CAMA, NGOS, PENTECOSTALS AND THE NIGERIAN REALITY
By Femi Olugbile
Recently an updated set of prescriptions to regulate the operations of registered companies and other entities was signed into law by the President. The law, known as Companies and Allied Matters Act, or CAMA – has six hundred and six pages and eight hundred and seventy sections.
The advent of CAMA, while being celebrated as a timely effort to sanitize the business environment in Nigeria, including the operations of charities and ‘not for profit’ organizations, has raised hackles in some sections of the country. The loudest outcry has been from some of the most visible figures in the ‘Pentecostal’ Christian community.
It is interesting to look at the grounds for their sentiments. It is difficult, at first glance, to think of anything that could conceivably be wrong in operating an Non Governmental Organistion. If people are spending their time and, often, their own money for the public good, surely, they should be applauded. Even if they are collecting voluntary donations from other people or entities for the work, it is still difficult to see the motive as anything other than public spiritedness.
The facts on the ground are somewhat more problematic. The affiliations and finances of some NGOs are murky. Sometimes, apart from the issue of finance, there may be national security implications. A vocal, ‘one man’ faith-based NGO has been accused of receiving funding from the terrorist group ISIS. A recent CNN documentary showed another NGO with operations in Ghana and Nigeria apparently serving as a Russian front for the dissemination of disinformation on social media targeted at the USA, for the purpose of deepening divisions between blacks and whites and influencing the coming elections in favour of Donald Trump.
On yet another level, anyone with experience of government will know that while private funding for the implementation of projects for public good is always welcome, it is often impossible to match the purported ‘spend’ of NGOs, especially the foreign-supported ones, with actual impact on the ground. Neither the budget of the NGO nor the details of its expenditure are shared with the ‘beneficiary’ – whether state or federal. It is customary to read in the foreign press that some millions of dollars have been spent by an organization in a village in Lagos, or Zamfara, and not be able to relate the visible impact with the alleged amount. Sometimes there is more than a whiff of scandal in the air.
Lagos State some years ago made a determined effort to implement ‘Donor Coordination’, especially in its Health sector. This required ‘donors’ to relate with the different tiers of government to get a ‘mapping’ of the people’s needs, to avoid duplication and clustering of projects and services in some areas, while other places were neglected, and also to ‘capture’, on paper at least, their spending for planning purposes. To put it as delicately as possible, Donor Coordination has not been met with a great deal of enthusiasm by ‘donors’ working in Nigeria. It is ‘work in progress’.
The issue of the Christian Pentecostal ministers versus CAMA requires more nuanced consideration than has been offered so far on the subject. What is at stake is huge and goes beyond Nigeria. One of the ‘Pentecostal Ministers’ has a longer, wider reach than the Archbishop of Canterbury.
Nigeria is a multi-ethnic, multi-religious country in the throes of an existential crisis. There are ethnic and religious fault lines that cannot simply be ignored or wished away with ‘patriotic’ exhortations.
Some ‘aphorisms’ garnered in Medical School capture living reality.
‘You don’t have to be paranoid to live here, but it helps’
And another –
‘That you are (labelled) paranoid doesn’t mean they’re not out to get you’.
The flamboyant lifestyles of some religious leaders in Nigeria is scandalous. They travel in elaborate convoys of expensive cars, protected by armed policemen and flaunt their private jets. Many people have long predicted that they would get their comeuppance someday. When CAMA came, some, including members of ‘mainstream’ Churches clapped their hands in glee.
Sadly, CAMA, in its present form, is imprecisely defined in areas and capable of being used beyond the advertised purpose. There is Law, and then there is Context.
The carefully calibrated engagement of Britain’s Charity Commission with Pastor Olukoya’s MFM over late filing and failure to report improprieties in its UK church operations is instructive. The dialogue has lasted for years. An interim manager is in place, with a strict brief to review financial and governance processes and recommend changes. The Church-appointed trustees are still in place and have exclusive control over ‘matters relating to religious activities’.
Section 839 of CAMA empowers ‘The Commission’ to suspend an Association’s Trustees and appoint an Interim Manager after a court order has been obtained following a petition by ‘The Commission’ OR ‘one fifth of the Association’. Presumably that refers to Trustees and not ‘members’, since some churches have millions of ‘members’. The criteria for selecting the ‘Manager’ are not stipulated. It gets worse. ‘The Court’ may appoint ‘additional Trustees’. The nature of those ‘trustees’ and whether they are required to be members of ‘The Association’ or ‘outsiders’ is not stated. Sections 842, 843 and 844 empower ‘The Commission’ ‘with the approval of the Minister’ effectively to take control of the Association’s financial resources.
Even with its imperfections, CAMA might have worked in Australia or the UK, societies where ‘common sense’ and mutual trust are staples in public life. Despite its avowed good intentions, the booby traps can only worsen distrust in the troubled atmosphere of Nigeria.
It has been suggested that those who have objections should define their issues and engage with the National Assembly to improve CAMA. And SERAP has briefed Femi Falana, SAN, and they are heading to court.
It can only be hoped that the baby will not be thrown out with the bath water, for the Nigerian public space does require regulation. But it should be regulation that will not further stoke its paranoia.