By Bolanle Bolawole
In addition to the rants and chants on social media, subtle diplomacy is ongoing on CAMA by church leaders whose umbrage at government – and the public’s outrage against CAMA – has been as vociferous as they have been ferocious. Religion is a matter of the heart and emotions and sentiments are the fuel that drives its engine. Governments from time immemorial have tried to suppress religion or ruin it altogether; however, religion has always triumphed while the cemetery signposts the skeletons of a countless number of anti-religion leaders. It does not appear as if the narrative will change any time soon.
Pastor Enoch Adejare Adeboye, General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God, was at the Presidential Villa last week to see the president, retired Major-General Muhammadu Buhari. Although mum was the word after the meeting, it is reasonable to suspect CAMA as one of the issues that took Adeboye to Buhari. The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) has also demanded the suspension of CAMA’s implementation. We have seen some church leaders swallow CAMA hook-line-and-sinker. We have also seen others dare the Government to implement CAMA and see the heavens erupt in anger! If you say “na lie” and it turns out to be “na truth” nko?
The Buhari administration will go down in history with its avalanche of controversial bills and laws: The death penalty for hate speech bill; the Financial Reporting Council law; the coronavirus vaccine bill; RUGA in its various mutations; and, now, the Water Resources bill! Ah! I almost forgot one: The attempt, during his first term, to give Buhari dictatorial powers ostensibly to tackle the problems in the economy!
Those who think CAMA’s obnoxious sections deal only with churches miss the point: Said Femi Falana, a Senior Advocate of Nigeria: “I have read the law; it was badly drafted: A government that set out to facilitate the ease of doing business could not have come up with a 604-page business law (CAMA 2020). But it is not a completely new law. Registered NGOs were regulated in the past in line with the practice in all democratic societies. The only addition which is objectionable is the power conferred on the (Corporate Affairs) commission to take over and manage NGOs on allegations of misconduct. It is illegal because it is a violation of the fundamental right to freedom of association guaranteed by Section 40 of the Constitution.”
Remember that NGOs are a pillar of democracy and bastion against dictatorship. If CAMA weakens and makes them vulnerable to arbitrary take-over by the government, then, some people are trying to weaken the agencies that strengthen democracy and keep dictatorship at bay.
Veteran journalist, Lade Bonuola, reportedly said of CAMA: “If you guys know the amount of things hidden in the 604 pages of the new Companies Act, you will start weeping. The Corporate Affairs Commission has just been made a monster. You see that NIPOST regulation fixing N20m as licensing fee? That is small stuff compared to what CAC will do.
“The sectors that will be worst hit are the churches, mosques, charity organisations, schools, NGOs, etc. The CAC can now arbitrarily remove and replace the “owners” or leaders of these organisations. Also, CAC can covertly take over the monies in their bank accounts.
“Every sector will be hit. In the old Act, small fees were clearly prescribed for certain things, e. g. the Act may say if you fail to do XYZ; you will pay N50 for each day of default. The new Act has removed all those meagre fees and gives CAC power to make regulations prescribing fees.
“Online vendors who operate under a business name other than their government names are now risking conviction in court if they don’t register their business names with CAC. The most damning revelation from my review so far is that a private organisation has been written into the new Companies Act and has been emboldened through the back door to generate revenue; and regulate an aspect of law practice, accountancy, etc.
“The private organisation is the Business Recovery and Insolvency Practitioners of Nigeria (BRIPAN). S. 705(C) of the new CAMA requires that to qualify as an insolvency practitioner, you must be a lawyer/accountant AND a member of BRIPAN. On the BRIPAN website, membership fee ranges from N90k – N250k.
“BRIPAN is not a chartered institute (like ICAN, ICSAN, CIPM) or a statutory body. It is a private association formed by private citizens…some people have successfully slipped in BRIPAN (a private organisation) into an Act of the National Assembly and the President has signed it into law. How did our lawmakers not see this while deliberations on the bill were ongoing?
“Another curious provision in the new CAMA is S. 851 which empowers CAC to now act as a ‘court’ or tribunal of some sort. So if CAC imposes fees on your small business, before you can go to court to challenge those fees, you must first appear before the CAC panel and make your case.
“The panel is made up of guess who? Registrar General of CAC, 5 officers of CAC and someone from the Ministry of Trade and Investment, which is the Ministry overseeing the CAC. In effect, the CAC is now a Prosecutor and Judge in its own case. Good luck, if you have a case against the CAC!”
