The General Overseer of Calvary Bible Church, Idimu, Lagos, Pastor Olumide Emmanuel has said many Nigerian pastors will go to jail because they are ignorantly crying wolf where none exists over the Companies & Allied Matters Acts (CAMA) recently passed into law by the Nigerian government. He advises pastors to read the law instead of reacting in ignorance, in this interview with TAI ANYANWU. Excerpts
The Federal Government recently passed into law the Companies & Allied Matters Act (CAMA) which contains a section that allows the government to interfere in the affairs of churches in the country. What’s your take on this law
Let me begin by saying that I am not a lawyer, but as an apostle in the marketplace. I operate both in the business world and the church and have over 31 years experience in both spheres with a global operation spanning four continents. So, I have a pretty good grasp of organisational operations and oversight.
The CAMA 2020 is not altogether new, but an updated version of the 1990 version and it is a 606-page document loaded with many revolutionary provisions that will forever change the game of business in Nigeria and help many businesses excel.
We, however, have just about five pages of the document that directly relates to your question and has become an unfortunate issue of contention to my amazement. My take on this is that while there are few ambiguities in some aspects of the documents as it relates to the supposed “ interference “ many of the noise we are hearing about this is highly unnecessary and uncalled for.
From the reactions I have read and heard from many quarters in the church, it is evident that many pastors have not really read the document, but are on an emotional and sentimental bandwagon which is quite unfortunate for the church.
Over 90% of the pastors and ministers that has spoken to me on this issue have not read CAMA 2020 personally, and yet they have a strong opinion about a document they have not read. It’s a sad development if this is the level we have reduced Christianity to now.
What do you think as reasons for the enactment of the CAMA law by the government?
It is not a new law. It is just an updated version of a law that has existed for over 30 years and many of the ministries that are complaining today have already been under the CAMA 1990 law for decades and the 1990 version also has provisions for “interference” as you call it. Why the noise now?
The CAMA act 1990 has provisions for you to align with which include audited accounts, annual returns, limitations and removal of trustees, use of properties, winding down procedures etc So I am lost here, can an arm of government have the right to register you and not have the right to regulate you? The law was established to serve as a way to govern, regulate and oversee the way organisations that are registered under C.A.C are run and it covers every kind of organisations which include the churches.
So the reason is regulation and not witch-hunting as is being peddled by some even though there are aspects that have the possibility of being abused.
The Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) leadership has described the law as obnoxious and a declaration of war against the Church by the State. Do you share this view with the CAN leadership?
I personally do not share the view of CAN because they are 30 years late. If the 1990 version is applied fully there are many churches today that will be shut down and many pastors that will end up in jail not because of any witch-hunt but because of the lawlessness of many churches and pastors e.g the 1990 version and the 2020 one too states that no trustee of the church can earn from the church yet many pastors are trustees of their churches and also earning income which is an error.
So, that alone from the 1990 version and now 2020 version can finish many pastors. The 1990 version and 2020 version also expect that all registered trustees must submit their annual audited account and do annual returns but many churches that are registered have never done that which is an error, so truth be told, while some aspects of the new law are ambiguous. We really need to put our house in order and stop crying wolf where there really is none.
Some people say churches should have no fears submitting to financial scrutiny by the government if they are doing no wrongs and their records are clean?
What do have to say to that? Like I stated earlier the 1990 version and 2020 version already have that as a law, you cannot be a trustee over public funds and not be subject to oversight. Churches are not registered in Nigeria. It is trustees that are registered, and the law is clear since 1990 about the roles and expectations of trustees.
So, why do some have issues with having public funds in their trust being looked into? We are the Church of the living God, and should be held at a higher moral and financial standard, or else we are not different from the politicians that have ruined the nation.
You raised a poser with your programme titled ‘CAMA 2O20 And the Church; the Truth and the Tales’. What did you want to achieve with the programme?
The event was held on my Instagram handle @olumidemmanuel, and my reason for putting this together is to bring a lawyer on board so we can help pastors and church leaders have clarity like we have done for over 20 years in many ministers conferences all over the nation.
This will help clarify the truth from the tales and put things in proper perspective void of emotion, sentiments and zeal without knowledge. E.g I keep hearing many pastors and ministers shouting that the registrar general now has the sole power of removing church trustees and bringing in an interim trustees which is not true, because the same people saying that are not clearly explaining the process that was itemized in the document.
Please, please and please let us stop disgracing ourselves and ensure we read the document and get clarity before making public statements and let us avoid using our religious prism to interpret a legal document.
