Tope-Fasua

Already, many religious institutions in Nigeria are richer than the government, with some sitting on trillions of unencumbered Naira. A significant proportion of all earnings by most Nigerians, go to them, yet they go unregulated; even feared. Some of them are quite vicious; ready to resort to violence upon being challenged. Many of them have become willing tools for money-laundering, with all twenty fingers and toes in every dirty pie in the country.

Nigeria needs to establish an organisation more urgently than ever. It is the Nigerian Charities Commission, or Charity Commission for short. It is a commission that takes over the supervision of ALL charity organisations in Nigeria. All charity organisations that collect funds from the public falls under the commission’s purview. Ditto ‘foundations’ to which huge funds are transferred by benefactors. This is to prevent the use of ‘charities’ for money-laundering purposes. At present, all churches and mosques in Nigeria are registered as ‘charities’ at the Corporate Affairs Commission. Whereas ‘returns’ are demanded by the CAC from these charities presently, but that rule is kept in the breach. And the CAC is mired in too much work to follow up. More so, the challenges posed by these unregulated institutions to our social fabric, demand immediate action… if our leaders will be brave enough to do what God demands of them in this regard.

I admit there are too many parastatals in Nigeria. And also that this idea may NEVER fly in our overly religious country. But this is one parastatal that is very much needed in our society today. And for good reasons too. For example, there are many ways to reduce poverty in Nigeria, and at this material time, what we need is a lot of ‘outside-the-box’ thinking. To this extent, the immediate establishment of a Charity Commission will go a long way in:

1. Helping to reduce poverty in Nigeria by refocusing ‘charity’ organisations, namely churches and mosques, foundations and other NGOs, on the purposes of their establishment;
2. Reduce the involvement of charlatans in religious scams, and prevent the emergence of Nigerian NGOs as the new ‘419’;
3. Send a strong signal to the global community that we understand our sociological challenges;
4. Curb the emergence of terrorist groups and other disruptive organisations;
5. Create at least 5,000 direct jobs as well as many more indirectly.

Every religious organisation in Nigeria is required to have a board of Trustees, who should be responsible citizens with verifiable addresses. The names of these Trustees are to be published in newspapers, giving 28 days or so, for any member of the public who believes any of them should not be a Trustee, or that the organisation – church or mosque or NGO – should not be registered (maybe for past infractions, dishonesty or crime), to speak up or approach the regulatory agencies. This process of registration and the type of license given, presupposes that such an organisation should carry on only, as a non-profit organisation, with a keen eye on CHARITY. Charity translates into ensuring benefit for the public, especially our most vulnerable (the sick, women and children, widows, the very poor and jobless and so on).

We, however, have three problems in Nigeria regarding the registration of our charities and the way they have carried on so far. The problems are:

1. After registration with CAC, nobody bothers to check the activities of our ‘Charities’ (churches/mosques/NGOs), to ensure they are using their licenses for the purpose for which they were given;
2. We now have a shameless proliferation of these charities, especially churches and NGOs, such that they are now so many, and many recent ones do not even bother registering at CAC. Indeed this avenue is now seen as the easiest way of making money, living lavishly, and disguising crime, among others;
3. Sects have risen in different places, and grown into dangerous behemoths without the Nigerian security apparatus being able to do anything. We understand Boko Haram was a small cult until our negligence allowed it to become a global menace. They were never registered. And no one knows their trustees. This is the work of a CHARITY COMMISSION.

They have it in the United Kingdom; our colonisers who taught us their version of public management, which we practice today, albeit clumsily. In the UK, each Church or Mosque or NGO, registered as Charity (non-profit), renders a yearly return stating how much they collected from members of the public and how the monies were spent. They also inform the commission if there are any changes in their trustee structure. They are not taxed on their collections, but only when they sometimes engage in commercial activities. A pastor is usually taxed if he writes a book and makes profit therefrom. I am therefore not proposing that churches or mosques be taxed. But I am proposing that churches, mosques and other NGOs be made, compelled, convinced, coerced, to do what they were set up for – CHARITY TO THE MOST VULNERABLE. The reason why the government should be concerned is that however its citizens become poor, it is still responsible for the wellbeing of all.

