PUNCH INTERVIEW: Let's Tax Big Business Churches—Falana

Femi Falana (SAN)- Photo: New York Times
By Leke Baiyewu

Human rights lawyer and Senior Advocate of Nigeria, Mr. Femi Falana, speaks on corruption in the public service and the temple of justice in this interview with LEKE BAIYEWU

You recently called for payment of tax by religious organisations. Why did you say that, since they are non-profit making organisations?

Religious bodies are not money-making ventures stricto sensu. The traditional churches, i.e. the Catholic Church and the Anglican Church, have remained largely conservative with respect to the commercialisation of religion. But some of the prosperity churches have to pay tax because they are smiling to the banks. For example, the Pope doubles as the Head of the Roman Catholic Church worldwide and a Head of State but he flies the Alitalia Airline, the Italian commercial airline. The same goes for the head of the Anglican Communion, the Archbishop of Canterbury.  But today, there is a craze among the leaders of the prosperity churches for private jets. At home and abroad, they pay prohibitive fees for parking the jets at local and international airports. Since they earn fat incomes, they should pay tax to the state for development. It is unjust and illegal to tax the poor congregants, while multi-billionaire pastors or bishops are not subjected to any form of taxation.  Many of us attended missionary schools and received treatment in hospitals founded by churches. The fees were largely cheap and affordable. But today, the secondary schools and universities established by prosperity churches charge tuition fees on commercial basis. There is nothing religious in those centres of commerce.  It is so bad that the children of poor members of the congregation, who are even exceptionally brilliant, are driven away from such institutions on ground of poverty. My wife was on the board of one of those universities. She pleaded that the children of the poor be given scholarship or made to pay substantially reduced fees. She was asked not to bring radicalism to the church. She had to withdraw from the board.

Happily, Bishop Hassan Kukah and some religious leaders have spoken against the primitive accumulation of wealth by their colleagues. If religious leaders make money from their business outfits, they should pay taxes.

If a church is so rich to the extent of presenting a jet as birthday gift to its pastor, it should be able to pay appropriate taxes commensurate with its status as a rich religious centre. It is clearly stated in several parts of the Holy Bible that tithes are for taking care of the poor and the priests, as well as Levites who minister unto the Lord. Tithes are not supposed to be diverted for the establishment of commercial farms, bakeries and other businesses.

Many have scored the Nigerian judiciary low in terms of justice dispensation, particularly on corruption. Can you say the nation’s temple of justice is still efficient?

No doubt, there are bad judges but we must never be tempted to dismiss the Nigerian judiciary because we have some good judges. In the last eight years, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission has concluded over 200 criminal cases. All the 37 ministries of justice in the country, put together, cannot boast of that figure. Even by global standard, that is a record which few institutions can beat. But because of the difficulty in the prosecution of cases involving politicians and other powerful people in the society, we dismiss the judiciary.

I know a judge in the High Court of Lagos State who has convicted powerful 419 kingpins and ‘queenpins,’ public officers and bank officials. Instead of encouraging the judge, it has been said that he cannot be elevated to the Court of Appeal because he is not from Lagos State. Even, the system is trying to frustrate him from transferring to his own state of origin.

Why is it difficult for successive governments to checkmate corruption, even when several hidden facts have been unearthed?

With respect to corruption, we have never had it so bad. In the First Republic, it was 10 per cent. In the Second Republic, it graduated to 20 per cent. Under the Gen. Ibrahim Babangida junta, corruption was institutionalised. President Olusegun Obasanjo’s administration consolidated corruption. For reasons best known to him, President Umaru Yar’adua allowed the Independent Corrupt Practices and other related offences Commission and the EFCC to be taken over by very corrupt aides.

