Buhari & the RCN affair By Louis Odion, FNGE

General Buhari promising his Professor Osinbajo ‘Walahi, nothing would happen to your church people, korei fa!

For once, President Buhari on Monday
chose to act with a despatch and clarity rarely seen in his tenancy at Aso Rock
in the last twenty months. The ink of the reports of the forced resignation of
Pastor Enoch Adeboye, arguably the dean of Pentecostal district of the nation’s
Christian community, had barely dried before someone was made to lose his job
in Abuja.
Not only was the voluble Executive
Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, Jim Obaze, summarily
given the boot, his controversial Corporate Governance Code has been suspended  as well.
Drawing from the FRCN Act of 2011,
Obaze not only insisted that religious groups among other not-for-profit
organizations registered under the Companies and Allied Matters Act began to
obey some of the rules of the regular market, but apparently crossed the red
line by also attempting to impose age ceiling and tenure limit on clerics.

In announcing his resignation
bombshell to a captive audience numbering tens of thousands gathered at the
monthly Holy Ghost fellowship at the iconic Redeemed Camp located along the
Lagos-Ibadan highway (now sometimes dubbed Africa’s longest “miracle
corridor” on account of the proliferation of worship centres), the septuagenarian
with seemingly imperturbable look temporarily lost his temperance.


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With Obaze hell-bent on full
compliance, “Daddy G.O (General Overseer)” declared that the churches
in Nigeria were now clearly under attack.

Pastor E.A. Adeboye…Dean of Pentecostal Establishments in Nigeria

Until now, according to FRC, only 89
out of 23,216 registered churches in Nigeria had complied with the regulation
floated under the Goodluck Jonathan administration. (With Pastor Adeboye’s
compliance last week, it is safe to assume that the number would have climbed
to 90.)
Of course, it is obvious someone
lost sleep in the executive bed of Aso Rock the night after Adeboye’s apostolic
equivalent of a declaration of war. It is, therefore, a matter of conjecture
whether Buhari, probably with eyes on 2019 already, would not have been more
frightened by “Daddy G.O’s” subsequent battle cry to his
flock across the country (obviously in millions) to go register with any
political party of their choosing urgently with a view to taking more than a
passing interest in politics and elections henceforth.
Coming from the very flock where
Vice President Yemi Osinbajo descended, nothing could be more ominous
for Buhari.

President Muhammadu Buhari….Acted too fast in sacking the Jim of FRC

But FRC distraction was utterly
avoidable had commonsense prevailed. From his rhetoric in syndicated newspaper
interviews, it is obvious Jim Obaze had all along opted for a showmanship
incompatible with the restraint and sobriety expected of a bureaucrat, much
less the regulator of a sensitive sub-sector.
If truly the policy objective was to
ensure stricter adherence of good corporate governance, there is a surfeit of
provisions in extant “Code of Corporate Governance in Nigeria” to
compel fidelity among religious organizations wishing to dabble in
profit-making enterprises.
One, it is a moot point, whether in
municipal or international law, that whoever comes to the market-place must
submit to the prevailing rules of engagement. I do not think any religious
group going into commercial ventures would contest this. Such subsidiaries are
obliged to pay taxes just like players of secular progeny.
In fact, workers in the church or
mosque are not exempted. Religious organizations are obliged by extant laws to
remit PAYE deducted from workers to tax authorities. Any violator or accessory
is liable and it does not require much litigation to prosecute and commute
anyone to prison here. On these settled points of law, only an unreasonable
pastor or Imam would seek exemption.

Louis Odion the Author….Is he sympathetic to the FRC rule or the Pentecostal Church in Nigeria?

So, it was needless for Obaze to
over-dramatize the subordination of church organizations involved in commercial
activities to the customs of the corporate world. He and his meddlesome cohorts
need not have attempted to reinvent the wheel.
But where I think Obaze went astray
was seeking to blur the dichotomy between ecclesiastical calling and commercial
intercourse. Lumping religious organizations among NGOs under the broad canopy
of non-profit organizations, as the controversial FRC regulation expressly
seeks to do, is quite anomalous. And for Obaze to thereafter take liberty to
tell off differing Pentecostal leaders to “take your churches to heaven if
you cannot obey the new law” is the most idiotic thing to say.
So power-drunk, Obaze even tried to
personalize the issue. Hear him: “In keeping other peoples’ money, you
have to prepare account. That is why churches fought me so badly, took me to
court as a person and then my office too. Mosques and orthodox churches freely
complied, but those Pentecostal churches called me to ask questions. They said:
‘This church is church of God and we are accountable to God.’ And I told them:
‘Very good, so you must take this church to heaven, you can’t operate it here’.
When public funds are involved, government needs to ensure proper
accountability.”
From the foregoing, it is easy to
locate Obaze’s fundamental conceptual error. Church’s money is not public
(government) money from the poor legalistic lens he seemed to view things.
But this is not to dismiss one
weighty insinuation. One suspects that, like most critical observers today,
Obaze’s aggression was fed largely by an unstated annoyance at the manifest
material contradictions in the miracle industry in contemporary Nigerian
society. For instance, whereas the Pastor continues to luxuriate in
obscene opulence, the flock wallows in abject poverty. Some have
converted the church to family business. Tithes and offerings are used to buy
private jets for the pastor while majority trek to the temple every Sunday.

