The Church of God under CAMA: Defensible or Dangerous?

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Buhari

By Adeola Akinremi

To summarize, hope, wrath, and mystery are part of the ongoing national conversations about the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 (CAMA 2020). The act became law on August 7, after President Muhammadu Buhari assented to it.

The promotion of government vigilance in the affairs of religious organizations with nonprofit status is generating reaction, so also is the positive effect of the law on the business community. The debates worry me, too.

In a direct message to the state, the Bishop of the Living Faith Church, Bishop David Oyedepo said: “The church is God’s heritage on earth. Molest the wife of somebody and you will see the anger of that person. The church is the bride of Christ. You know how a strong man is when you tamper with his wife. The church is the body of Christ. We are under obligation to give warnings to wicked rulers so we could be free from their blood.”

Just for the heck of it, let’s look at the law as it relates to church.

The Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 (CAMA 2020) Section 839 (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.
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.

Right now, the act is a law. But from the church, there’s exaggerated warning of abomination of desolation standing in the holy place. These warnings about doom is going places hand-in-hand with attacks on the law and calls for movement and resistance.

In a fierce statement, the Christian Association of Nigeria described the section 839 (1) & (2) of CAMA as “satanic.”

“How can the government sack the trustee of a church which it contributed no dime to establish?” CAN said. “How can a secular and political minister be the final authority on the affairs and management of another institution which is not political? For example, how can a non-Christian head of government ministry be the one to determine the running of the church? It is an invitation to trouble that the government does not have power to manage.”

For now, the mosque is silent, and the traditional worshippers are unconcerned. It has always been like that with state and religion in Nigeria. The church is never silent.

I understand the skepticism. Our experience with law and prosecution has been a mixed one. In more ways than one, we have seen rape of justice when government is a party. We have seen judges lower the standards to accommodate government excesses and we have seen government go against laid down process of obtaining justice.

In our most recent experience, President Muhammadu Buhari suspended Nigeria’s chief justice, Walter Onnoghen, without following due process. Though, allegation of corruption were brought against the chief judge, it was a curious suspension with political coloration a few weeks to national election.

If that can happen, the fear of the church is warranted. In time past, pastors do mind their business of preaching and praying for the people under their care but nowadays pastors are intervening in politics. They are speaking up with holy anger. Some are even hobnobbing with politicians either to be their pastors or push their policies from the altar.

For me, this is where the anger coming from the church lies. I don’t think the church is running from regulation. I think the church is afraid that it can no longer speak the truth through its megaphone. I think the church feels vulnerable. I think the church feels it’s being squeezed. I think the church feels to openly oppose a political party or a leader is now a misadventure because it carries risk of scrutiny. Like the press, I think the church feels section 839 (1) & (2) of CAMA is a gag. I think the right of government to protect lives and properties and guaranteed freedom of speech and religion are on collision because CAMA has undercurrent.

But does religious freedom mean religious people get special rights? No. So what is behind the outrage? I think the church sees governmental assertions of authority through CAMA as unreasonable intrusions into the life of the church because it is a known fact that due process of law is a big problem in Nigeria. At best, the law serves the interest of the powerful.

Did government cross a line with CAMA? No. I believe the church needs the law. There’s need to ensure our churches have structure. I think CAMA is in the interest of the church, where there’s due process of law. I think CAMA will change the way churches operate if its implementation is not political. I think CAMA will improve transparency and accountability, if the “reasonable belief” clause is not interpreted wrongly by court. I think CAMA will cause reorganization and revamp of church administration regarding income and expenditure, if pastors know there is a prying eye.

Now, let’s crack on with the content of CAMA. I do not pretend to be a lawyer, but I have spent years as an observer during negotiations of international laws in places like Geneva, Switzerland, where top diplomats and negotiators converge to agree or disagree on sections of international treaties. As always, the concern is the clause.

The section of the law in contention opens with a clause “reasonably believes…” This “reasonable belief” is the only thing that CAMA needs to destabilize a church. And because the legislation offers no definition of the standard, it is principally attributable to judicial interpretation. For example, misconduct or mismanagement are not defined.

What is reasonable belief in law? We inherited reasonable belief from colonial law. It comes from reasonableness. And reasonableness is “the fact of being based on or using good judgment and therefore being fair and practical,” according to Cambridge dictionary.

The legal thresholds required to lawfully undertake action against any church under CAMA is the reasonable ground to believe a misconduct or mismanagement has happened. Now, reasonable belief is a matter of perception that based its assessment and conclusion on probability given the extent of information available to the prosecutor in the circumstances.

Personally, I believe the law will inspire vigilantism on the part of the church. More than ever, it is time for the church to do things decently and in order as the holy scripture says. It is odd that the church should be afraid of the government.

What is a church to do in this time? I think the church should not stop speaking up against bad leaders. I think those pastors who are publishing books and enjoying money from the sales of it without paying taxes should be ready for CAMA because that is considered a business. I also thin it is time for the church to separate business account from church account. I think the church should prepare itself for scrutiny when it criticizes any leader because CAMA can become another EFCC in the hands of an oppressive government. I now yield to the lawyers.

Quote: Personally, I believe the law will inspire vigilantism on the part of the church. More than ever, it is time for the church to do things decently and in order as the holy scripture says. It is odd that the church should be afraid of the government

Side Effects

Fabulous Fatodu
It is not all the time that governors and presidents get it right with appointing first-class people to serve with them. In Lagos State, Lekan Fatodu, my friend, who was once a columnist here at Thisday, when I served as Features Editor, is making the Governor of Lagos State, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, proud of his appointment. Fatodu is a Senior Special Assistant to the governor on Sustainable Development Goals (SGD). Over the weekend, when I spoke with some insiders at Alausa about governance and I asked to know the impact that Fatodu is making, the response was fabulous. Fatodu always dream of things that are better and think of ways to reach those things. I believe implementing his great plan for Lagos SDG is one of them.

Buhari’s Bad Act
Last week, after spending taxpayer’s money in Dubai, the United Arab Emirates, to treat an undisclosed ailment, the wife of the president, Aisha Buhari, came back to the country with a loud voice. She stepped off the airplane and asked private health care providers in the country to boost their capacity to reduce medical tourism. Curiously, when Ms. Buhari was leaving Nigeria for medical treatment overseas, she left under the cloak of darkness without granting press statement. What an irony?

America’s Democratic Conventions
Can Nigeria learn one or two things from the conventions of America’s two major political parties, the Democrats and Republicans? I think there’s so much to learn about organization and speechmaking. The organization was superb, particularly that of the DNC that held virtually. The guys who spoke at the two conventions appealed to voters with clear speeches and not rambling words. Nigerian politicians should begin to engage the experts to write their speeches and get coached regarding how to speak. Nobody likes to listen to boring words. Election speeches should offer entertainment too. It matters.

What’s Community Policing?
We have now learnt that the N13 billion approved by President Muhammadu Buhari for the take- off community policing in the country will go into training, sensitization, and purchase of equipment. That sounds good. But what really is community policing? I think the money will become a waste without an idea of what community policing should be. It is not carrying AK47 to get people out of their houses. Community policing is an approach to crime prevention through community outreach and collaboration with residents of community.