Some of the governors under investigation posted their police orderlies and relations to man departments in the EFCC.  While President Goodluck Jonathan has re-organised the EFCC, corruption is now carried out with impunity to the extent that the battle against corruption has been lost completely. It is as if no one is in control. Can you imagine that an ambassador of a foreign country has dragged a minister to the Presidency for corruption? Apart from the loss of over N2tn to the fuel subsidy scam last year, the Auditor-General of the Federation has just disclosed that N4.2tn collected by MDAs was not remitted to the Federation Account from 2006-2009. The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative reported that oil companies have failed to pay into the Federation Account about $10bn from 1999 to 2008. The Nuhu Ribadu-led Petroleum Revenue & Special Task Force claimed that the nation has been short-charged to the tune of almost $100bn. All the people indicted in the cases of Siemens, Halliburton and other scandals are walking freely.

A reputable economist, Mr. Henry Boyo, said last week, that duty waivers running into several billions of Naira are granted to the rich by the Federal Government, while the poor people are burdened with all kinds of taxes and levies. The Central Bank Governor, Mr. Lamido Sanusi, has suggested 50 per cent reduction in the workforce as a stratagem to divert attention from the reckless looting of the economy by the parasitic bourgeoisie. That call came from the blues, as facts emerged that the CBN is involved in the illegal withholding of part of the N4.4tn diverted from the Federation Account. The statement was also made to cover up the role of the bank in the illegal release of N2.3tn for fuel subsidy in 2011, when N245bn was appropriated. It is a grave criminal offence to release any public funds without a legal warrant.

So, the heads of the federal ministries of petroleum resources and finance that recommended the illegal payment and the CBN, which released the funds, have questions to answer. But, these guys are displaying arrogance by making provocative statements.

As far as I am concerned, the Federal Government has, as a result of local and international pressure, provided an enabling environment for fighting the menace of corruption. We have a corpus of comprehensive legislations to tame the monster. But, Nigerians expect the government to fight corruption. No government does that.   In the case of Nigeria, the media and a few individuals called anti-corruption crusaders were fighting corruption and abuse of office to a reasonable extent. With respect, the media houses are largely owned by some of those who are being investigated or prosecuted. So, the battle is no longer fought by the media with the commitment of the past.

The bar has no serious programme on judicial corruption because some leaders of the legal profession are deeply involved in corrupt practices. They serve as couriers for corrupt judges. Worse still, senior lawyers manipulate the legal system to frustrate the prosecution of powerful people in the society by filing frivolous interlocutory applications. In other countries, lawyers are recommended for discipline for filing processes designed to waste the time of the court. No lawyer should be allowed to manipulate the legal system in favour of his or her client to the detriment of the society.

In essence, the battle against corruption has to be waged by Nigerians and not by the government. And the concept of the rule of law transcends obedience of a few court orders by the government. It is a way of life. It is about compliance with the law by all and sundry, the government and the governed. The exclusion of certain people from arrest or prosecution is antithetical to the rule of law. Whereas the law is higher than individuals, however powerful they may be in a civilized society, the contrary is the case in a neo-colonial society like ours.

What I am saying is that certain institutions and individuals are higher than the law in Nigeria. Hence, they are entitled to immunity for life.

Prof. Akin Oyebode recently argued that the problem was not corruption but impunity. Why has the menace become pervasive even in a democratic system?

Professor Akin Oyebode’s prognosis cannot be faulted. Corruption is a manifestation of impunity. The Appropriation Act contains the details of the budget. The diversion of money that has been appropriated or the refusal to remit funds earned by the MDAs is the height of impunity. The system is too weak to punish criminality. Hence, impunity has become the order of the day. The menace of corruption has become rampant because of the lack of political will on the part of the government to arrest the culture of impunity. No society can have political stability without the observance of the rule of law.

There are several calls by stakeholders to cut down the size of government. What is the best to way to go about the reduction?

There is no doubt that the size of government is bloated. But, the CBN governor was patently wrong when he asked for 50 per cent reduction of the workers in the civil service. The available record shows that there are about 100,000 civil servants, while there are about 970,000 public officers, including political office holders. Only a tiny segment of the 70 per cent of the recurrent expenditure, which goes for maintaining the bureaucracy, is allocated for the payment of salaries and allowances of civil servants.

