I will start this review by stating my grouse about the book and, perhaps, its author. The problem I have with this book is that it is coming rather very late. Had it been written and published earlier and widely circulated among church leaders and ministers, perhaps, most of the very embarrassing occurrences that had unduly challenged the reputation of the church could have been happily avoided.
But it is comforting that the book, Church Administration in Nigeria in the Eyes of the Law, is here at last. Drawing from his rich experiences as a pastor, lawyer and researcher with a keen eye for details, Mike Oyagha has given the church an invaluable gift – one if well studied and appreciated, and its lessons imbibed and applied, would go a long way to save the church from many hurtful incidences that have given non-believers occasions to mock the body of Christ.
Virtually every critical aspect of church administration is touched; if gospel ministers and church leaders would, therefore, read this book with an open mind in order to rethink their entrenched positions on several issues which have not so much helped the image of the church, embrace the recommendations it volunteers and allow some attitudinal and administrative readjustments in the conduct of church affairs, we might witness a new era of less conflicts and little and no bad press.
The book opens with a detailed definition of Incorporated Trustees and the need for Christian organisations (and all their subsidiary bodies) to perfect their papers to ensure that their registration processes are thoroughly and satisfactorily undertaken. Many who had taken this for granted have had to pay dearly for it as we saw in the cited case decided by the Supreme Court where a church had to lose her choice property to a family due to defects in her registration details which caused her to be classified as “an unregistered entity which could not own land, file a case in court or be a beneficiary of the judgment of a court of law [since she has not been] “registered under the law.”
This should serve as an encouragement to even registered churches to engage experienced legal experts to examine their papers and see if there are loopholes in their documents that could be exploited by opportunists tomorrow to dispossess them of their properties or bring them into other forms of difficulty.
The next chapter should be of great interest to many of us, because it addresses the contentious issue of taxing churches. Although interest groups have been mounting campaigns for churches to be taxed, the law as it stands today still exempts them. But commercial entities which are established by churches are to be taxed.
In this book, Oyagha extensively examines all aspects of the tax issue as it relates to churches, including the very sensitive National Code of Corporate Governance (2016) whose provisions, if flouted, could cause a church or other charity organisations to be delisted as a religious organization or an NGO and then classified as normal commercial entity, a development that has very grievous implications to the church.
Now, how does the law see the pastor? An employee of the church? “This is a fundamental question and serious tax and other financial consequences may result if a pastor is not properly classified,” writes the author.
I may have to add here that, although some of these provisions are not enjoying full implementation in our country presently, a time might come when a “king who does not know Joseph” and who might have an unwholesome agenda against Jacob, might rise up and dig up the extant provisions of some of these laws and use them to trouble the church.
Knowledge of what obtains, therefore, will ensure that things are properly done and church leaders and functionaries appropriately classified to safeguard against any future adverse developments. And all that needs to be done received adequate explanation in this book.
There is also the contentious issue of Land Use Charge as it concerns church auditoriums and the schools, parsonages, business enterprises established by churches. These the book has addressed with disarming lucidity.
Now, why are more and more churches going to court to resolve issues and ending up attracting negative publicity to the entire body of Christ? Can these be avoided if the right things are done from the beginning? Why do people sue churches over lands they had duly purchased and, in some cases, defeat them in the courts and take those lands from them? What are the lapses that could be exploited by opportunists to use some provisions of the law to either distract the church or dispossess them of their properties? This chapter throws ample light on these and much more, including the powers of state governors to revoke people’s ownership of lands due to what they call “overriding public interest,” a development that often hits the church much more than other entities.
Is there anything like Pulpit Immunity and how far can it go to protect the pastor from infractions committed in the course of ministration? The author cites the famous case of a popular General Overseer who was captured on video slapping a girl who had confessed to being a witch while the pastor ministered to her. A lawyer had sued the pastor on behalf of the girl to claim humongous damages and in the process put the matter on the spotlight in a most unfavourable way? What of the pastor’s choice of words in the course of ministration? What can be classified as slander, libel or fair comment?
I will encourage pastors, evangelists and teachers to carefully study this chapter to avoid some indulgences that could provoke avoidable conflicts and injurious publicity to the body of Christ. There is also the issue of negligence that could pose threats to human beings during Church programmes which have been exploited to attack the church and even distract her with malicious litigations.
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In my view, the chapter on “Corporate Governance for Churches” is a must-read for all church leaders, especially, our highly esteemed General Overseers. There is need to properly digest the stipulations of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) and how they affect organisations including Christians – something this book has done admirably, highlighting, also, the consequences of flouting its provisions? Equally, the issue of drawing up a “Succession Plan” by the Church leadership and management of funds which have often inspired destablising developments in otherwise very wonderful organisation were given good treatment in this chapter. I will recommend its careful study by the respected leaders of our churches.
The last two chapters are on the “Conduct of Church Marriages” and the contentious issue of “Homosexuality, the Law and the Church in Nigeria”. Although undue pressure has come on African nations to allow same-sex marriages, President Goodluck Jonathan signed into Law in 2014 the “Same Sex Marriage Prohibition Bill” which prescribes 14 years in jail for offenders. The Church in Africa, has lately come under serious pressures to alter her stance as a result of demands from some churches which had come under the influence of misguided religious organisations in the Western world. There are equally many issues about this contentious and injurious matter that gospel ministers need to be sufficiently acquainted with and the author has explained them and their implications in detail in the book.
- Being a book review presented at the public presentation of Mike Oyagha’s Church Administration In Nigeria in the Eye of the Law On Thursday, November 29, 2018, at All Saints Anglican Church Hall, Ikosi Road, By Old Toll Gate, Lagos. Ejinkeonye is Nigerian journalist and author of Nigeria: Why Looting May Not Stop IGERIA: Why Looting May Not Stop.
(Author: Mike Oyagha, Publisher: Parresia, Lagos, Year: 2018)