How FRC code forced Pastor Adeboye to relinquish his position as the General Overseer of the church in Nigeria
Take another look at the FRC Act. Jim Obazee has learnt a bitter lesson following his sack by the Federal Government over his zeal to enforce the Governance Code of the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) he presided over had generated. The former Executive Secretary of the council was summarily sacked without efforts to give him a hearing.
It was yet another indication that the government could sacrifice anyone if ever it feels embarrassed by actions taken by him or his agency. The code aims at regulating practices within the churches, mosques and other registered Not-for-Profit Organisations. The code had claimed a big victim in the person of Pastor Enoch Adeboye who was the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG).
The persona of Pastor Adeboye looms very large and his word was law. He presided over the church, all its divisions and structures. This, the FRC frowned at, arguing that a spiritual leader should not at the same time have the last say on spending and administration.
The churches kicked and it became a subject of litigation. In interpreting the law, the court said Obazee and the FRC acted within the confines of the law, and threw out the suit. At that point, Obazee who was having a running battle with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu Enelama, himself a staunch member of the church, felt his hands had been strengthened and moved to enforce the regulation. In a table-turning move, Pastor Adeboye announced that the FRC was forcing him to relinquish his position as the General Overseer of the church in Nigeria. He named an Assistant General Overseer, Joshua Obayemi, as National Overseer while retaining control internationally. In that capacity, he would be the Global Missioner and Spiritual Leader. Pastor Obayemi is to be assisted by Pastor Johnson Odesola as secretary of the Governing Council, while Joseph Adeyokunnu is the treasurer.
A number of things happened so fast that it was difficult to keep track. One critical poser is: Did the FRC act ultra vires? We do not think so. The FRC Act has been in operation since 2011 and Obazee had made great progress in ensuring greater transparency and distribution of power in the private sector. When the code was drawn up, public hearing was organised in Lagos and the government made no effort to abort the process.
It could be argued, as many of the churches have held, that government has no business prescribing tenure for church leaders who lay claim to being commissioned by God. They could also contend that the structure of the church or mosque has no relationship with government regulations since worshippers come on their free will. There is merit in the argument, but it is obvious that religious houses have dabbled into so many businesses in recent times that should attract the attention of the authorities. Besides, a number of atrocities have been traced to wrangling in churches that government cannot pretend indifference since fallouts could imperil national security. Besides, the experience in other climes tends to suggest that regulating the churches is in order.
It should be pointed out that when worship centres submit to registration, they accept some form of guidance and regulation. In England and Wales, the Charities Act of 2011 stipulates that Annual Returns be made by the churches. When a popular Nigerian pastor and his church were deemed to have violated the law in 2013, they were sensationally sanctioned.
He was forbidden from making any investments thereafter without clearance from the commission. The Charities and Trustees Investments (Scotland) of 2015 has similar provisions. The churches are treated as other not-for-profit organisations. Legally, the FRC’s actions are covered by section 5 of the 2015 Act that requires its Directorate of Corporate Governance to develop principles and practices applicable in the country.
Section 73 specifically empowers the council to enact regulations. In democratic practice, such lawmaking powers are not strange as they are covered under the category of delegated legislation. The council could further argue from a sure ground since the court had ruled that its action was in order. We, however, find it difficult to support the council’s attempt at specifying tenure for the church leaders. The council ought to have restricted itself to prescribing processes, procedures and structures that could guarantee best corporate governance in the not-for-profit organisations. Had it been so minded, it could have won the sympathy of most Nigerians.
The churches and similar organisations should realise that the days of opaque administration are over. The books have to be kept and made available to all members and the regulating authorities whenever so demanded. The rumpus is evidence of the inaction of the umbrella Christian body, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN). We call on the association and Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA) to weigh in with a bid to sanitising religious practices in the country.
As Jesus Christ said on taxation, leaders of the Christian faith should “give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s”, even as they give unto God what He deserves. We also want to draw attention to Apostle Paul’s injunction to the Roman Church: “Let every soul be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God…Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves.” All Nigerians – governments, individuals, institutions and agencies – must work for the country’s progress.
The Nation Editorial of Wednesday 18 January 2017.