In 2012, whereas the CBN allocated N300bn for itself, the National Assembly got N150 bn. It has been revealed that the CBN under Sanusi has increased its workforce by over 1,000 employees. Up till now, the report of the committee on the restructure of the public service has not been implemented by the government. The report has largely addressed the bloated bureaucracy.

If you believe the CBN governor that the National Assembly takes 25 per cent of the budget, then, the CBN takes 50 per cent because its budget is 100 per cent higher than that of the National Assembly. These figures do not take cognisance of ghost workers, pension fraud, and non-remittance of huge funds to the Federation Account.

However, I believe that the public service has to be re-organised and restructured for optimal performance. Those who were sacked or downsized or retrenched should be reposted to other areas of the economy, which may require their services. But if you send them to the unemployment market, armed robbery and kidnapping will be intensified.
 

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5ZiBd

I'll cling to this color for dear life - dusting on bronzer day and night

I have to agree with his

I have to agree with his point of view. I am a believer, I really put all my faith in God, but there shouldn't be anyone above us when it comes to Him, due to the fact that we're all equal. I believe the heads of churches should pay taxes, because I could have bought a couple of employee time clocks at TimeClockeShop.com with the money I leave there, for example. Instead, they fight for private jets.

I am writing a research paper

I am writing a research paper and collecting information on this topic.Debt consolidation Your post is one of the better that I have read. Thank you for putting this information into one location.

Re: All Comments so far

It's so disheartening that some comments veered off the points and issues raised by Mr. Femi Falana. I intend not to descend into arena of conflict, as many have done. The simple point is that all Nigerians, whether u a pastor, political or opinion leaders and public office holders, should know that all policies, actions, inactions, ideas that drain our commonwealth at the expense of the poor are highly condemnable and punishable before man and God. Let our conscience and our God judge us. From lessons of history, I ve learnt that people are capable of painting colour whites to be blacks. No logic, argument, law, opinion, no matter how sound,regular or convincing can paint colour white to be black before your conscience and God. Nigerians should be bold to stand and defend the truths always even if you a d only one standing.

falana and tax proposal

Yinko,I do not think you have traveled by air in your life.Let me tell you that aviation business is not and never like Okada. Those jets are toys for international operations. They can only fly in Nigeria.Before,thy got here,they must have touched down in so many countries to refuel.Mind you they must get clearance to fly over any country airspace,otherwise,it will be shut down.there are so many things involved before any private takes off to another country.Also know that those jets are short range aircraft,not more than three hours.They bought those jets to show off.No pastor preaches salvation anymore.No pastor talks about end-time . Now,it prosperity.prosperity, miracle, miracle.

Any church, catholic,

Any church, catholic, Anglican or Protestant must pay taxes if they earn income on business ventures. In the United States of AMERICA the tax law states that any religious organization that is involved in the business of making profit must pay taxes to the state, period. Even with the above assertion, I am against these pastors who own private jets at the expense of the poor congregates. I'm sure Mr. Falana who you claim leaves in a comfortable ikeja GRA house pays taxes from his income. He is a lawyer not a paster.

SECOND SLAVE MASTERS!!!!

THEN LET THE SAID CHURCHES USE THE THEIR MONEY WISELY IN LINE WITH THE BIBLICAL TEACHING.WHEN I WAS A KID THE CHURCHES USED TO PLAY A VERY VITAL RULE THEY FUND SCHOOLS,HOSPITALS,PROVIDE RELIEF MATERIALS TO THOSE IN NEED ETC BUT WHAT DO WE HAVE NOW?THE SO CALLED MEN OF god CARE ONLY ABOUT THEMSELVES AND FAMILY AT THE EXPENSE OF THE MASSES.

