Delegates vote to tax churches, mosques

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Stop state sponsorship of pilgrimages
But split on scrapping of pilgrim boards
FG, State governments to stop sponsoring Pilgrims

BY HENRY UMORU, JOSEPH ERUNKE AND LEVINUS NWABUGHIOGU

DELEGATES at the on- going National Conference yesterday voted to enlist churches, mosques and religious organizations into the tax net.

A mosque

A mosque

The delegates in their deliberation on the report of the committee on religion also voted that federal and state governments should stop the sponsorship of Islamic and Christian pilgrimages.

However, a move to scrap Islamic and Christian pilgrims boards sharply split the delegates yesterday leading to an uproar and forcing the conference leadership to move the vote on the issue to today.

The decision to make religious bodies pay taxes came up when a delegate representing Civil Organisations, Mallam Naseer Kura in his contribution to the debate on the report observed that religious leaders were making much money and should be taxed.

Also in his contribution, a delegate representing the Nigeria Guild of Editors, Isaac Ighure frowned at the situation where according to him pastors and heads of churches make too much money with some of them owning private jets. “Some people buy private jets when people in their churches are suffering and living in abject poverty, they should be made to pay taxes,” he submitted.

At the resumed session after break, the issue of payment of tax by the churches, Mosques and other religious bodies came up and delegates unanimously voted for it and it carried that if the recommendations of the Conference sails through at the end of the exercise when presented before the National Assembly for ratification, leaders of religious bodies will now be subjected to paying of tax like other Nigerians, business men, government organisations and enterprises.

Reject Fridays as work-free days
Delegates however rejected setting aside Fridays as free working days when the matter came up for voting.
There was however a very storming session yesterday and near a free for when the issue scrapping Pilgrims Welfare Boards came as a follow up to the decision that governments should no longer sponsor pilgrimages to the Holy Lands, just as shouts of no enveloped the hall, forcing the presiding officer and Conference Deputy Chairman, Prof. Bolaji Akinyemi to abruptly adjourn the meeting till today where the issue would be voted on.

A delegate representing Kogi State, Chief Olusola Akanmode had moved a motion that since the house had agreed that no government should sponsor pilgrimages and as a rider, all Pilgrims boards should be wrapped and he was seconded by a delegate representing Edo State, Chief Charles Edosomwan, SAN.

Soon after the motion was moved and seconded, there was a counter motion by a delegate representing the National Youth Council of Nigeria, Charles Ibiang and supported by Senator Saidu Dansadau with explanations that the boards must remain as they travel to Mecca to make arrangements for accommodation, transportation and other welfare for the pilgrims.

tourismFollowing two motions on ground, Prof. Akinyemi then called for a voice vote in which the nays prevailed.
Trouble then started when former Minister of Defence, Dr. Haliru Bello Mohammed called for division of the house since according to him, there was no consensus, but his suggestion was greeted by shouting by other delegates thereby creating a rowdy session with shouts from delegates that we will not agree, learn to accept defeat, we voted here that churches should pay tax and we all agreed, even as some delegates shouted and told Akinyemi not to be intimidated by any body.

Following the rowdy session and some minutes to the close of session, Prof Akinyemi tried to Control the Delegates, saying that with the ensuing atmosphere, no serious business could take place and called on a delegate on the platform of Elder statesmen category, Erelu Olusola Obada and seconded by Aisha Aliyu and the session ended with delegates expressing comments of disappointment.

They will reconvene today to vote on whether the Pilgrims Boards should remain or be abolished.
The religion Committee had recommended  that  the Federal government and state governments must not adopt any religion as state religion.

The  Religion Committee which has Bishop Felix Ajakaiye and Alhaji Nurudeen Lemu as Co- Chairmen, along side 19 other members  also listed areas of discrimination to indigenes in States like granting if land for places of worship and cemeteries; opportunities to education; employment, promotion and admission; pilgrimage sponsorship, among others.

Religion  Report
Earlier, a delegate,  Prof. Yusuf Turaki had blamed both Northern political and religious leaders for allowing Boko Haram insurgents to fester in the region.

“Mr. Chairman, the question I have to ask is, why have the Northern Muslim Umma, the traditional rulers and the political class allowed Boko Haram to grow from insignificant religious movement into a militant religious force that has overwhelmed them?”

Turaki, who spoke while making his contribution to the debate on the report of the conference Committee on Religion at the plenary on Tuesday, warned that Northern Nigeria is at the brinks of collapse and ruin solely on account of religious extremism, militancy, fanaticism and bigotry.

Also contributing, a delegate from Benue State, Senator Jack Tilley-Gyado, suggested that delegates should observe a three-day fast to seek the face of God concerning many sins being committed by those in authority, including past leaders some of whom he said were part of the ongoing conference.

According to him, people have hidden under the guise of religion to commit atrocious crimes against innocent Nigerians and called on the people to go back to God, saying these sins have brought Nigeria to where it is today.

“Please don’t serve lunch for three days. We will achieve peace and those who are overweight will lose weight. We should go back and create the middle class. I know that no human beings can equal the Holly Books. But we are not reading them, we are not practicing them”.

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