By Ola Ajayi
IBADAN — WHEN the Governor Abiola Ajimobi led administration mooted the idea of making religious and worship centres in Oyo State pay mandatory security levies, many people took it with a pinch of salt.
Like some of the policies which the state government did not follow up, they thought this too would not be an exception.
For instance, the government announced that all worship centres in the state should desist from environmental pollution by mounting their public address systems inside their worship centres.
But, while one of the religions instructed all its members to obey the directive, one of the religions did not give heed to it and the government is yet to take any decisive action against it.
The state government introduced the levies to generate funds to assist security agencies maintain a crime free state.
How the levies would be paid was contained in flyer at an emergency stakeholders meeting convened by the state government.
But, in a penultimate week, the government re-echoed it that it would begin implementation of the security levies payment. Seeing the seriousness the government attached to it, avalanche of condemnations has greeted the announcement.
Religious, traditional leaders frown at levies
While speaking on the issue, Aladura Patriarch and Primate Spiritual Leader of Merciful Christ Church Inc. Olapade Agoro, warned the Ajimobi government to tread softly noting his action could set the country on fire.
Agoro said: “Why and how are they going to rate them? Are they going to levy traditional houses too? As far as I’m concerned, it is not a well thought idea. I know Governor Ajimobi to be a smart person. His advisers on this issue have not been fair to him. It’s a decision taken without careful planning. Are they going to use the money generated for electioneering? Why is it this time? It is suspicious how he is introducing it at the twilight of his tenure.
“It’s a decision that can set the whole nation on fire. How constitutional is it? It has never been done or raised by any previous administration. Why should he ignite fire he cannot quench?”
When Vanguard called the state Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Benjamin Akanmu, said he was attending a meeting promising to make comments after the meeting.
Also condemning the move, founder of Shafahudeen in Islam Worldwide, Prof Sabit Olagoke Ariyo asked why government should impoverish the people who are already wallowing in abject poverty.
Prof Ariyo said: “The government can collect taxes from corporate bodies but it has turned to another thing when it imposes levies on worship centres. My simple advice to the government is that it should relax on it until another government is elected. Government will become unpopular with the announcement.”
In his own words, the Chief Missioner, Islamic Spiritual and Charitable Group of Nigeria, Olatunde Mumin, who said imposing annual levies on religious bodies will amount to double taxation, also added that members of various religious bodies are tax payers, who would have discharged their civic responsibility in one form or the other to government and telling them to pay another tax through their religious houses amounted to double responsibility.
To him, the security of lives and property is one of the responsibilities of government.
The Chairman, Traditionalists Association of Oyo State, Chief Bolatito Ojeyinka Ayelabola, who alleged that traditional religion has been largely marginalized said the government should not enact such obnoxious laws adding that they (traditionalists) are hardly, remembered when it comes to distribution of political offices.
Ayelabola said: “The government has not brought that to us. Government does not recognise us. So, what moral right do they have to impose any levy on us. We will resist them. They have sidelined us in everything. Check the list of councillors, council chairmen, legislators, senators, governors and others.
They always say we are not educated and we have sent our children to schools. Yet, the marginalisation continues. Since they don’t give us our due respect, we, too will not respect their policies.”