THEIR INVESTMENTS SHOULD BE TAX!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

PLZ NOTE THAT IT IS CHEAPER TO CHARTER A PLANE THAN TO BUY ONE FOR PARK OR TO FLY AROUND THE WORLD AS A TOURIST AT THE EXPENSE OF PUBLIC FUND. DO YOU KNOW HOW MUCH IT COST TO MAINTAIN A PLANE OR THE COST OF PARKING SLOT A NIGHT AT THE AIRPORT? IT RUNS INTO MILLIONS IF NOT BILLION ANNUALLY.

Yes that's what nigerian

Yes that's what nigerian christians focus on, 'riches',financial blessings. If you are not rich in Nigeria, you have evil spirits that are against you...Next step, go and see your 'pastor'. your pastor with his solid gold rings and wristwatches, that has 'special prayers' for you and his helpless accursed flock....Nigeria is cursed, not by God but by its citizens stupidity, and unwavering idolation of its 'Men of God'

mosque

In the mosque u can't see all this happenin
You only pray and go wherever u come from.

Re: Rev Jamin Olorunfemi

What Bible do you read? who ordained you a Reverend? You are a Thief and your god is your belly.

Any illiterate or fraud can set up a church, but it takes an evil person to set up one and continuing fleecing people that some are indeed hopeless; having been failed by the state. The god that provides jet for one, in his justice sees it unnecessary to provide clean water to the congregants, a fair place of rest for congregants other than rat infested shackles? Great hopes that NEVER manifest? Ole ni e

The God of Abraham has suddenly become rich, yea; he was poor before now? He now manifest earthly riches with His great power and not salvation? Ole

I spit on you and all that you stand for. If you continue in this mindset of wickedness and selfishness, may you perish like the sons of Achan; even before your the very congregation. Robber

START A CHURCH

I give excuse for mad people as well as for ignorant people. But for fools, I give no regard. Those of you whose passion burn like volcanic eruption against Churches, calling them huge business ventures, in this money hungry Nigeria, Why have you not started one since? It is only a fool that will see a lucrative venture and will go to sleep. I don't expect anything less from folks like you, who once used the phrase "As poor as a Church rat." Now that Jehovah- the Owner of the world, and executioner of the the Abrahamic Covenant is on fire to manifest the Children of His glory before a devilish, godless and occult minded folks, they have nothing more to say to mock us in the Church except arrows of jealousy, envy and bitter anger.

THANK YOU YINKA

Yinka, I sincerely thank you for your reply to MR Femi Falana. I don't expect any less from an active member of the debased, and shameful legal castle in Nigeria. Ask him what happened to the case of one poor brother sur-named Umukoro, cheated by Coca-cola, which he handled, that witnessed a published protest on Newspaper how he sold out in favor of the guilty. God's people He used to offer these alternatives to the failure of the Nigerian state are not complaining. People like Falana should come out of hidding and tell the real truth to Nigerians.

CONFUSION !!!

My people perish because of lack of knowledge ! It seems we only read about the Pastors/Bishops with their "high lifestyle" in Falana's submissions. The Pastors and their hired shooters have resorted to shielding their businesses from attacks. Otherwise, have we been able to comment on the issue of corruption that is bedeveling the nation, or at least commend Falana for saying the truth. My people are really myopic. For me, I have decided not to drop my hard earned money for any guy man's use in the name of tithe, until I see them make judicious use of the ones they have so far collected. There are a thousand and one Nigerians out there in our respective families looking for assistance to pay their school, medical, etc bills. You can change their lives if you are not sure of what your pastor is doing with your "tithe"... Do no longer be a victim to these religious confusionists... Wise up !!!

Re: Tax Churches

Falana didn't really mean churches alone, it's including Mosques. Anyone with contrary views is a fool and will be a fool forever. Taxing churches and mosques is long overdue in Nigeria, otherwise in future, all the politicians stealing money today will invest their monies in churches and mosques.

ROMANS Chapter 13 Is UNAMBIGUOUS.

