Tuesday, 17 January 2017

Buhari & the RCN affair By Louis Odion, FNGE

By on 15:58
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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.

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

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.

Gbenga Dan Asabe

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