Federal Constitution mandates a secular state, so the government is not permitted to engage in religious activities.
"So, on October 25, 2018, lawyers for ASN served summons on the Akwa Ibom government. The summons asked the High Court to declare the government’s actions unconstitutional and unlawful and to order the government to cease construction work and convert the land and building for “any non-religious, educational, cultural or scientific purposes…”
What Has Happened So Far
There is a clear process in Nigeria for litigation such as this. The plaintiff lodges the summons with the high court and a bailiff serves it on the defendant. At that point, the defendant has 21 days to file his defense. This is how the case has panned out:
Oct 05, 2018: Summons lodged with High Court.
Oct 25, 2018: Summons served on the government (the defendant).
Nov 20, 2018: Date set for preliminary appearance to agree how the case will proceed and to receive the defendant’s defense. Date abandoned as it was a bank holiday.
Dec 19, 2018: Revised date for preliminary appearance. Date abandoned due to a court labor dispute.
Jan 28, 2019: Revised date for preliminary appearance. The government filed an application to extend the time allowed to file their defense (it was already 74 days overdue). The Judge granted their request. An observer noted a banner on the wall behind the Chief Justice’s chair. It read “Fear God, the ultimate judge”.
Feb 25, 2019: Second preliminary appearance. The Government again requested additional time to file their defense (which was by then 102 days overdue). The request was granted.
Mar 18, 2019: Third preliminary appearance. Again the Government failed to file a defense (by then 123 days late). The judge indicated if the government failed to file a defense at the next appearance, he would issue a judgment based on the ASN summons only.
Apr 24, 2019: Government lawyers did not attend court but their defense was filed and issued to ASN lawyers by court officials.
The Governor’s Defence
So finally, 160 days late, we have the government’s defence. It is an interesting read. We can think of it in two parts.
Firstly, the government denies that ASN has legal standing to bring the case. This was an inevitable response—lack of standing to sue forces the judge to abandon the case without hearing any arguments or reviewing any evidence. ASN lawyers anticipated this and have taken care to ensure the grounds for ASN’s standing are secure and supported by legal precedent.
Secondly, the government denies almost every statement of fact in ASN’s 21-paragraph summons. Oddly, they bring no evidence to refute ASN’s statements of fact, they simply flatly deny them. For example, they deny having received two letters from ASN, despite the fact that the letters were signed for and we have proofs of delivery.
As another example, they deny the government posted an article on their official website which claimed the governor “is also the Spiritual Leader of the state” and “He [the governor] said Akwa Ibom State is a Christian State that will continue to look up to God for his guidance and blessings”. I know this article was posted because I personally read it and made copies.
ASN’s lawyers are now preparing their response to the government’s defense. They will assemble evidence to support all their statements of fact and show that ASN has standing to bring this case. Really, this case should not be contentious on the facts, and it is mischievous of the government to try to make it so.”
During our investigation, SaharaReporters gathered that an official statement concerning this matter was published by one Ndifreke P. Akpan on the official website of the government of Akwa Ibom State.
The statement partly reads: “All is now set for the commencement of the long anticipated central worship center for the Akwa Ibom people in Uyo, the state capital.
The foundation laying ceremony of the 8,500 capacity international worship centre which holds Sunday, January 21, 2018, will be conducted by Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God.
“It is the first of its kind of a standard worship centre for Akwa Ibom State, the only state in the world named after God, 30 years after its creation.
The state has over this period moved from playgrounds to stadia and even uncompleted buildings in search of a conducive non-denominational place to worship, pray and sing praises to God.
To punctuate this trend, the governor, who is also the spiritual leader of the state, pulled all stops and went in search of funds to bring to fruition the dream of erecting for God, a befitting place of worship.
Giving an insight on funding for the edifice, Mr Emmanuel explained: “We have found favour in the eyes of the Lord, and it’s instructive to note that Religious bodies, non-profit organizations and even individuals from all over the world heeded our call for support to actualize this dream."
The governor said, “Today we stand tall to say that we have secured the bulk of funds needed for the construction of the 8,500 capacity international worship centre which is located in Uyo. Government’s contribution is a very negligible percentage.”
Governor Emmanuel added that when the dream of the international worship centre was conceived, he rose to the faith that God will provide the finances drawing strength from Haggai 1:8 –“Go up to the mountain, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified, saith the LORD”.
He said Akwa Ibom State is a Christian state that will continue to look up to God for his guidance and blessings. Link to report: https://akwaibomstate.gov.ng/akwa-ibom-8500-capacity-worship-center-project-commences-soon/
Meanwhile investigations showed that work has been recently halted on the proposed site for the construction of the exotic church building and the signboard which was initially erected on the site removed.
There are also rumours that the state governor might be using the project as a guise to siphon state funds for personal use.