Femi FALANA is a graduate of Catholic Seminary. Rev Fr. Hassan Matthew Kukah has said much on this earlier.John 17:17 says God's Word is the Truth. Our Lord Jesus Christ never opposed taxation. Romans 13:8 also lays emphasis on THIS! I have been paying super-tax along with my Pay-As-You-Earn since August 1985.We all probably missed out on the story of Jim Baker,..Jim Jones and their genre. Doomsday is not far for those peddling the Word of God for sandwiches(2Corinthians 2:17). The Church in NIGERIA is fast becoming Safe-Havens for criminal suspects and their sponsors. I never knew pastoral brigandage had smuggled itself into our ecclesiastical lexicon in NIGERIA, until 11th January 2003. My Area Pastor was kidnapped 28th October 2012 and he was released after d kidnappers had collected N2million ONLY. When u tie corns around your waist, FOWLS are duty bound,to follow u. God(Daniel 1:6)will certainly intervene and save us from hirelings masquerading as ...pastors.

Crass ignorance, cheap pontificating

It doesn't matter how much pontificating Falana puts up, he is a very rich "human right activist" living in exclusive Ikeja GRA.He was the one who defended Tinubu chicago-gate with millions form Lagos coffer.Of Anglican and Catholic modesty,the pope flies Alitalia as a chartered flight with his customized Mercedes and army of aides taken along for waving of hand.That can't be modest or cheap!Catholic Church has Universities and non is cheap.Anglican has stakes in Oxford and Cambridge and they are not cheap,what an ignorant comparison is Falana making? Ostentation is wrong but on what ground will you tax Churches and what problem will that solve? Tax is taken from after all costs, so they can pay the tax after buying and maintaining the jets you all hate, nothing solved. Most people who laid the foundation for the dead Nigeria of today and stole the place blind from 1960 till late nineties were not Pentecostal people or preachers?They were orthodox Christians,muslims,ogboni and others.

And what happens to the taxes?

When i read posts made by some people,i begin to wonder as regards the motive behind their insultive and malignant utterations and actions.if u are so particular about taxing churches,could u just tell me how the revenue from such action would be managed? Tax d churches and add the proceed to the available pool of unaccounted funds that is being siphoned by the political vampires. Please reason deep before making propositions to us,not all Nigerians are short-sighted.

Churches Already paying tax!

There are too many ignorant people in Nigeria. Churches are already paying tax on their business ventures. Schools, Unversities, Bakeries and other ventures establixhed by Pentecostal Churches are separate registered businesses with CAC and make yearly tax returns. You should go and check your facts. It will be unfair (double taxation)to tax the Churches directly on tithes and offerings they are collecting only from some members who have already paid tax on their income. Are all those Babalawos, Alfas,Imams and Marabouts who are colecting billions from our poiticians paying tax?

Its either Most Commentator here are Adolescent or Moron

Moreso, these schools aren't built for all and sundry like the primary & secondary schools built by missionaries of old where many of us attended including these wicked Pastors many of you were fighting for. If the missions school had practised such wickedness many of us wouldn't have been educated. Few words are enough for the wise.....xxx

Its either Most Commentator here are Adolescent or Moron

Haven't you read your Bible that Jesus paid taxes? So how come that Churches who invested in business ventures like Bakery, petrol stations, farming and schools whilst parading themselves as charity organisation are not liable to pay taxes?

Its either Most Commentator here are Adolescent or Moron

But this morons who doesn't even know the scripture are yelling at the courageous people who dare talk about the manipulating and exploitation being perpetrated by the bloated 'modern day Pastors' paraded themselves as anointed men of 'God'.

