CHURCH BUSINESS: The Church, Government and CAMA regulations
By Oludare Mayowa
“The church cannot afford to put itself out there as a body that ordinarily should be in the forefront of promoting accountability and transparency in governance and at the same time opposing regulations that are meant to enforce such within their own organizations.”
I have been trying to wrap my head around what exactly is the controversy over the recently enacted and signed Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020, all about; especially the objections of some Christian leaders to certain provisions of the new regulations.
Particular interest to the church leaders is the provision in section 30 of the law which empowered the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to suspend trustees and appoint an interim manager(s) for an association where the commission reasonably believes that there is a misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the association.
This section has to do with Non-Government Organisations (NGOs), under which religious bodies fall into and most of the commentators were unhappy with this provision because they believe it was intended by the government to interfere with the running of the Church and impose its will to suppress them.
The unfortunate issue about the controversy was that in spite of the fact that the provision of the new regulation affected all NGOs, including private concerns that deal with charity and social work, and other religious bodies, it was only a section of the Christian folds that are raising their voices against the law.
Other bodies impacted by the new provision are yet to comment on the implications of the law on their operations while individuals who have made their views known on the new law have commended the improvement in the law, especially in the area of easing the bottleneck around doing business in the country.
A cursory view of the provision of the new regulations as it affects NGOs showed good intention on the part of the government to ensure accountability in many of the NGOs, which obtained funds from many sources and claimed to be doing one charity scheme or the other without concrete evidence of such works.
Though some people have expressed the view that beneath the ‘good intention’ of government could be hidden some agenda to get back at some church leaders who have been critical of those in government and the manner the country is being run.
However, while such views could have some merit, the church should on its own promote within its midst reasonable standard of accountability, transparency and commitment to the purpose for which they are established.
In other realm and jurisdictions, many of the associations formed under the charity Act are strictly monitored and regulated to protect donors from being lured into contributing resources to organisations that are not carrying out what they have specified as their functions and role.
In particular, many individuals in the last few decades have increased interest in the establishment of religious organisations, not with the aim of propagating the gospel but rather to amass wealth for personal usage.
This was made possible because the government over the years has restraint itself from prying into the affairs of such organisations because of the sensitivity of religion in the nation’s body politics.
There are many Christian organisations today that have no functional Board of Trustees (BoTs), in some cases the names put forward for the purpose of registration are either non-existence or are members of the founder’s families disguised as trustees.
Also, the affairs of such organisations are run by one individual who has control over resources contributed by members to the detriments of the goals of the establishment and could apply such funds to feather their own nest.
In most of such organisations, there is no demarcation between the leaders and the entity, the funds donated in form of offerings; tithes and contributions are disbursed at the whims and caprice of the leaders without any input in the affairs of the organisation by the so-called BoT and the rest of their members.
The only option for any dissatisfied members who are not pleased with the manner such organisations are being run is to leave and join other similar organisation without any avenue to recourse to redressing such abuse.
Also, many church leaders have resorted to spiritual witchcraft to terrorize opposing views against their misconduct and abuse of the organisations funds as members who contributed the bulk of the funding are usually silenced by the invocating of some biblical quotes on obedience and submission to authority.
My position on the new regulation is that the intervention of the government through the new law would restore hope and transparency in the running of NGOs, especially some Christian organisations, that have shrouded their affairs in secrecy for too long.
In the United Kingdom, The United States and Canada for instance, no religious body can apply the funds of the church for personal use without the law coming after such leaders and this to a large extent has injected sanity into the running of many of such organisations in those jurisdictions.
Though there are still cases of abuses and mismanagement in such clime, the level of such abuse and misconduct, however, are not flagrant as being witnessed in Nigeria because of the strict applications of the law and the fact that people are aware that if they are found wanting the law will take its course
Nigerian Christian leaders should therefore discard their opposition to the new law, especially since the provision does not conferred absolute power on the Registrar General of the CAC, but made allowance for recourse to the court of law in exercising the power therein.
The church cannot afford to put itself out there as a body that ordinarily should be in the forefront of promoting accountability and transparency in governance and at the same time opposing regulations that are meant to enforce such within their own organizations.
From my perspective, any church leader who does not have anything to hide should be at peace with the new regulations, because it is meant to reduce the overburden influence of individual and curb the dictatorial tendency of many church leaders disguised as spiritual authority.
The truth is that church should get more involved in promoting evangelism, charity work and investing more in their member’s welfare rather than the present situation in some cases where many of the leaders are living in obscene opulence while majority of members are in abject poverty.
The examples set by our Lord Jesus Christ is not in alignment with the practice so sporadic within the body of Christ today, especially in our realm where many leaders have positioned themselves as deity within the organisation, whose words are the law.
Church leaders should be satisfied with the fact that the law is not prying into the succession process in their organizations which favour more of hereditary and favouritisms rather than merit and quality.
NB: This is the provision of the CAMA 2020 that has attracted opprobrium from church leaders: 30. “Suspension of Trustees and Appointment of Interim Manager(s) The Bill empowers the Commission to suspend trustees of an association and appoint interim managers to manage the affairs of the association where the Commission reasonably believes that there is a misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the association; the affairs of the association are being run fraudulently, among others. The Commission shall enquire into the affairs of the association and if satisfied that the allegations are true, it has the power to remove the offending trustees and the Court may order that they be replaced. The suspension shall be by an order of court upon the petition of the Commission or members consisting one-fifth of the association. Upon the appointment of the interim manager, the court with the assistance of the Commission may make provisions with respect to the functions to be discharged by the interim manager(s) under the supervision of the Commission. This provision gives wide powers to the Commission to oversee the affairs of nonprofit organizations which was hitherto nonexistent. These provisions seem to be in line with the recent trend by the government to exercise greater control over the affairs of non- profit organizations.”