Vice President Yemi Osinbajo (SAN) has said leaders of churches in the country are not afraid of providing accountability but are concerned about a potential abuse of power by Federal Government-appointed trustees.
Osinbajo stated this while speaking on the recently assented Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020, at the 60th conference of the Nigerian Bar Association held virtually on Thursday.
The CAMA 2020, which replaced the 1990 CAMA, has elicited a lot of opposition from leading Christian clerics and bodies in the country, particularly on section 839 (1) and (2), which empowers the supervising minister “to suspend trustees of an association (in this case, the church) and appoint the interim managers to manage the affairs of the association for some given reasons”.
But Osinbajo, who is also a pastor, said Christian clerics and their Churches are willing to be accountable.
He explained that the area of concern for the clerics is the appointment of non-faith or non-denominational individuals by the Federal Government as trustees to oversee a church in the event of fraudulent activities.
The Vice President advised religious leaders who have concerns regarding the recently amended law to put their concerns in a proposal and forward it to the National Assembly for possible amendment.
He said: “The Companies and Allied Matters Act is a very huge legislation. It has over 800 sections or so; it is a massive regulation that covers a wide range of issues on companies, all sorts of issues on companies – general meetings, appointment of directors, etc.
“Now, there is a small section of it called the Incorporated Trustees Section. That small section of it is the section that regulates charities. Churches and mosques are regarded as charities.
“It is the Incorporated Trustees Section of the Companies and Allied Matters Act that has become controversial. And because churches are charities, provisions in the Incorporated Trustees Section obviously affect churches.
“What the churches are concerned about is the provision that says in the event that some wrongdoing is found or perpetrated by the trustees of a particular organisation or church, the Registrar-General can go to court, get an order to appoint interim trustees for the church or for whichever organisation that be, to manage the affairs of such a trust.
“The concern of the churches is that it could lead to a situation where practically anybody could be appointed as a trustee to oversee a church. And a church or a mosque or a religious organisation, is obviously a spiritual organisation. If you do not belong or you do not share that faith or have any faith at all, you may be the wrong person and the wrong person may be appointed and create more trouble than was initially the matter before the trustees were appointed.
“My view and what I have also suggested to several of the groups that I have spoken to and the leaderships that I have spoken to is that we have a process by which this can be redressed.</span;>
“What can be done is that whatever the proposal for the amendment may be, whatever the views of the church leadership may be regarding the question of how trustees, should be put into a proposal and forwarded to the National Assembly for consideration of an amendment to the law. That is a process that is entirely open and I believe that is a process that ought to be pursued where citizens have serious concerns. We are in a democracy; there is a process for which that can be done.
“Yes, the controversy has generated a lot of fervour but the solution to me seems also quite evident.”
When asked why Nigerian pastors are allegedly refusing to be accountable when some of them, who have churches in the United Kingdom and some other countries, obey similar laws as CAMA, Osinbajo said: “As a general position, I do not think it is right to say that pastors do not want to be accountable. As a matter of fact, as you know I am a pastor, I know that question is also partly directed to me. But I must say that is not the case. I believe that several Christian organisations and pastors are willing to be accountable.
“I think the problem they may have is with ensuring that processes are not abused in such a way to compromise the entire organisation.</span;>
“I think if all that is required is some process of accountability, I think it will be easier for some organisations to accept that. But where there might be a takeover of the management of the organisation, I think there may be fears as to whether such may be abused and really what may be done is to put in place checks and balances to ensure there is no abuse in the event that such provisions are activated in any way. But I don’t think it is a matter of pastors being afraid of accountability.”