Its either Most Commentator here are Adolescent or Moron

The Bible says in Hosea that 'My people are dying for lack of knowledge'. Its amazing how these young guys who have no future due the way the people in government collaborating with the so called men of God are fanning their gluton apetite for life of luxury on our commonwealth.

pastors are the engine room of corruption. etc

where do we start?in greed to make desperate money.pastors subject dir poor followers 2mental torture by inciting fear on dem.dey went as far as planting juju in pples compound&charge money for digging it out.separating homes wt false prophesy.fucking poor pples wife ind name of deliverance.during d time of thankgiving dey post pastor out of dir zone&hire a specialist who can extort pple properly.homo sexual&lesbianism is like satchet water in churches now.followers are collecting bribes in dir offices just to meetup pastors demand is now a sacriment.abortion is now legalize in oda to put on beautiful dress b4 pastor. retaining virginity is no longer in vogue.dey now threaten pple to pay up dir tight. pulpit is now campaign cntre 4dirty politcian.apart from oil&gas.church is next money spining bizness.all dis ind name of innocentGOD?kidnappers shd go after dem as a measure of recovering all dis looted money from dis criminal wtout conscience.pls watch an indian movie titled'OH MY GOD'

pastors are the engine room of corruption. etc

where do we start?in greed to make desperate money.pastors subject dir poor followers 2mental torture by inciting fear on dem.dey went as far as planting juju in pples compound&charge money for digging it out.separating homes wt false prophesy.fucking poor pples wife ind name of deliverance.during d time of thanking givin dey post pastor out of dir zone&hire a specialist who can extort pple properly.homo sexual&lesbianism is like satchet water in churches now.followers are collectin bribes in dir offices just to meetup pastors demand is now a sacriment.abortion is now legalize inoda 2put on beautiful dress b4 pastor.retaining virginity is no longer in vogue.dey now threaten pple to pay up dir tight.pulpit is now campaign grnd 4dirty poliitcian.apart from oil&gas.church is next money spining bizness.all dis ind name of innocent GOD?kidnappers shd go after dem as a measure of recovering all dis looted money from dis criminal wtout conscience.pls watch an indian movie titled'OH MY GOD'

You are finished

From your statement you do not even know God neither the Bible, you have other reasons though. May be you are suspended for bad behavior if not why stop? Let me advice you to start your own church at home and get others to attend, will you?if not then you should join guru maharaji because you are doomed.

Ignorant Falana

Falana, can you tell me how much the Roman Catholics, the Anglicans, the SIM, ECWA etc have collected in Nigeria in Nigeria in the last 300 years? Of course you don't know but let me tell you it's in hundreds of billion dollars from Nigeria alone. Over the years these foreign Churches have asked their congregations to endure suffering on earth because enjoyment and wealth is waiting for them in heaven.
Today one of these foreign churches collect in Nigeria today what Oyedepo, Ashimolowo TB Joshua collects put together yet you support them,
I would have expected Fela Anikulapo Kuti's sayings to have rubbed off on you of all people.
As for Pastors riding jets have you ever considered the amount of travellings done by these pastors in a year? As an 'intelligent' Lawyer I expect you to know that a jet to these pastors is a tool not a luxury.

ANOTHER AGENT OF THE DEVIL

Falana is one of Tinubu's lawyers feeding fat on proceed of corruption. . He is so ignorant that he does not know that pastors in Nigeria pay tax on personal income and salary. Sultan of Sokoto owns a private jet but it's okay. Muslims won't tolerate the kind of attack directed at Christian leaders. It will be blasphemy, then blood will flow. Falana represent the gate of he'll and they can't prevail against the church. Start your own free schools first. AFE BABALOLA have a school. He want churches to pay tax because they are disturbing his occultic activities. Ogboni cult member pretending to be XTIAN

Yes, the Church is now

Yes, the Church is now becoming aware of their rights. Prosperity belongs to the Church. The Church is the light of the world. You aren't seeing anything yet. Before, Jesus finally comes back, the Church will have radiated His glory all across the globe, financially, intellectually, spiritually, etc. You better join. Nigerian Pentecostal Church is just starting and it will be the vanguard of this light across the globe.

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