By Tunji Olaopa
THE relationship between the church and the state has always been a very complex affair. One example suffices of this complex relationship – the turbulence that marked the charged affairs between Henry VIII and the Papacy in the 16th century as well as the entire chain of events that led Henry VIII to break with the Catholic Church and establish the Church of England. This was a major historical occurrence that clearly outlined the kind of conflict the religions could have in relationship with the state. When, during the Enlightenment in the 18th century, secularity made its appearance with the seemingly final separation between the church and the state, it was almost certain that the tension had been dealt with by a masterstroke of modern sensibility. Not quite.
The rational architects of the church-state separation failed to take into consideration all the possible modes of actions and interactions that will inevitably always instigate conflict wherever the church dabbles into political issues or whenever the state attempts to regulate spiritual matters.
Regulating spiritual matters
It is no longer news that the Financial Regulatory Council of Nigeria (FRCN), through its executive secretary, unilaterally implemented a certain clause in the Corporate Governance Code, especially for Not-For-Profit-Organisations (NFPO), which necessitated fixing the tenure of the general overseers of religious organisations in Nigeria. One of the major consequences of that decision was the resignation of Pastor E. A. Adeboye as the general overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) in Nigeria. The justification of the FRCN executive secretary was that he was upholding the relevant parts of the corporate governance code.
If that were the case, then it would be within the legal purview of the organisation to do so. And this has nothing whatsoever to do with the fact that the executive secretary, now relieved of his duty, was a former pastor at RCCG. But, as with most things legal, social and religious in Nigeria, the reality is much more complex than what we are presented. The outcry that has trailed the FRCN’s move and the reactions from several quarters, especially on the resignation of Pastor Adeboye, not only points at a complex situation, but also calls for a cautious but critical attention to some key issues concerning corporate governance, religious matters and the democratic functionality of institutions in Nigeria.
Permit a caveat that should address all hints of prejudice. This is critical because I am aware of the enormous anxiety and anger that attend the perceived misadventure of religion in Nigeria. I am a Christian with strong conviction that the church is one and will best achieve its earthly mission if it remains one in spite of inescapable denominational imperative. Consequently, whereas I am a Baptist by birth and orientation, I was largely groomed into spiritual maturity by the RCCG as a full-fledged member. I, indeed like millions of others, holds Pastor E. A. Adeboye in the highest esteem for the tremendous grace upon his ministry of which I am a direct beneficiary in a classical sense and for the achievements that the RCCG has garnered since he became the general overseer many years ago. RCCG’s greatness as an organisation has many dimensions.
Apart from its centrality as a leading religious organisation, RCCG has also in several ways insinuated itself into the development and social challenges that confronts Nigerians. We can see the church as a development partner with several Nigerian governments over the years. And this comes also in terms of the general overseer serving as religious adviser in one form or the other. An empirical statistics will reveal the immense impacts that the RCCG, and any other well-meaning religious organisation, has had in the lives of Nigerians.
But the issues at stake in this matter transcend my RCCG connection. It’s especially critical given the extent to which the legion of charlatans in the cloak of Levitical priesthood have infiltrated Christendom with diabolic and commercial mission and are daily denigrating the faith because they are provided umbrage by the absence of corporate governance codes and their enforcement. These are issues of democratic surveillance, organisational integrity, institutional capacity and reform. In this regard, the FRCN constitutes a significant dimension of the ensemble of democratic institutions in Nigeria.
And this is more so with regard to the monitoring of corporate governance matters. On its website, the FRCN outlines its mission as simply as possible: “To bring utmost confidence to investors, reputation to oversight and ensure quality in accounting, auditing, actuarial, valuation and corporate governance standards and non-financial reporting issues.” This is seriously commendable because corporate governance is a very significant aspect of democratic governance in Nigeria. Ensuring good corporate governance practices is a sine qua non for laying the foundation of an accountability principle in the national economy that will eventually devolve on the well-being of Nigerians.
Foundation of an accountability principle: The Not-For-Profit-Organisations (NFPO) are equally part of this corporate governance accountability concern because they equally impact on the financial profile of the nation and of individuals and organisations.
Immediate wrong steps
If all these are correct, what then went wrong? There are two immediate wrong steps I see. First, understandably Daddy G.O. is above reproach in that he would prefer to give to Caesar and to God what belongs to God as a man who understands the covenant essence of Exodus 14v14, it was precipitate for the RCCG and Pastor Adeboye to capitulate to the NFPO Code of Corporate Governance without at least exploring the option of challenging its stipulations for rightness, legality and legitimacy.