For the trustees to be removed
(1). There must be a petition from the trustees and 20% of the church members
(2). The commission then investigates the petition to know if there is a case to be answered
(3). Then the minister looks through it and approves that there is a case to answer.
(4). Then the case is handed over to the court so that the parties can come and proof or disproof their case and then the court decides what happens.
(5). If the court approves that the trustees are liable, the court then empowers the commission to remove the trustees and appoint an interim trustee.
(6). The interim trustees only have a maximum of 12 months to be in the church during which time a new trustee is appointed by the church to take over from the interim trustee.
(7) The interim trustees have nothing to do with the spiritual running of the church but take over the administration of the finances and properties since that is the reason for the petition and the court has already found the church trustee guilty. So, where in all this process? Does the registrar have a unilateral power to suspend a church trustee or are they reading a different CAMA from the one in question?
Few areas of ambiguity that can be abused like I have stated severally before now are:
(1) the document does not state the kind of people that can be appointed as interim trustees and that needs to be clear so they don’t appoint Muslims as trustees over a church.
(2). The document is not clear about the supposed sources of petition because one or two trustees can decide to plan a coup and get 20% of the people into the plot like Lucifer did and cause unnecessary trouble with lies and deception. It used to be 50% in the 1990 version but has been reduced in the 2020 version.
(3). The clause on “public interest” as a reason to come in is a major error that opens the door for abuse because that is a very difficult aspect to prove in law, and any honest lawyer will tell you that it is the person with the authority that ends up deciding what they consider to be of “public interest” and in a warped society like Nigeria where politicians don’t obey rules of law and corruption is second nature, that clause is a time bomb.
Should the church in Nigeria just accept to live with the CAMA reality since a similar law is being practiced in some other countries like the U.K and the U.S.?
Let us leave other countries out of the equation for now and face our own CAMA. The law is the law. So, as at today whether we accept it or not, it is already the law, and even if we cry out for an adjustment it will take some time. So for now we should do the following :
(1). The Church must begin by acknowledging that we have failed by abandoning the marketplace and the diverse spheres of influence to the sons of Belial.
(2). The church must also repent of not being a good role model to the world when it comes to accountability and moderation which has made many people lose the respect they should have for us.
(3). The Church must also own up to our negligence and docility that made us sleep while a major law that affects us is being updated without our input.
(4). The Church must then now read the law and come up with our own version of what we believe should be considered to handle all the ambiguities, so we can then send that to the appropriate authority either for them to utilize in a review or to be used as an operational guide in the implementation of the law. We can’t be using social media to rant without intelligent and strategic steps.
The way it is appearing now in the public domain, it is sounding as if churches don’t want to be regulated or be accountable because they have something to hide. But that is not the message I believe is being passed.
That is however how we are sounding because of our medium and approach. We should also use this opportunity to look into how to have our own internal control measure to regulate ourselves as the body of Christ in Nigeria, and all individual churches should look into their internal system and structure and correct any lapses to ensure they are in compliance to best practices as stated in the document. It is not compulsory to register your church, but once you choose to register, you have to align with the law.
The government explained that the CAMA law is in public interest. Can you draw a parallel between Public interest and God Interest; is there a meeting point?
God’s interest is always in the public interest so there is never a confusion about that, but like I said earlier on, when the government say they are doing something in the “public interest” it is legally and morally right, but the Nigerian government has never proved worthy of such trust based on their track record. So really it is a trust issue.
The Church in Nigerian is barely coming out of COVID-19 to now face CAMA-20. Do you suspect any agenda against the Church as it is being feared in some quarters?
There is really no agenda anywhere perse. if there is any agenda it is heaven agenda to purge and cleanse the Church. Come to think of it, why are we so concerned about Islamic agenda when we have a kingdom agenda we should be focusing on fulfilling?
If the Muslims are passionate and strategic about carrying out their own Islamic agenda, why are we docile about our own kingdom agenda? It is time for the Church to wake up from the slumber of prayerlessness, worldliness, shallowness and watered down Christianity void of discipleship and kingdom mindedness, and become strategic, intentional and united about the kingdom agenda as opposed to their individual church and denominational agenda.
If the CAMA Law is eventually declared irreversible by the highest court in the country what does the CAMA law portend for the future of the Nigerian church?
Already answered! It is time to put our house in order. For your trustees to turn against you as a pastor, and then 20% of your real and current members (not old or fake members ) to also be against you to the level of sending a petition to C.A.C then something must have really gone wrong,.
And it means you either don’t have any internal constitution or policy document to handle crises management, or it has failed. And then for you to be taken through all the process I itemized above as laid down by the CAMA 2020 and you are found guilty by a court of law, it is justice being done and not witch-hunting.