Tomi Vincent, a lawyer and legal adviser to the Lagos State chapter of Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria (PFN), stated that no law in the country makes it obligatory for churches to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Speaking at a PFN event in January 2018, Vincent explained that a church surrenders itself to the supervision of the CAC only when it has registered with it.
He noted that while the 1999 constitution (as amended) guarantees the right to free worship for all Nigerians, the church must be ready to abide by all the dictates of the commission as it is no longer an independent entity.
He said: “There is no law that says you can’t gather and worship God. You are free to gather and serve God the way you want. But the moment you register your church with the CAC you cease to become independent in the sense that you become subject to the laws of the land.”
“The moment you are registered you are no longer the owner of the ministry. The church is subject to the laws governing charity organisations. It is wrong for pastors to even think that government is victimizing the church because there are no separate laws for the church. It is the same law that governs non-governmental organizations that governs the church. So, if the church is a registered entity it must comply with all the laws of a registered entity.”
Vincent, who is known as the pastors’ lawyer, said churches, like every registered entity with the CAC, are expected to submit reports of their annual activity to the CAC.
“If you have not been submitting reports of your annual activity to the CAC and you are a registered church organization you are running against the law of the land. You must submit annual reports and you are expected to comply with other directives like the payment of tax if your church is doing extra-church activities like school business etc,” he said.
Explaining the role of church trustees, Vincent said it is illegal for such selected individuals to be paid from the coffers of the church.
He said: “When you are a trustee of a church you are not supposed to be paid from the church money. Trustees are expected to be people who hold an organization in trust. They are not entitled to anything from the organization. So, if you are a trustee of your church and you earn income from that church you are doing the wrong thing. One day the arms of the law will catch up with you.”
Vincent’s positions come to light in the wake of the controversy that has greeted some provisions of the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 (CAMA) recently assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari.
Several leaders of Christian-denominated organisations have argued that section 839 (1) and (2) of CAMA 2020, which empowers the supervising minister or the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) “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”, is not well-intended for religious institutions.
Sola Ore, Chairman of the Lagos Chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria, has said the association will consider seeking legal redress against the implementation of CAMA 2020.