Of course, religious organisations should be at the forefront as one of the most law-abiding entities anywhere, but that should not encroach on RCCG’s constitutional duty to challenge any legislation that encroaches on their fundamental rights, or has any whiff of irregularity or obscurity. While wishing Pastor Joseph Obayemi, the new general overseer for Nigeria, well in this new and most serious spiritual endeavour, it seems that the RCCG jumped the gun and capitulated without exploring available avenues, including the courts, that would have allowed a rethinking of the said legislation. The second issue is even more perplexing, and this is how porous our institutional dynamics have become to the extent that individuals are allowed to initiate impetuous actions that throw the society into tension.
Hidden axe to grind
Let us assume, just hypothetically, that the former executive secretary of FRCN has some kind of hidden axe to grind with the RCCG, it should not have been possible for him to use the institution he supervised as the instrument for personal vendetta. No institution should ever be so permissible of anything personal. And this possibility, as I see it, constitutes the core of the institutional deficit afflicting Nigeria. Institutions in Nigeria demonstrate a glaring incapacity to be proactive in the face of challenges, governance, political, economic, and administrative. They also lack the mechanism to prevent internal incongruities.
First thing first, every institution must react to its context and environment. With regard to the idea of corporate governance, the FRCN ought to have known that it was walking a very tight rope in its attempt to monitor a corporate atmosphere charged with complex practices. Religion is a crucial issue in Nigeria, and its mismanagement has led to critical losses for the Nigerian state. The Boko Haram insurgency that has cost many lives could be traced, in a significant sense, to some badly managed military and administrative policies.
Stakeholders’ ownership is very critical in policy implementation success, and that translates into a due and meticulous diligence in ensuring that each policy issue makes the round of relevant stakeholders. The implication of this is simple: any policy arising from corporate governance issue ought to have gone through the entire stretch of policy assessment and even more. Of course, no policy is impeccable.
But then the ripples and revelations trailing the corporate governance code, especially for NFPO, seem to demonstrate a sloppiness bordering on lack of professionalism and institutional hastiness. And this involves the churches and other religious organisations themselves. While the FRCN is undergoing reconstitution, and the corporate governance code, hopefully, will be re-evaluated and reviewed, there is also a need for churches to look inward in the face of weak gate keeping that is undermining the Christian brand as the salt and the light of the world through the activities of charlatans in the guise of prophets-entrepreneurs riding on prosperity theology popular tendencies and vulnerabilities of a poverty-ridden and superstitious society and pervasive miracle mentality. The Federal Government has the right to instigate any policy that affects its citizens, and religion plays a huge role in this regard because whatever happens in the religious realms have extensive impact on the way people relate with themselves in the public spaces. Beyond this, the FRCN is right about the critical nature of corporate governance and why not even churches and mosques can be excused.
Religious organisations owe the government an adequate compliance with regulations that probes accountability. This is even more so in a state that is attempting to increase its profile of democratic governance. A church or mosque may be theocratic but that does not preclude its legal response to certain democratic imperatives concerning structures and rules.
On the other hand, the religious organisations owe their members a firm adherence to strict codes of accountability and other institutional structures that ensure not only spiritual adequacy but also financial openness. It would not be a sin if the financial transactions of a religious organisation are open within the bounds of regulation and best practices. Since the church or mosque is a custodian of morality, this institutional reform of its structures should not a big deal. Fortunately, the RCCG is not a mean church that would be caught unaware by such institutional inadequacies. But this is not to say that the RCCG is a perfect church. I am a member, and I should know that neither the RCCG nor any other church for that matter is immune from certain internal shortcomings that should necessitate a continual rehabilitation of its structures and institutions. Religious organisations are agents of development, especially within the environment of institutional incapacitation in Nigeria. From the Catholic Church to the RCCG and even several Islamic organisations, religious organisations play a dominant role in bringing the dividends of democracy to the doorsteps of members and other people alike.
And development in this context of underdevelopment becomes a moral imperative which would not permit the organisations to champion a good cause while they are in themselves an emblem of institutional incoherence. A strong case can be made for the autonomy of religious organisations given that, for instance, some of their founding constitution sits incongruously with the legal requirements of the federal constitution of Nigeria. However, just as religious institutions have modified the way we think and rethink secularity in Nigeria, they must equally be modified by the imperatives of secularity and democracy. It will therefore be an act of good faith for religious organisations to firm up their institutional deficits in ways that will add to their credibility, spiritually and administratively. In many quarters, churches and mosques do not enjoy good public reputation. In fact, the reason why many lash out at them is the attempt to hide corruption behind the cloak of godliness to deceive the innocent.
On the other side, and this is even more critical, it is high time Nigeria (and religious leaders would do posterity great service if they provide a lead in this rethinking and reform) commenced a deep institutional and administrative reassessment of religion and its corporate dynamics in a manner that will put to rest the debate around whether religious organisations ought to answer to corporate regulations. The review of the corporate governance code that jumpstarted the problem in the first place could be a wonderful opportunity to resolve it finally.