LAWYERS, CHURCH LEADERS DIVIDED OVER ADEBOYE
‘It’s no big deal for Adeboye to step down’
By Vincent Kalu and TUNDE THOMAS
Nigerians from all walks of life have continued to express divergent views, over the Financial Reporting Council (FRC) code that led to the resignation of Pastor Enoch Adeboye as the General Overseer of Redeemed Christian Church of God, and the subsequent sacking of Mr. Jim Obazee, the Executive Secretary of the FRC, for ostensibly daring to implement the code, to the letter.
Speaking with Saturday Sun on the development, Human rights lawyer, Chief Mike Ozekhome, SAN, said that the Federal Government demonstrated highhandedness by sacking Mr. Jim Obazee, for implementing the extant law that led to the resignation of Pastor Adeboye.
The Senior Advocate of Nigeria was however, quick to add that it was unconstitutional for the Federal government to dabble into church issues, saying that “it must be made very clear and be understood that church, religious and mosque matters are ecclesiastical, celestial and not terrestrial. They are matters that import spirituality and not the mundane.”
He further said: “It is inconceivable that government should legislate on matters that concern people’s religious belief, and headship of families concerning the church. Such a law would be unconstitutional because it is contrary to the section of the Constitution that grants freedom of religion and freedom of conscience.”
On the sacking of Obazee, the legal practitioner again said: “it was wrong, illegal and unconstitutional to punish the Executive Secretary of Financial Reporting Council (FRC), Mr. Jim Obazee for enforcing an extant and valid law. He could only have been punished for not enforcing the law. He was not the maker of the law. His own duty was to enforce the law. You cannot punish a Nigerian citizen for being diligent to his work that is what the Federal government has done.” In the same way, they dare not intrude into matters that concern the Catholic Church for example, this is so because the Catholic church, is both apostolic and universal, and which has its orthodoxy and set ways, right from the time of Jesus Christ, when He built the Catholic Church and handed it over to St. Peter, and declared, ‘you are the rock, upon you I will build my church and the gates of Hades shall not prevail…’
“So, it is inconceivable that such an orthodox church that is covered by Canon laws and not by secular laws could have had the Federal government meddling in its issue. The Federal government also does not possess the constitutional power to suspend an existing law by fiat. It can only have one solution, and that is to approach the National Assembly to either repeal or appropriate the law totally or amend it or alter it and remove those parts they considered obnoxious.
“So, the statement released by the Presidency suspending the law and removjng Obazee from office is clearly illegal, unconstitutional, highhanded and even immoral, because, the person that should be garlanded with national honours for being diligent in his job is now being punished for applying the law. That is not how to grow a nation.” Ozekhome, declares.
He further said: “The sentiments attached to the issue of RCCG are sentiments that any responsible person would share, including me, which is the beginning of my answer to this question that government should not dabble into religious matter, but having discovered that it was a bad law, all that the government needed to do was to approach the National Assembly to repeal it, and not to repeal the law with fiat or annul it, cancel it, or put it in abeyance or dismiss the person who diligently carried out his duty, this will not grow high national standard.”
On whether Pastor Adeboye should take back his position, following government’s decision to suspend the law, Chief Ozekhome, said the RCCG has tried to correct or amend the position, so as to avoid mass exodus of members. According to him, a church is as strong as its spiritual leader, adding that “the over 190 countries where there is RCCG, they are doing well because of the high moral and spiritual grounds occupied by Pastor Adeboye. I think the moral high ground and rectitude, and high ethical standard for which Pastor Adeboye is known for, will be totally aborted if he goes ahead to cancel all the appointments because the law that gave birth to the announcement has been suspended illegally and unconstitutionally. I will not support him to do that because that will reduce his high quality and distract from his spirituality.”
On his part, the Director of Information & Public Affairs of the Presbyterian Church of Nigeria, Rev. Kalu U. Eme, said from all indications, it was obvious that the National Code on Corporate Governance 2015 for Not-For-Profit Organisations which was rolled out by the FRC and which was purported to regulate the leadership of churches and mosques, is a total sham.
