Pastor Bayo Oladeji, the Special Adviser on Media to the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, Rev Supo Ayokunle, expresses CAN’s displeasure with the recently signed Companies and Allied Matters Act in this interview with OLALEYE ALUKO
Since August 7, 2020 when the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.) signed the Companies and Allied Matters Act into law, there have been knocks and kudos for the government from different quarters. What is the reaction of the Christian Association of Nigeria to the Act?
Let me begin by saying that the government is there to make laws, rules and regulations which govern our society. We are not against that constitutional responsibility. But where the law is against the freedom of worship, where the law is against the ground norm which is the constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, we will not welcome it.
The Christian Association of Nigeria rejects the entire CAMA. We kick against it. To us, it is an ill wind which blows no good to anyone. The Act is ungodly and it is a wicked provision. This is because if you say the Act on the surface is for the non-governmental organisations and then it covers religious institutions, including churches and mosques, then we cannot keep quiet. The government has been pretending by saying the Act is for NGOs. Ideally, they are supposed to say in the law that this Act has nothing to do with religious institutions. Then we would keep quiet and there will be no problem with it.
During President Buhari’s first term in office, I recall very well that the Senate and the House of Representatives conducted a public hearing on the NGOs bill and we were invited. The CAN there and then rejected the NGOs bill. Several other civil societies were there to also kick against it and the bill died at the public hearing.
Everything we did at that place is now being smuggled in through CAMA. This is not good enough. This cannot be godly. It is not acceptable. This is why CAN rejects the Act and condemns it with every word you may think of.
What aspect of the CAMA forms the basis of CAN’s disagreement with it?
There is a contentious section of the law which states that the commission has power to dissolve the Board of Trustees of an association and even appoint a caretaker committee or their own people to be there. We know what recently played out when the Central Bank of Nigeria took over the management of some banks; they brought in their own people. The CBN has the discretion to appoint outsiders to manage the banks till today. So, if the government says their intention is good and their motives and objectives are good, what happens if another government comes to power later and starts abusing the laws, what are we going to do?
So, it is a law that we can regard as a time bomb and if it explodes, it will not help this country. We have enough issues on our hands to deal with; we have terrorism, banditry, kidnapping and all manner of criminality in this country. The government has not solved these problems yet, it is bringing in another controversy. What do they stand to gain from this law?
Initially, they were telling us that some of the NGOs collected money from abroad and abused it by using the money to support or finance terrorism and terrorist groups. Okay, can they accuse any church of promoting terrorism or supporting criminality? So, if you want to restrict NGOs, state clearly that the religious centres are exempted.
Some apologists say, after all, it is the courts that will dissolve the boards of trustees and appoint new persons, and not the government. Who says the courts cannot be manipulated? We have been in this country long enough to know that. Look at what is happening at the election tribunals. The Federal High Court says one thing and the state High Court says another thing. The Court of Appeal makes a decision and the Supreme Court reverses it. So, what is going to happen if we get to that stage? So, this is our fear.
Now, what does CAN want the Federal Government to do about the CAMA?
We are calling on the government to suspend that law. The President should reverse it; President Buhari should, as a matter of urgency, send an amendment on CAMA to the National Assembly whereby religious institutions will be exempted. Until that is done, that law will not stand and the church will not support it.
After CAN has made known its position, will it consider a legal option if the Federal Government refuses to take any action on CAMA?
Why don’t you let us get to that bridge before we cross it? Do you want us to open our arsenals and tell the whole world that this is our weapon? Let them (the government) reject first. They have not reacted. CAN is waiting on the media to put the pressure on the government. Let them tell us; did they inform the public when they were processing the law?
We have already told them our position. I have been going through what a spokesperson for the National Assembly said that we could bring in our suggestions or amendment. We are looking at that option and our lawyers are working on it.
Our stand is that we are going to follow every lawful means to make sure that the obnoxious law is amended. The purpose of the law is to bring peace and order and not to cause a crisis.
