Saturday, October 24, 2009

Affluence and Nigerian Churches: 'Touch Not My Annointed.....'

The Nigerian society has been witnessing a continuous utter display of flagrant affluence by church leaders over the last decade or so. Some church leaders live luxurious lifestyles that are devoid of modern day reality. We have also seen churches engage in secular economic activities, some of which borders on societal moral values.

It is unfortunate that in a country of 150 million where more than 70% are living in abject poverty, there are no differences in the lifestyle of some church leaders in Nigeria and Hollywood superstars. A World Bank report recently put the number of unemployed in Nigeria at 40 million (which represents about 25% of the country’s population). To put things in perspective, 40 million is approximately 60% of the population of Great Britain and one and a half times the population of Australia!

I need not to educate you further on the activities of some of these church leaders, and how they have exploited the society. And I don’t think I have the moral authority to query some these activities, which are sometimes described as ‘spiritual matters’ by religious faithfuls. The concern however, is with the system that has allowed all this display of excessive affluence to perpetuate in Nigerian churches in the face growing poverty. The system has failed innocent men and women who see the ‘Church’ as the only place of hope having been let down by state leaders.

And when I say ‘failure of the system’, I refer to the lack of appropriate regulation and oversight on the financial practices in churches across the country. It is common knowledge that churches have now become big ‘enterprise’. The financial turnover of some of these churches are unparalleled to say the least and sometimes larger than that of companies quoted on the stock exchange.

The voluntary work put in by members on a weekly basis to keep it functioning if expressed in man hours and costed accordingly, is mind blowing. It is fair to say that church leaders and directors of public liability companies enjoy almost same benefits and perks. However the fundamental differences are displayed in areas of regulation and accountability.

Companies are subject to series of finance and tax regulation and their directors are accountable to their shareholders. They can be liable for huge fines if their tax files are not up to date and shareholders can demand for resignation of company executives if they are non performing. However on the other hand, most Nigerian church leaders are not accountable to anyone apart from God (if they choose to), and no financial regulator is interested in their books.

In my opinion, I think it is time that closer attention is paid to the financial activities of Nigerian churches. In the western world churches as classified as ‘charity organisations’, and thus, there are exempt from taxation. However, the churches are still expected to file their accounts with the regulator at the end of every financial year. Churches are expected to have a Board of Trustee, who will be responsible for decision making and appointment of Pastors. Pastors are expected to be an annual salary and are treated as staff. These rules are very strict. I know the case of a Nigerian Pastor (names withheld) who was almost jailed for financial irregularities by the UK Charities Commission. He is the Pastor of the largest black church in Europe and since his ordeal; he now seems to be operating from Nigeria.

So what am I saying? I’m not suggesting a ‘socialist’ agenda of cut throat taxation or regulation; either I am suggesting that the EFCC should start chasing Pastors. But I still do feel that the excessive greed of some of these church leaders needs to be put under the spotlight. Unfortunately, most Nigerian churches are operated like a ‘one man business’ or perhaps ‘sole trader’. The founder or General Overseer is the alpha and omega. Members of the church executives/committee who don’t fall in line with the principles (whether good or bad) of the General Overseer are ostracised. There are no policies or systems in place to monitor their activities, therefore giving them absolute control.

Nigerian churches are owners of some of the country’s most expensive schools and universities. Some churches are big real estate investors, selling land to church members within the church premises. We therefore need to ask ourselves, what is the salary of these so called pastors? What proportion of the church income is used for charitable course? Who is creaming the profits made from their ‘extra-curricular’ activities? Who are their trustees? Are these trustees independent or collaborators? Who audits the Church accounts?

The fact that God has called you into ministry does give any Pastor the right to run a church like a personal business. And until the system addresses some of the fundamental issues noted, I’m afraid there is no end in sight for this insatiable appetite for worldly riches.


Samson Ayooluwa said...

The Nigerian churches and the leaders are just a reflection of the larger society. Our leaders are like us and so are our pastors. Many churches are just a scam and yes I am a pentecostal believer. For 10 years i have been complaining about these absurdities and gimmicks and they are only getting worse. You know the average Nigerian lives by settlement. That is why we can relate with a god who must collect something (i.e. be settled) before he can do anything for us. That is the god we serve in many of our churches, the one that says, scratch my back and i will scrath yours, donate to me and i will bless you. Over time, a people make their god into a reflection of their own selves. Anyone who is still "following" a so called man of God is definitely on his own. As Tunde Bakare once said, "man at his best is still at best a man".

Seyi said...

@Samson, I love the quote from Past. Bakare.."a man at his best is still at best a man"..hmmm

Anyway thanks for stopping by.