Pastor Mathew Ashimolowo of KICC…He was once kicked out of the United kingdom over similar issues of tax

Detestable as it is, the truth is
that the onus to challenge such shenanigans afflicting the temple today
ultimately lies with the adherents themselves, certainly not a meddlesome
political authorities seeking to wail louder than the dispossessed. To do
otherwise is run the risk of arbitrariness, if not a crude throwback to the
Stone Age.
Beginning from the middle age, the
consensus among those who subscribe to the concept of democracy is that, for
harmony and balance in the society at large, the state needs to keep a
dignified distance from the temple.
The moral basis for this is perhaps
best captured by an enlightenment philosopher, John Locke, with a submission
that since rational people are unwilling to cede their conscience to state
control as the liberty of conscience is intrinsic to man, the government
therefore lacks the capacity to exercise any authority whatsoever in the
spiritual realm.
Nigeria cannot now aspire to be an
exemption.
But had RCN, deploying the ample
facilities of existing laws, found any Pastor wanting in the remittance of PAYE
due to government or evading taxes on any commercial undertaking or engaged in
clear act of money laundering, I doubt if the Christian community would have
spoken in unison like we have witnessed in the past one week.

Ex-President Goodluck Jonathan….The Man who signed the FRC law to action

So, Obaze’s thinly veiled activist
sophistry against the “internal affairs” of the church would then
seem misplaced indeed. By the way, if such a regulation could not be fully
enforced during the tenure of Goodluck Jonathan, a Christian, what could have
given Obaze the effrontery it could be imposed under Buhari, a Muslim, without
raising sectarian dust?
As custodians of the spiritual
realms, let it be recognized that churches/mosques/shrines cater for peculiar
social needs. In liberal democracy, it is never the remit of the political
authorities to meddle or interfere in the leadership preferences of the
faithful or the tenure. It is not the business of the state to dabble in what
people worship and how they choose to relate with their shepherds or idols.
The most government does is keep an
eye on the boundaries: ensuring that in exercising your freedom of religion you
do not violate the right of others.

Sat Guru Mahara j ji….Would his ‘Church’ have equally gotten the Jim Obaze treatment?

Otherwise, FRC would, by the same token, be
empowered to order Sat Guru Maraji to immediately turn in his handing-over
notes having spent more than twenty years commanding his sprawling temple
located at the gate of Ibadan.

Overall, while Obaze’s swift
dismissal may have temporarily assuaged anger in Christian community at a time
of mounting sectarian tension in the land, it hardly absolves the dereliction
at the top, which would seem to enable the FRC insolence in the first place.
According to media reports (which
remained undenied at this writing), the storm had incubated since October, with
Obaze allegedly flexing muscle with the supervising Minister of Industry, Trade
and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah. The former was said to have bluntly refused
a simple directive from his superior who, as a political appointee, was
obviously better equipped to weigh the grave costs of such precipitate action.
The question then: at what point was
the attention of the president drawn to the insubordination of the erstwhile
FRC boss? There could only be three possibilities. If he was kept in the dark
for so long over something so potentially destabilizing, then the reporting
template of the Buhari administration urgently needs to be dismantled. But if
he knew but chose to dither, then president is well advised to rethink his own
conception of national security. In case the president first read about the
otherwise long-running brouhaha only last Saturday like most Nigerians, then he
is truly in dire need of salvation himself.
In the final analysis, we can only
hope that PMB is now politically born-again and will henceforth accord emerging
issues of grave national importance the same blazing urgency the FRC nuisance
was treated on Monday. For instance, had similar sense of urgency been shown
early over the Southern Kaduna disturbance, the nation could have been spared
the needless trauma of the recent pogrom of Christian minorities that lasted
days.

Buhari’s Chief of Army Staff, Gen. Buratai acted too late on Southern Kaduna Killings while his Principal acted too fast on sacking Jim Obaze


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On Christmas Eve alone, no fewer
than 800 defenseless citizens were butchered in cold blood by suspected Fulani
herdsmen. The killings continued unabated all through the Yuletide season. It
took more than a whole week for the president to finally rise from a curious
midday slumber and rally the military to curtail the rampaging murder gangs.
Alas, they started mounting frantic roadblocks only after the beasts had
leisurely walked away.
Abdication of authority could not be
more scandalous.








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