Opinion: Pastor Adeboye, FRC Boss Sack, and the clash of RCCG Pastors in Buhari’s Govt

Many who had followed closely the Nigeria political landscape recently would have known that controversy will trail the news of the “stepping aside” of Pastor Enoch Adeboye; one of the most powerful and highly-connected Pastor of the Nigerian Pentecostal Megachurch, Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), Andrew Rice, writing in The New York Times, calls it “one of [Africa’s] most vigorously expansionary religious movements. However, what many did not know is that the fight is purely between RCCG Pastors.

The battle is between Pastor Enoch Adeboye, the General Overseer or what is his current status now, FRCN Boss Jim Obazee a former Zonal Pastor of the RCCG who was suspended some years back according to a competent source within the church inner circle and the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Pastor Okechukwu Enelamah of same RCCG. The minister was the only candidate nominated by Vice President Osinbajo also a senior pastor of RCCG.

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Many sentiments were raised by Nigerians. Audaciously, some highly placed citizens and officeholders insisted that President Muhammad Buhari led APC Government is deliberately “dabbling” into Church leadership. They ignore the fact that in the current issue at hand, the only one who is not a Pastor is probably President Buhari. Some went ahead to argue that if Adeboye has to retire as GO because of FRCN shouldn’t the Sultan also go as President of Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs?

Some posited that why implement a Governance Code that has been suspended and that thus no need to comply. Trust Nigerians, when it comes to religious matter sentiments are in top gear. So one will be less surprised some section of the public speculated that the law is targeted at weakening the church and make it vulnerable to attack from the imaginary enemies of the Church in the presidency.

The FRCN Code

On the 3rd Day of June 2011, the Senate passed the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria Bill which created the Financial Reporting Council. The FRC replaced the defunct Nigeria Accounting Standard Board (NASB) then under Jim Obazee who subsequently became FRCN Executive Secretary.

In an act to repeal the Nigerian Accounting Standards Board Act, No.22 of 2003 and enact the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, The FRC was charged with the responsibility for, among other things, developing and publishing accounting and financial reporting standards to be observed in the preparation of financial statement of public entities in Nigeria and for related matters.

The council was expected to – ensure good corporate governance practices in the public and private sectors of the economy.

It must be stated at this junction that the Code is applicable to all Not-for-Profit Organisations NFPOs in Nigeria whatever the description or nomenclature adopted and not to cut Pastor Adeboye or RCCG to size as some people have erroneously posited recently.

Though the extreme diversity of the sector renders impossible comprehensive listing, but some illustrative examples of such organisations include Charitable, Educational, Professional and Scientific, Religious, Literary/Artistic, Political /Administrative Grouping, Social and recreational clubs and Associations, Trade Unions and Others.

Now, let’s go to the corporate governance codes (for Non-Profit) itself. The code tries to first enforce the minimum requirements of Part C of the CAC under which religious organisation are registered.

For instance, religious bodies are supposed to make Annual Returns of its Financial Statements to CAC after the audit. Not for Profits also needs to organise yearly Annual General Meetings where they present their annual financial statement to its members. It reinforces the legal fact that any entity that collects money must “render accounts”. Whether a bank, a business owner or a religious body.

There appears to be no dispute about this requirement even among religious organisations. However, there is the small issue of Tax. Should religious organisations be taxed when they engage in “For Profit” activities even if that activity is for the benefit of the organisations?

Obazee and his team maintained that they must be taxed if they engaged in activities designed to extract financial benefit.

 “If they pursue non-charitable activities running schools, hospitals, they are to account for them separately as profit-making entities” Jim Obazee insisted.

This is one of the areas of conflict as many Churches have subsidiaries under them that have blurred the lines between charity and profitability. The second and the obviously most contentious issue has to do with the Tenure of the Founder. Now this is exactly what the code says.

Should the FRC code be suspended?

It must be understood that for an NGO, there are 3 governance organs: The Board of Trustees, The Governing Board and The Management Committee.  Now typically, and in most cases, the founder usually occupies the position of the head of these 3 organs at the same time. So the code prescribes that

  1. The founder can only Head one of these organs
  2. If he already heads all of them, he needs to relinquish two of the organs.
  3. If he has served as head of any of those organs for than 20 years and is then 70, he must resign expect for Board of Trustees.
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Even with these provisions, the code recognises the unique position of founders as the “Spiritual Leader” of their organisations. Meaning the code does not in any way invalidate the spiritual authority which these organs subscribe to and to which they derive their relevance.

The notion that these codes should not be applicable to churches as their matters are celestial and not terrestrial is utterly ridiculous.

If they are celestial as said by a SAN, then why seek registration under Part C of the CAC Laws? Why not just go to heaven to get registered? And if they make money in Nigeria, they have to pay their tax and not in heaven.

These organisations are legal entities known to law. They can sue and be sued. They can exist or cease to exist. They are very terrestrial. They are charitable organisations that survive on gifts and donations. They need to be transparent and accountable. This must be emphasised.

Why suspend a law that will help the country and the religious bodies to separate the wheat from the shaft and bring transparency to the churches and the Mosques so that we will all be accountable before Man and later before God.

The Church, the FRC and Jim Obazee

Ab initio many stakeholders had issues with some provisions within the code but they were given the opportunity to make submissions.  The FRC was thereafter sued by some Pastors representing the Pentecostal churches in July 2015. They sought six reliefs among which were: a declaration that the Not-for-Profit Codes 2015 were illegal and unconstitutional.

