/CAMA, NGOs, Pentecostals and the Nigerian reality

CAMA, NGOs, Pentecostals and the Nigerian reality

by Femi Olugbile

Dr 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 sanitise the business
the environment in Nigeria, including the operations of charities and “not for profit”
organisations have raised hackles in some sections of the country. The loudest outcry
has been from some of the most visible Dgures 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 a Non-Governmental Organisation. 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
the 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 the 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 is 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 organisation 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.

It can only be hoped that the baby will not be thrown out with the
bathwater, for the Nigerian public space, does require regulation.
But it should be regulation that will not further stoke its paranoia

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 are scandalous. They travel
in elaborate convoys of expensive cars, protected by armed policemen and Naunt 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 Dfth 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 bathwater, for the
Nigerian public space does require regulation. But it should be regulation that will not
further stoke its paranoia.