On August 7, 2020, President Muhammadu Buhari signed into law the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA), 2020. Soon after, controversies greeted it and various stakeholders in the civil society organizations (CSOs) and Churches kicked against some provisions of the act, even though some Nigerians have thumbed up the government of the day. The ‘controversial’ part of CAMA! Despite the criticisms that have greeted CAMA 2020, some Nigerians are of the opinion that it is expected to enhance the ease of doing business. According to a veteran journalist, Abiola Odutola, the new document has repealed and replaced the extant CAMA 1990 with key amendments that would remove some bottlenecks from the old act.
He said the revised Act will make Nigeria’s business environment as competitive as its counterparts around the world. Among the various provisions of the CAMA 2020, Section 839 (1), which dwells on the suspension of trustees and appointment of interim manager(s), appears most contentious. Section 839 (1) of CAMA 2020 empowers the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to suspend trustees of an association and appoint interim managers to manage the affairs of the association where it reasonably believes that- (a) There is or has been misconduct or mismanagement in the administration of the association; (b) it is necessary or desirable for the purpose of: i. Protecting the property of the association; ii. Securing a proper application for the property of the association towards achieving the objects of the association, the purpose of the association of that property or of the property coming to the association, iii. Public interest; or (c) the affairs of the association are being run fraudulently.
The position of Church leaders Renowned Church leaders like Bishop David Oyedepo of the Living Faith Church had raised their voices against the Act, the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) officially rejected the Act. It specifically said the law contains a provision which silently declared war against the Church of God in Nigeria, calling it ‘satanic.’ The CAN president, Rev. Samson Ayokunle, in a statement released by his special assistant on media and communications, Adebayo Oladeji, said: “The leadership of the Christian Association of Nigeria rejects outrightly the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 that was assented to by President Muhammadu Buhari recently. “The law, to say the least, is unacceptable, ungodly, reprehensible, and an ill-wind that blows no one any good.
It is a time bomb waiting to explode. “While we are not against the government fighting corruption wherever it may be found, yet we completely reject the idea of bringing the church, which is technically grouped among the NGOs, under the control of the government. The Church cannot be controlled by the government because of its spiritual responsibilities and obligations. How can the government sack the trustee of a church which it contributed no dime to establish? How can a secular and political minister be the final authority on the affairs and management of another institution which is not political? “How can a non-Christian head of government ministry be the one to determine the running of the Church? It is an invitation to trouble that the government does not have power to manage.
” Same with the leadership of the Catholic Church in Nigeria and other Christian religious bodies in Nigeria like CAN, the Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project (SERAP), a civil society organisation (CSO), which appears to be the mouthpiece of other CSOs, asked President Buhari to rescind his assent to CAMA 2020 and send the legislation back to the National Assembly to address its fundamental flaws, by deleting the ‘repressive’ provisions of the Act, particularly sections 839, 842, 843, 844 and 850. SERAP in a series of tweets on its official twitter handles @SERAPNigeria on August 23, 2020, said: “We also asked him to instruct the Registrar-General of the CAC, Alhaji Garba Abubakar & AGF Abubakar Malami, SAN, not to implement or enforce the CAMA 2020 until the legislation is repealed by the National Assembly and brought in line with the constitution and international standards.
A proper reading of the CAMA in its entirety will reveal that the CAC also has supervisory powers over other types of entities like companies, partnerships, and business names. Also, a public policy analyst, Odu Obodumu, said all chief executives of CSOs and churches must be accountable, adding that the law has come to stay. Obodumu, who tweeted via @OduObodumu, said: “Nooo, the law must stay. You must be held accountable for the grants you collect from everywhere and convert to personal use. The era of collecting grants and no account must end.” Also, another Twitter user, Tunde Ismail, collaborated on Obodumu’s position, saying all the affected entities must give an account of money collected from various donors. Ismail, who tweeted via@Tunde_Ismail, said: “If SERAP feels they can muzzle the President like they did in the case of GEJ regarding FRCN, then they must be dreaming.
Let them dare the president by violating any provisions of the law. They should continue urging while the law has come to stay. Be accountable!!!!! Another Twitter user, Angel of Justice@ kenndola, questioned the rationale behind the quick passage of CAMA 2020 and President Buhari’s assent to it. However, the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) has called on religious bodies and other non-governmental organizations to stop describing the 2020 Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) as evil, saying the new law, which is not targeted at any group, would ensure full transparency in the running of registered associations. The Registrar-General of CAC, Garba Abubakar, who stated this against the backdrop of insinuations and criticisms that CAMA 2020 is loaded with ulterior motives and anti-Christian agenda, said the law is only aimed at ensuring more robust business environment and financial accountability in registered associations.
The CAC boss said that on the provision on suspension of trustees, the law has clearly stated grounds for suspension. It has talked about misconduct or mismanagement of the property of the association. It has talked about fraud; it has talked about public interest. “Public interest may be wide, I agree but one thing I want to make clear is that the power (to suspend) is not absolute. Section 839 sub-section 7 provides for enquiries. So before anybody would be suspended he would be heard. And it is only when his explanation is not satisfactory, that he will be suspended and even after he is suspended, he can challenge that decision in court.” While the arguments from the government and religious bodies may seem tenable, the question is where do we draw the line between public interest and government interest? If the bill is in the interest of the public, are the religious bodies and NGOs not oriented towards public Interest? Who loves and cares about the people the more?
The index rate of citizens’ trust in religious institutions and NGOs has always been higher than the government in every country and worse still, Nigeria. Though they are institutions run by humans with their corresponding frailties, the principles of the divine usually override those of humans. Maybe the government thinks that the religious bodies and NGOs are not doing enough in fighting corruption within their groups and associations but the fact is that they remain non-governmental in the provisions of the law. Moreso, the moral courage with which the religious bodies deal with issues of corruption and related immoral practices within their folds is far better than the government.
Of course, we know what happens to corruption cases in court especially when they involve members of the same political party and how some of them never see the light of justice. Having access to church accounts and taking direct management of religious institutions seem to be the apparent interest. If the government wants to tax religious bodies and NGOs, let them come out clear. Hiding under certain bill(s) that group(s) businesses and churches in the same category will surely create more controversy. Again, reducing the Church to business ventures and religious leaders to answer to civil authorities on the operations of the churches that the government gave them ‘no kobo’ to establish may be trying to reap where they have not sown.
Religious bodies are old enough to manage their own affairs and where need be, they know when to call for the assistance of the state. Finally, Nigerian government should note that certain things might be possible in advanced countries where basic amenities are duly provided by the government to the people but importing such to Nigeria will only bring chaos particularly when we know that the government has always failed the people in the provisions of basic infrastructure. It is never too late to correct the wrongs.