Of all the policy changes that can improve the ease of doing business and competitiveness in Nigeria, revamping the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 1990, as proposed by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to help strengthen its supervisory and regulatory powers in line with global standards and practices, was, in the beginning, considered a policy change whose time has come. But in initiating the necessary amendments in line with the present, unique exigencies and realities, CAMA 2020, which was signed into law on August 7, by President Muhammadu Buhari, has been confronted with controversies of immediate sort. This is in spite of key innovations in the new Act that include the reduction of filing fees and other reforms that will make it easier and cheaper for corporate business organisations as well as small and medium-sized enterprises to function with ease.
The most controversial is by far how to handle matters concerning religious groups and Non-governmental organisations. The contentious provision of the new law is Section 839(1) & (2) which provides that the Registrar-General of the Corporate Affairs Commission and a supervising minister, will strictly regulate religious bodies and nongovernmental organisations. The law also carries enormous power to suspend the Trustees of these groups and appoint an interim manager or managers to coordinate their affairs where it reasonably believes that there had been any untoward conduct or mismanagement, or “where the affairs of the associations are being run in a fraudulent manner, or where it’s necessary or desirable for the purpose of public intetest”. As expected, the law has been generating high-octaned reactions like claps of thunder, many of them condemnatory. Civil society groups and church leaders have strongly condemned the controversial section 839(1) & (2), describing it as obnoxious, unacceptable and a needless meddlesomeness in the affairs of religious bodies and other associations. They have vowed to resist its implementation and, therefore, have implored the presidency to return to the National Assembly for necessary amendment. In a letter dated August 22, Social Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), said with this provision, the government now has unrestrained powers to arbitrarily withdraw, cancel or revoke the certificate of any association, suspend and remove trustees, take control of finances of any association, and merge two associations without their consent and approval of their members.
The action of the government is perceived by many as an affront on the Church. No surprise, many Christian leaders are speaking up. Presiding Bishop of Living Faith Church Worldwide, David Oyedepo, was perhaps the first Christian leader to raise the alarm over government’s plan as contained in the amended law. He has been fuming, and genuinely so, about the contentious provision of the CAMA 2020. Speaking to his congregation during a church service two weeks ago, he questioned the right of the federal government to appoint Board of Trustees for the church. He likened the idea of appointing a Board of Trustee for the church to appointing an “occultist manage the affairs of a church”. I agree to great extent with Oyedepo’s analogy. It’s an abnormality rather than the norm to appoint someone outside the church to supervise or regulate church activities. According to him, the church is not a club, and should not be mistaken for a company. You know why? His reasons for saying are supported by the scripture. “The church is the bride of Christ, as well as the body of Christ”, he says (2 Corinthians 11:12, Revelations 21:19, Acts 9:5). In his words, “molest the wife of somebody and you will see the anger of that person”. Bishop Oyedepo’s opinion is shared by many clerics, including the leader of INRI Evangelical Spiritual church, Lagos, Primate Elijah Ayodele.
Shortly after Bishop Oyedepo voiced his resentment, the presidency unleashed a volley of swipes on him through Ms.Lauretta Onochie, the President’s Personal Assistant on Social media. Lauretta, is a talker and tackler against anyone who raises a finger at the president or his policy. Sometimes plays fast and loose with the facts. She oversimplify and exaggerates issues and put a spin on them. She has won more enemies than friends through her comments.
Before she was appointed to the position in 2016, Lauretta, a grandma, a child behaviour deficiency correctional expert, was known as a trained pastor after attending a Bible College in Calabar, Cross River State. But she has become more of a presidential attack dog than an ordained pastor. Reacting to Oyedepo’s comments, Lauretta was quoted in her verified twitter handle to have said, that as long as Oyedepo lives in the country, he must abide by the government’s law, or in the alternative, “will have to manufacture his own country and live by his own laws. Enough of lawlessness”. Finesse of language is not one of Lauretta’s virtues. The former vice president Atiku Abubakar has taken her to court and claiming billion of naira in damages for alleged libel.
She may have a point against Oyedepo, but she lost the decency of language and good breeding. “A gentle answer turns away wrath. But a harsh word stirs up anger”(Proverbs 15:1). Lauretta Onochie could be forgiven if what she meant was that true Christians should conscientiously adhere to the principles and injunctions that Apostle Paul stated in Romans 13:1-7, and that’s to the effect that as long as God allows governments to exist in the earth, they perform important functions which the followers must respect and obey, provided such laws or authorities are not inconsistent with the Scriptures or inimical to human existence. This includes payment of taxes and other reasonable laws . But specifically as it relates to any provision of the law to oversee or regulate the affairs of the church as section 839(1) & (2) of the CAMA 2020 provides, from God’s standpoint, the appointment of anyone to strictly regulate affairs in God’s organisation, the belief based on the scriptures is that this can only be done effectively by the Holy Spirit. In other words, such a regulator or supervising authority must produce the fruitage of the spirit (Galatians 5:22, Titus 1:7). It’s for this reason that the Church as the body of Christ on earth is admonished to avoid any ‘romance’ or alliance with government. In this case, Bishop Oyedepo is right in opposing the offensive provision in the CAMA 2020. And one begins to ask: what’s government’s motive? Why did CAC, the sponsor of the CAMA 2020 bill intend to achieve? I smell an ulterior motive behind all of this moves , although the Registrar-General of CAC Garba Abubakar has allayed fears that the commission was out to hunt down churches, charity organisations and other associations. He also claimed the intendment of the law was to align organisations in the country in line with global best practices and enhance transparency in the way and manner organisations operate. The CAC boss who spoke at a Retreat of the Commerce and Industry Correspondents Association of Nigeria (CICON) last week, added that the framework of the new law would strengthen the anti-corruption effort of the Buhari administration. Do you believe that’s is all that matters? I don’t. He went further to say that, in the alternative, organisations that find it difficult to submit to the new rules may choose to cancel its registration with the commission. You see that!
This is the time for all religious bodies, Christians, Muslims and, indeed, all stakeholders to come together to oppose the new CAMA and seek an immediate amendment to the contentious section(s). It’s time for the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) to stand up and be counted. It’s not the time to sit on the fence. This smells like Herod’s hand to silence the voices of reason in the land. Altogether, I am inclined to believe that the President means well for all Christian and Muslims alike. If he does, he should return the document to the National Assembly for urgent amendment. In criticism, a good leader learns something good in public interest for his next move.