Granted that religion is a volatile subject, especially in these climes where God is all we have, we shouldn’t compound our problem with incendiary, self-serving narratives. The CAMA law may not be perfect, but there is need for such a law. Several Nigerian churches have run foul of CAMA-type law in Europe in the past. They ran back home to take advantage of our ‘anything goes’ atmosphere.
I can’t stop celebrating Dr. Akinwumi Adesina’s well-deserved election by the shareholders of the African Development Bank (AfDB) for a second five-year term. Congratulations, Akin! May your second term be even more achievement-laden than the first. With you in the saddle, Africa can face the future with hope.
Another Nigerian, 47-year-old Kaycee Madu, gladdened our hearts with his appointment as the justice minister and solicitor general of Alberta, Canada. Madu is the first black man to occupy such a position. He practiced law in Nigeria before emigrating to Canada. Lesson: Given the right environment, Nigerians will number among the best in any field of human endeavour.
Now to the matter at hand.
Please, wake me up when the tower of Babel over the Corporate and Allied Matters Act (CAMA 2020) is over, for I can barely hear myself think. This particular contestation seems to me to be fuelled more by lack of trust, conspiracy theories and the fear of hidden agenda.
The kind of politics we play, coupled with institutionalised nepotism in high and low places, have combined to make people cast their trenches in concrete. In fairness, there is some empirical evidence supporting some of the conspiracy theories, but the general hysteria whipped up is, most times, too dramatic and self-serving. It is sterile to dismiss everything that comes from the government on account of the source. I am not one to permanently shut my eyes to avoid seeing bad things. Suppose good things pass by while my eyes are still shut?
Let’s take another look at the CAMA law recently signed into law by President Buhari. A very vocal segment of Christians have railed against the provisions of the law, which insist on transparency. There isn’t much protest from the Muslim camp. And that is not because the law exempts Islamic organisations.
The contentious Section 839 of the law, (1) empowers the Commission to suspend trustees of an association and appoint interim managers to manage the affairs of the association where it reasonably believes that-
(a) There is or has been misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the association;
(b) it is necessary or desirable for the purpose of;
i. Protecting the property of the association
ii. Securing a proper application for the property of the association towards achieving the objects of the association, the purpose of the association of that property or of the property coming to the association,
iii. Public interest; or
(c) The affairs of the association are being run fraudulently.
…in the last few years, the grapevine has been abuzz with whispers of some Islamic organisations fronting for terrorist organisations and being used to launder dirty money and destabilise nations in furtherance of the agenda of their paymasters. Shouldn’t such organisations be required by law to declare the sources of their funds and what ends those funds have been applied to?
Subsection 2 provides as follows: 1. The trustees shall be suspended BY AN ORDER OF COURT upon the petition of the Commission or Members consisting of one-fifth of the association, and the petitioners shall present all reasonable evidence or such evidence as requested by the Court in respect of the petition.
I think it is a long shot to claim that the above sections are designed to enable government take over churches. I am a Christian. I certainly won’t stand akimbo if government appoints an Imam as a trustee of my church nor would I endorse the appointment of a pastor to oversee the activities of a mosque or Islamic organisation. However, I find nothing wrong with introducing measures that will make religious organisations registered under our laws to be accountable. In an era when billionaire pastors are jetting all over the world in their private jets and living like Arab sheiks, while their flock wallow in poverty, the law is desirable. What percentage of a church’s wealth is the pastor’s private property? Is the church a private property or an institution held in trust as the body of Christ?
Similarly, in the last few years, the grapevine has been abuzz with whispers of some Islamic organisations fronting for terrorist organisations and being used to launder dirty money and destabilise nations in furtherance of the agenda of their paymasters. Shouldn’t such organisations be required by law to declare the sources of their funds and what ends those funds have been applied to?
In these matters, one size doesn’t fit all. There is something called church tax in Austria, Denmark, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Italy, Sweden, some parts of Switzerland and several other countries. Nobody is advocating that here. We are comfortable with our religious establishments being tax-free worship centres but they should not be reduced to what reggae star, Max Romeo described as a den of thieves.
My father’s house of worship,
Has become a den of thieves;
Stealing in the name of the Lord.
I am aware that the old brigade of religious establishments — for example, the Catholic Church and Ansar Ud Deen Mission, to name but one example from Christianity and Islam respectively — have strict governance procedures and a long track record of social interventions and charitable activities. As far as I can see, they and others in their league shouldn’t have cause to worry. But churches and Islamic organisations that are, to all intents and purposes, personal fiefdoms of their pastors or missioners/Imams, whose organisations are registered as religious organisations cannot claim to be above the same laws that recognise them as charitable entities.
I agree with the Christian Association of Nigeria that the Church should not be controlled by the government “because of its spiritual responsibilities and obligations”. However, if we are talking about CAMA 2020, it is not the Presidency but the courts that hold the hammer.
Pastor Abayomi Obabolujo, a stock broker who works as an editor, suggests another alternative to churches that want to operate outside CAMA: “If you don’t want government to regulate you, operate like Jesus Christ and the Apostles after Him. 1. Don’t do any incorporation — in other words, remove the name and logo; 2. Don’t own assets. Distribute all your money to your members. 3. Don’t operate a bank account. Distribute the money you collect among the members and go empty.”
My layman’s understanding of Section 19 of the law is that no association or partnership, of more than 20 persons, bar those expressly exempted, shall be formed for the purpose of carrying on business for profit without registration as a company under the Act. If more than 20 persons come together to do business for profit without registering under the law, they are in contravention of section 863.
I agree with the Christian Association of Nigeria that the Church should not be controlled by the government “because of its spiritual responsibilities and obligations”. However, if we are talking about CAMA 2020, it is not the Presidency but the courts that hold the hammer. And if there is any area of the law that needs tweaking, Vice President Osinbajo has counselled those with such suggestions to submit their ideas for evaluation.
Granted that religion is a volatile subject, especially in these climes where God is all we have, we shouldn’t compound our problem with incendiary, self-serving narratives. The CAMA law may not be perfect, but there is need for such a law. Several Nigerian churches have run foul of CAMA-type law in Europe in the past. They ran back home to take advantage of our ‘anything goes’ atmosphere. Some of our pastors can no longer visit the United Kingdom.
The church cannot exist outside society, argues Kizito Iwuoha, an engineer. “If they say the church is under God’s authority, why did they go to register at CAC? Why did they buy land from government and collect Certificate of Occupancy? Is it God that sold the land of that church to them? Why do they go to banks to open accounts? Why can’t they keep the money inside their churches? The biggest church in the world is in South-Korea, owned by Yon gi Cho. People found that he spent $12m on his family. They jailed him. His son is in jail now. And we are saying that we are above the law?!”
Voila! Something tells me that there is a karmic dimension to this CAMA palaver.
Wole Olaoye can be reached through email@example.com.