“As far as I am concerned, the Code existed in the minds of the dismissed Executive Secretary of the Council, Mr. Jim Obazee and his cohorts. If they intended the Code to be binding on religious organisations, did they make efforts to turn it into a law? Did the National Assembly approve of it and did the President sign it into law? It is therefore, not a surprise that President Buhari fired him (Obazee) and reconstituted the Council.”
He added that the main objective of the FRC Act 2011, was to protect the interests of investors and other stakeholders in the Nigerian economy and to ensure good corporate governance in the public and private sectors, saying that “issues of faith are divine matters and are universally treated so. They are not directly linked with the economy or with public and private sector activities. The lack of proper understanding and appreciation of the secular status of Nigeria as enshrined in the Constitution has resulted in the ambiguity and confusion inherent in the system, with the government making attempts over the years to regulate religion. Of course these attempts will always fail.”
For the General Overseer, Divine Appointment Ministry, Ilupeju, Lagos, Rev Ben Eragbai, Pastor Adeboye’s resignation may not have been premised on that provision of the law.
According to him, the issue was like the old proverb of the witch cried in the night and the child died in the morning, adding that “his resignation could have been an internal restructuring in the RCCG, which he responded to.”
On Obazee , he noted that he might have been acting a script, declaring that “whatever punishment he got, he deserved it.”
The Seventh Day Adventist Church, on its part told Saturday Sun that, it has nothing to fear about the code.
Speaking through its official spokesperson, Professor Dayo Alao, the group told Saturday Sun that it was unfortunate that the church was becoming political.
Until now, he continued, the church has always been on its own, independent and concerned solely with winning of souls, adding “but today, the church has become another thing. In-fighting, intrigues and other ills have pervaded the holy sanctuary. Most churches of today are no longer churches of Christ. Not many pastors are called again, but they chose to call themselves.
“The 7th Day Adventist church is fully in support of the tenure system.What is the reason for our stand? It is very simple. We believe that the church should be a role model. Nobody has monopoly of knowledge and ideas. Tenure system is the best for the church. It reduces friction and promotes healthy growth of the church. It still baffles me why an individual will want to sit tight, and remain in leadership for ever. However this can only happen in a church owned by an individual, but such can never happen in 7th Day Adventist Church because the church is a universal church. There are rule and regulations that govern the affairs of the church, whatever applies in our church in Nigeria, is what applies in other 220 countries of the world where the church exist and operates,” he added.
Speaking on the suspension of the Code, the image maker of the Seventh Day Adventist church, Professor Alao, further said: “ordinarily, government ought not to have anything to do with the church. The church is Holy while government is secular. But what do you have in the church today? The church has been polluted. Wolves have taken over. The church is no longer the church of Christ. They have turned the church into a big business. It is unfortunate that church has been turned into family affair. Leadership is now from husband to wife, and father to son, they no longer allow Holy Spirit to decide in some of these churches. Where you have chaos, do you expect government to fold its arms? No, government must intervene to prevent a breakdown of law and order. Though Federal government has suspended the FRC Code, but for those churches like our own, which are tenured, we have no problem with FRC. There is a need for a form of regulation in the church to prevent anarchy, in-fighting and to promote accountability.”
On whether it was right for Pastor Adeboye, to have stepped down for a successor, Professor Alao, again said: “it is not a big deal for Pastor Adeboye to step down as G O. After all, somebody set up the church when Adeboye was nowhere. Although to his credit, the church witnessed growth and expansion under his leadership. But that does not mean he can’t step down. The church is the church of Jesus Christ and not that of Adeboye, Kumuyi, Olukoya or Mouoka.”
On his part, General Overseer, Gospel Baptist Conference Church of Nigeria and Overseas, Archbishop Magnus Atilade, caution Federal government against dabbling into church affairs. According to Atilade who is also the Chairman, Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, South-West zone, government has too much already on its hands, as such, it should keep a distance from church matters.
“I don’t know whether it is the political enemies of Buhari that are behind this latest development. I am not saying the evils going on in some churches should not be monitored or checked, because of its consequences, government should however, be careful especially President Buhari so that some people will not label him anti-Christ.”
Speaking in the same vein, the General Overseer, Vessel of Christ Mission, Bishop Kayode Williams, said “there can’t be fire without smoke. He implored CAN leadership to be vigilant to prevent the church of Christ from being infiltrated.”
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