- Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Ahmad says extremely rich churches should pay tax
- The Islamic cleric says all religious leaders owe duty to serve God and respect constituted authority
- Meanwhile, Hon Raymond Edijala says the Federal Government has no place in church business.
The Chief Missioner Ansar-ud-Deen Nigeria, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman Ahmad, has said that religious leaders in churches and mosques are answerable to God and the government.
In an interview with The Punch, the Islamic cleric revealed that a certain law was enacted during the Goodluck Jonathan administration, regarding the church tax issue. He said: "A law that was enacted and passed during the administration of former President Goodluck Jonathan when a Christian, Senator David Mark, was the Senate President.
At the time the law was passed nobody said anything; there was no complaint or call for public hearing. There was no apparent criticism of the regulations.
It is now only when the implementation was about to start that people are now saying various things.
It is satanic to read religion into the codes. Let us look at the fact of the matter; there is the need for transparency and accountability where public funds are involved.
In churches and mosques – and churches to a very large extent – public funds are being expended," he said.
Adding: "It is common knowledge that some of these churches are super-rich with their total worth running into billions of naira, even billions of dollars. Some of them also have businesses.
If they are involved in businesses, running universities and expensive secondary schools among other business ventures, then it is only fair for them to be taxed as other Nigerians are taxed.
Religion should not be a shield and nobody should hide under the cover of religion to evade tax. Also, it is said that every Sunday there are a number of bullion vans that go to certain churches to take up offerings (money contributed by congregants) and that’s a lot of money."
The Sheikh stressed that: "It is not a bad idea at all that the government should look into this money. It is charity; even funds of charities should be scrutinised.
It should be seen that people are giving freely because they are cheerful givers and the question is: is the money used for the purpose it is meant for? I don’t think that should create any problem for either the mosque or the church. It is about transparency.
It is about accountability. It is about responsibility. The only area that may appear contentious (in the FRC codes) is when government wants to directly regulate the administration of religions; that will be contentious."
Regarding the tenure limit in terms of administration rule given by the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria, Sheikh Abdur-Rahman said: "I think that is very reasonable. For example, we do not have that kind of problem in Islam and in Muslim organisations.
So if you say anyone who is above 70 years or has spent 20 years – whichever comes first – should not be a member of a religious organisation’s board of trustees, that’s fine, at least you create opportunities for others. But if you say someone should not continue to be general overseer for more than 20 years, it is interference and that is bad and unnecessary.
There are churches where administrative and spiritual leadership or authorities are combined. A general overseer is the spiritual leader, administrative head, financial controller, and the chief executive officer; sometimes he is the treasurer.
There is one individual like that who said he received a revelation from God to increase school fees and that anybody who was opposed to that would be dealt severely by God. Of course, we cannot allow things like these to continue.
Meanwhile, the immediate past Chairman of Udu Local Government Council of Delta and a Board Member of Delta Development and Property Authority (DDPA) as well as the State Vice President, Urhobo Democratic Assembly (UDA), Hon Raymond Edijala, says the Federal Government has no business interfering in the internal activities of the Church.
Edijala, who spoke in Warri, Delta State, while reacting to the code of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN) on leaders of religious organisations, said in as much as churches do their business within the confines of the laws of the land, government does not have the capacity to interfere in the running of their affairs mostly when it comes to the appointment or regulation of the tenure of overseers.
He advised that the appointment of pastors or leaders of churches is divine and should be left to God to handle.
His word: “It is God that called these men. Government does not have the capacity and what it takes to determine who is a General Overseer in running of the affairs of churches.
If you remember the period of Eli in the Bible, it was God who replaced Eli with Samuel. All these men of God are not called by government but by God.
They also report to God directly.” Edijala advised Christians to be at alert as Satan is out to attack the leadership of the Church.
He said those criticizing men of God are enemies of Christianity. He added that Nigeria is currently going through economic recession and believed strongly that the solution is in the Church.
“That is why the devil is fighting the Church through its agents who claim to know so much but their minds have been blinded (2 Cor 4:4),” he stated.
Edijala, however, called on the President, governors, national and state assemblies, traditional rulers, etc as well as those who are specialists in criticising the Church and doing everything possible to ridicule it to be careful as no man or government can fight God.