The Pastors argued that it amounts to duplication of the functions of the Corporate Affairs Commission CAC that the Term of reference in section 1, as well as sections 8,9,10 and 37, are illegal and unconstitutional being inconsistent with section 7 and 8 of FRC Act

Needless to say, the plaintiffs who claimed to be representing the Pentecostals lost the case in court as the court ruled in favour of FRC.  In light of the court order in its favour, the FRC went ahead to release the Governance Codes effective from 17 Oct 2016.

It came with a mandatory compliance for Private Sector and ”Comply or Justify non-compliance” for Not-For-Profit organisations.

The Clash between the Minister and the Sacked FRC Boss

Few hours after the news of ‘stepping aside’ Pastor Adeboye broke, strong indications emerged that the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Mr. Okechukwu  Enelamah, and the Executive Secretary  of the Financial Regulatory Council of Nigeria, Mr. Jim Obazee, were engaged in a face-off over a FRCN regulation, which stipulates   20  years tenure  for heads of   religious groups   and civil society groups in the country.

The Minister was reported to have written the FRC boss (now former), directing him to suspend the implementation of the regulation. But it was learnt that Obazee defied the instruction of the minister, insisting that the implementation of the regulation would go ahead.

Findings showed that Obazee said the implementation of the regulation could not be suspended because there was no gazette that indicated that it had been amended or suspended.

It was gathered that though the minister’s letter to the FRC boss was written on October 17, 2016, the council had insisted on the resignation of heads of other affected groups.

In the three-paged query to the FRC seen by BusinessDay and signed by Okechukwu Enelamah, Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, the supervisory ministry to the Financial Reporting Council, it was asked to provide among others the regulatory approach that undergirds the Code; the clear conflict between provisions of the Code and the Legislation –Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria Act, 2011.

As a strategic document, FRC was also asked to provide evidence of the adoption of the Code by the Board of the Council and the Minutes of the meeting at which the Code was adopted by the Board.

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Among other questioned raised, Financial Reporting Council is to tell the Federal Government whether the committee on Corporate Governance, in Section 51 of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria Act, 2011, empowered to issue the Code of Corporate Governance, in a position to act in the absence of the Board of the Council in the light of provisions of Sections 2 (1) and 10 (d) of the Act.

The Federal Government recognises that an enabling environment for business is critical to the rejuvenation and sustainable growth of Africa’s biggest economy. The environment will demand careful, deliberate, strategic and informed actions at addressing the impediments to doing business in Nigeria.

An informed source told BusinessDay that Financial Reporting Council was meant to understand that any regulation to be introduced must align with the philosophy underpinning the ease of doing business undertaking; noting that it is therefore entirely possible that the imperatives of the Code can and must be reconciled with the demands of ease of doing business.

Based on the foregoing, the Federal Government directed that the implementation of the National Code of Corporate Governance be suspended forthwith to allow for the effective and proper resolutions of substantive and procedural concerns arising from the reported issuance of the Code, our source further disclosed.

Also, the Federal Government queried whether the Code can supersede the Legislation from where it originates. Financial Reporting Council was also asked to provide relevant answers relating to the conflict between provisions of the Code –which is a subsidiary legislation, and a principal enactment – the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA).

The now ex-Executive Secretary of the Financial Reporting Council had last month, issued the Code it referred to as the “National Code of Corporate Governance for the Private Sector in Nigeria 2016” claiming it became effective from October 17, 2016.

The Minister and his RCCG link

Among the 37 nominees put forward by the various interests groups within the presidency, Pastor Okechukwu Enelamah was the only candidate nominated by Vice President Osinbajo a senior pastor of RCCG. So just like the Vice President Osinbajo, the Minister; Okechukwu Enelamah is a Pastor and active in his local church, serving his congregation in a pastoral capacity.

According to Jumi Rhodes list of ordained pastors in RCCG who are in Buhari’s government aside from the Vice President are Mr. Babatunde Fowler – Ag. Chairman, Federal Internal Revenue Service(FIRS), Pastor Ben Akabueze – Special Adviser on Planning to the President, Pastor Laolu Akande – Spokesman to Nigeria’s Vice President
and the Minister in question, Pastor Okechukwu Enelamah; the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment.

People have tried to link the fact the Minister is also a Pastor in RCCG to speculate on his true intentions, but to be fair to him, there was nothing in his letter that suggested he was pushing a disguised church or RCCG agenda. But it will not be out of place to speculate that his religious link can also play part in his insistence.

His letter was in line with concerns of the private sector than it was about concerns of leadership and succession for the church or other religion organisation. The FRC refused to honour the suspension request on the basis that it was not gazette.

With this foregoing alone, one can safely conclude that it is not correct to say “PMB administration is “Dabbling in Church Leadership to weaken it”. It’s clearly not true.

If anything, the evidence available to us points to the fact that President Buhari may be trying to ensure that the code in its present form is not implemented.

It appears that President Buhari might be under intense pressure to sack Jim Obazee because of some “EFCC troubles” of his own. But like some people put it, many Ministers and appointees of the President have at one point or the other, embarrassed the regime and they were not sacked immediately.

Nevertheless, one may need to sympathise with President Buhari for his long persecution by religious bigots despite being surrounded by Pastors. However, the dogged protagonist of rule of law ought not to be made a sacrificial lamp by a government that pride itself on the anti-corruption and transparency tenet. Again, it is insubordination for the Executive Secretary not to have obeyed his Coordinating Minister but a sledgehammer on that premise appears too harsh.

 

By Ola Balogun

Policy Analyst and Public Commentator.

 

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