From the above, one can see that the fight against CAMA should not be that of the church alone. The obnoxious provisions of CAMA apart, I suspect the Buhari administration and can NEVER entrust the implementation of CAMA to it. Another government may come and implement CAMA (when it has been adequately amended); for it is needed to bring sanity to bear on the places of worship mushrooming all over the place.
I do hope, then, that whatever respite or relief the places of worship – the churches especially – get over CAMA as a result of their “shuttle diplomacy” and public outcry should be for them to begin the much-needed self-appraisal that will make them look at their shortcomings so they can proffer solutions in-house. If they don’t, worse monsters than Financial Reporting and CAMA will creep upon them in the long run.
They may ask, in what? I answer: In their opulent lifestyle while the flock of Christ suffer. Yet, Christ commanded them to “feed my sheep” and not that they should amass fleets of aircraft all over the place. Jesus never owned any of the means of transportation in his own time. The members grow leaner and thinner but the church leaders grow more robust!
Many church leaders today are like those described by Jesus in Matthew 23: 2 – 4 as the scribes and Pharisees who “sit in Moses’ seat”; who say but do not do but compel others to do; who “bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men’s shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men…”
Heavy burdens are laid on the small churches; the geese that lay the golden egg for the church leaders reel under heavy yoke but many church leaders are like Rehoboam, the son of Solomon. Rather than lighten the burden, they make it heavier. Pastors are resigning; they are dropping death; many are frustrated; many are cutting corners and losing their salvation just to meet up with the ever-rising demands of church leaders who pile more misery on the churches below. The taste, style, opulence, excesses, sinful living, and aristocratic mannerism of the Ogas at the top must be maintained at all cost.
Between the larger society and the places of worship, it is debatable whose corruption is worse. If the latter does not cart away the prize, then, the race must be very close indeed! The story is told of how the JAMB Registrar, Prof. Ishaq Oloyede, caught them stealing the central mosque blind in Abuja. The situation in the churches is not better. Financial sleaze has become the order of the day. Max Romeo sang “Stealing, stealing, stealing/Stealing in the name of the Lord/My father’s house of worship has become the den of thieves” That was in 1972; truer now than even then!
There is no immorality that is not present in places of worship today: sexual immorality; bribery and corruption; people pay to get appointments, promotion or good posting; godfatherism and godmotherism; victimization and oppression of the hapless, etc. are the order of the day. Someone said some places of worship operate a franchise: I say it would have been more tolerable if it were a franchise. It is a labour camp, pure and simple! In many of the churches, little is left for the local church by the church leaders and even that little is again commandeered by all manner of ingenious levies, special programmes, birthday this, send-forth that! Church leaders who ignore requests for help by the local churches are quick and audacious to demand remittance as of right!
Church members pay to sustain schools they and their children cannot attend. During the lockdown, many church members did not receive a grain of rice from their church leaders. Yet, during the same lockdown, many were commanded to still make remittances to the headquarters. After lockdown, many places of worship had to fend for themselves meeting the COVID-19 protocols of getting thermometers, sanitizers, face masks, etc. One would have thought that the church leaders, who embarked on “sekarini” (eye service) as pleasers of men and panderers to the powers-that-be, with their “we donation-this”, “we donation-that”, would at least have done similarly for their struggling and suffering churches!
In 1517, Martin Luther kicked off the Reformation with his 95 theses attacking the Catholic Church’s corrupt practice of selling “indulgences” to absolve sin. Were we to list the shenanigans of today’s church leaders, those of the days of Luther will come off as saints!
For instance: Mushrooming places of worship are in flagrant breach of building regulations; either they do not have approval or they lie and bribe their way through to get one; committing perjury (i.e. they swear to an affidavit or lie under oath) in the process. Are religious leaders, who preach sanctimoniously on roof tops, aware of this? Perjury is the criminal offence of wilfully telling an untruth or making a misrepresentation under oath.
Section 118 of the Criminal Code reads: “Any person who commits perjury is liable to imprisonment for 14 years…” God’s punishment for liars is sterner; in John 8: 44, Jesus says of liars: “Ye are of your father the devil…” Revelations 21: 8 says “all liars shall have their place in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone…” while Revelations 22: 15 says among those who will miss heaven are “whosoever loveth and maketh a lie”
Churches are treated with levity because the Government sees through their weaknesses, human frailties, and damnable foibles. Churches are also increasingly losing the confidence of their congregation because the gulf between both widens by the day. Church leaders survived Financial Reporting – and may survive CAMA – because of the confidence the populace have lost in Buhari. Mark my word: The day a popular government comes on board – and the church leaders have not yet put their house in order – they will be skinned alive one after the other.