Tomi Vincent, the Legal Adviser Lagos Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, has said churches in Nigeria must restructure their operational structure in order to become more accountable and transparent.
Vincent, who lectures at the School of Media & Communication (SMC) Pan Atlantic University, stated this in an interview in reaction to the recently assented Company and Allied Matters Act, 2020.
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 Vincent stated that he is not surprised by the emergence of the legislation, saying that the law could be traced to 2004 during the government of former president Olusegun Obasanjo.
The lawyer insisted that contrary to the comments of some Christian leaders, CAMA was not targetted at the Nigerian Church as Nigeria is a secular state.
He explained that the law was enacted in order for religious institutions to revamp their activities in order to properly operate according to the statutes of the law.
He said: “My immediate advice is that they should see the reality of the law vis-à-vis the Nigerian society and that the law in question is not targeted at the church because in the first place Nigeria is constitutionally a secular state. It means that there is no law that can pander to the interests of a particular segment of our society.
“So laws cannot be made at the federal level separately for a particular religion since laws are by default meant to be on a neutral level in a secular state. Our leaders need to know there is nothing like victimization in this law.
“Unfortunately, we are good at making an uproar and raising dust saying we are being victimised. My advice to those against the law is that if they want to contest the law they should go ahead. But they must realize that at the end of the day, it won’t make any difference. We need to wake up to the fact that the paradigm of Pentecostal and Charismatic church administration has shifted. They will have to come back to the reality of the need to re-structure their operational systems and be more accountable as statutorily prescribed. They must know that there has to be proper structure and accountability.
“Paul Kigame in Rwanda is a Christian and he set up laws that many pastors in Nigeria will consider anti-Church or borne out of Islamisation agenda if the president was a Moslem. My worry is that, are we going to wait for when a Timothy becomes the president of Nigeria to pander to our own peculiar interest in a secular state ? (Tough call I must say); Or when such a president does what he has to do like President Kigame in Rwanda is doing are we then to say he is being used of the devil?”
He added: “I think church leaders should see the law as a wake-up call. It is a neutral law. It is not about the so-called Buhari Islamization agenda. The bill that became CAMA 2020 was initiated during the regime of Obasanjo a Christian. That bill was even more draconian than what came out eventually and signed by Buhari into law.”
Vincent also lamented that the majority of Christian leaders do not understand the concept of trusteeship.
He said: “The hullabaloo we are having now is because our leaders don’t understand the concept of trusteeship. If they do, they will understand that never is trusteeship equivalent to headship or ownership. It is merely a stewardship role. A thankless one for that matter. And under that principle, no trustee is allowed to draw funds from the Charity or ministry’s purse or resources.
“What do I mean? If for instance, I give my phone to somebody to keep for me, he is expected to keep the phone so that whenever I need to use it I will meet it in good order. He is not expected to make use of the phone for private use or misuse the phone or damage it. The phone is kept in trust with him. He is merely a trustee.
“Due to ignorance among a lot of Christian leaders, they get involved in trusteeship and also draw funds from the organization. They put their wives and children and also put themselves in the trusteeship. But a trustee has a duty of accountability. The owner of the phone like I stated earlier wants to come back and see that his phone is not misused.”