The government is not doing well at all. The churches, mosques and non-governmental organisations are all partners in progress. The government should not personalise governance. This administration is not going to be there forever.
Our stand is to let them amend the law and if they say no, we (the government) are not going to amend the law; we will look for the next action to be taken.
How certain are you that the Muslim body in Nigeria Inter-Religious Council are on the same page with you on CAMA?
Like I said, the NIREC is also looking at this law. The NIREC, which is the other council comprising CAN and the Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs Islamic Affairs, is also looking at the CAMA. We are the two parties which make up NIREC and we will look into it.
But all we are saying is that the government should do what will promote peace. All criminalities going on in this country are unaddressed. They (the government) should not look for trouble. Someone spoke for NAFSAT (Nasrul-Lahi-L-Fatih Society of Nigeria) too in one of the newspapers on Friday and mentioned that the government should not set up a board of trustees for it. You know our own stand; we don’t hide our interest and feelings on any issue. Their own approach may be different from ours but they cannot say they have welcomed the law. They did not tell us that.
The Senior Special Assistant to President Muhammadu Buhari on Social Media, Lauretta Onochie, while making reference to the founder of the Living Faith Church Worldwide, Bishop David Oyedepo, said he should ‘manufacture’ his own country or comply with CAMA. What do you say to this comment?
We cannot answer that lady. She does not deserve our attention as a church. The government allows an aide, a presidential aide, to be insulting the church and church leadership. That is totally unacceptable and this is the first time we are having that type of insult in this country.
The church will not tolerate a situation whereby a so-called presidential aide will be insulting and assaulting church leaders. It is totally unacceptable and unprecedented in this country. We never experienced it until this government came to power. Whoever that lady is accountable to should tell her to keep quiet. If the government actually knows what it is doing, its people should not be insulting religious leaders. If the spokesperson for the President is insulting church leaders, it means the President is insulting the church leaders. That is the implication.
Some Nigerians have argued that such a law should apply to secular establishments or NGOs owned or run by churches?
Every establishment the church owns was established under the law. We have schools and hospitals; go and check. We don’t just establish them; we follow the protocols. There is no church in this country that has schools or hospitals and did not follow the due process.
We have laws guiding them. What we are saying is that this obnoxious Act must be rejected. CAMA is targeting the church. If they say they are not targeting the church, and that it was designed for NGOs collecting money from abroad, then let them state it clearly in the law. Then, it will be okay by us.
What does CAN think are the dangers involved if the new CAMA is implemented?
If CAMA is allowed to stay, a time is coming when the government can just order the closure of a church. The government can just sack the Board of Trustees of any church, like Living Faith Church, Nigeria Baptist Convention, and Methodist Church Nigeria. The government can dissolve the trustees and take over the management of the church.
Some people say, but that is how it is done in the US. Is Nigeria the same with America? Does the Nigerian government protect its citizens the way American government does? Is America experiencing the several killings and violence going on in this country? Is America experiencing kidnapping and banditry the way they are happening in Nigeria? The way Nigerians are suffering amidst plenty; is that how it is happening in America? Are the Americans throwing money here and there in government the way it is happening in Nigeria? The way the budgetary allocations are spent and abused, is that how American or European countries do theirs?
They should tell that to the marines. We (CAN) see ourselves as partners in progress with the government but if they don’t see us that way, so be it. Government comes and government goes. Those who are in government today should realise that a government was there before them and another government is coming after them.
Is there any synergy between CAN and the Muslim association so as to present a common front on CAMA?
We have the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council. NIREC will look into it and react. The leadership of NIREC will take a position on it. On CAMA, CAN was not consulted at all. We attended the public hearing on NGOs bill and we made strong points. But the same wrong things that were rejected had been smuggled into CAMA. They did not ask for our views or inputs. That is totally unacceptable. Is that how to govern? You make laws and the stakeholders are not invited. Where were the religious leaders when the government was taking this decision?