Now, when a pastor decides to use monies donated by members of the public who attends his church to buy the most expensive Rolls Royce, then he has gone ultra vires the Charity Law. A church or mosque leader could however be very generously remunerated, or have a ‘security vote’ from where he disburses, as they usually do, to members of his church/mosque or even strangers, who are in distress. To a large extent, all such monies should be accounted for and reported. It will not be perfect but we MUST start. My heart bleeds that Nigeria claims to want to make progress but we refuse to do the right things, by even simply copying from others.

…this Commission serves three crucial purposes; poverty reduction, sanity in society, and security.

In Nigeria, our leaders are often afraid of religious leaders. But there are honest religious leaders who can help champion the cause of a charity commission. There are Christian leaders, for example, whether from the Orthodox or Pentecostal hue, who are not happy with what some smart Alecs are doing with Christianity in Nigeria – with some pastors actively promoting and preaching greed, or conning gullible members with fake miracles while gyping them of their little money, while others encourage armed and pen robbery.

If anyone needs convincing about the necessity of this Commission or initiative, look no further than Boko Haram. How many more of those can any nation cope with? And why must we tarry before getting the government to be on ground, and in control of the country it purports to serve? Therefore this Commission serves three crucial purposes; poverty reduction, sanity in society, and security.

Of all the corruption cases that President Buhari is presently investigating, our religious organisations got their own generous portions – for God must be bribed – while they praised the corrupt government officials and looked the other way. Since nothing happened in that era, every successful heist led to another bigger one, as some of these officials were told by the religious leaders that God himself was blessing their hustle. All that mattered was for them to pay ‘God’ his dues.

As for reducing poverty, I recall that Steve Jobs revealed that as a very poor student in Boston College (he later dropped out), he used to trek bare foot five kilometres to the nearest Hare Krishna temple to at least get some of the free food they serve – to anyone who comes – just to stay alive. Today, many of our self-righteous, self-centred, condescending, holier-than-thou religionists in Nigeria would say that all Hare Krishna people are ‘hell-bound’! But Hare Krishna, at least in the context of Steve Jobs, who later became one of the most influential people in the world, did a great thing. I haven’t heard of any Hare Krishna priest flying jets and agonising over his inability to buy the next diamond-studded Bentley! Recently, some churches sent free food to Osun State salary-less workers. That is what charities should do more often, and food poverty will disappear in Nigeria; the religion ‘business’ having become a multi-trillion dollar one here.

I will detail some of the religious scams going on in Nigeria today in another article. No responsible government should look the other way. They should protect the people, and protect the sanity of the society. Already, many religious institutions in Nigeria are richer than the government, with some sitting on trillions of unencumbered Naira. A significant proportion of all earnings by most Nigerians, go to them, yet they go unregulated; even feared. Some of them are quite vicious; ready to resort to violence upon being challenged. Many of them have become willing tools for money-laundering, with all twenty fingers and toes in every dirty pie in the country. Of all the corruption cases that President Buhari is presently investigating, our religious organisations got their own generous portions – for God must be bribed – while they praised the corrupt government officials and looked the other way. Since nothing happened in that era, every successful heist led to another bigger one, as some of these officials were told by the religious leaders that God himself was blessing their hustle. All that mattered was for them to pay ‘God’ his dues.

If Buhari wants a long-term reduction in these corruption incidences even when he is gone, he needs to institute structures to prevent it.

It is a pitiable situation, if it was not tragic. If Buhari wants a long-term reduction in these corruption incidences even when he is gone, he needs to institute structures to prevent it. A Charities Commission is the way to go. Let us learn from Britain.

Tope Fasua is an Economist, Author, Blogger and Entrepreneur. Can be reached at topsyfash@yahoo.com