Obazee And Accounting For God’s Money On Earth By Jibrin Ibrahim

By Ikenga Chronicles January 14, 2017

Jim Obazee, the recently sacked Executive Secretary of the Financial
Reporting Council of Nigeria is a man with unlimited capacity to provoke
agency. He got an alarmed President Buhari only a few hours to leap into
action and sack him over an impending war he was provoking between the
Administration and Nigeria’s Christian Community when people woke up to
realize that the revered General Overseer of the Redeem Church was not
retiring from office due to divine revelation but due to injunctions from
Mr. Obazee.

It would be recalled that when the Emir of Kano was Governor of the Central
Bank and made major revelations of mega corruption against the then
Jonathan Administration, in the comfort of law which guarantees the tenure
of central bank governors, it was the same Mr. Obazee that emerged out of
nowhere to create conditions for the sack of Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as
Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Obazee had no qualms or fear
in accusing him of financial recklessness and seeking to interrogate him.

In October 2015, the FRC under Obazee also suspended Atedo Peterside as the
chairman of Stanbic IBTC citing infractions in the 2013-14 financial
statements of the bank as the reason for its decision. He directed the bank
to restate and to re-issue its 2013-14 financial statements and imposed a
fine of N1bn on the bank. He also suspended Sola David Borha, the group
managing director and other staff. He is a man with no fear of action even
if often, the actions he takes are misguided or not clearly thought out.

One of Obazee’s most dramatic actions was in relation to civil society and
religious organisations. Late last year, he directed not-for-profit
organisations including churches and mosques to comply with corporate
governance code stipulating a maximum term of 20 years for heads of such
entities. It was a decision that normally should have been considered and
taken by the Corporate Affairs Commission which regulates charities in
Nigeria but as they were not willing to act, Obazee acted. On the basis of
his action, Enoch Adeboye, who had spent over 20 years as the general
overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG) decided to hand
over the baton to Joshua Obayemi to head the Nigeria church. When people
realized that the change of guard was an Obazee and not a spiritual
revelation, there was deep anger, which President Buhari understood
immediately, and for once acted fast by removing Obazee and approving the
reconstitution of the board. The government also immediately suspended the
Corporate Governance Code issued by the Financial Reporting Council of
Nigeria pending a detailed review and extensive consultation with
stakeholders.

His rashness aside, Mr. Jim Obazee had raised issues about accountability
that should not be disregarded in the review process that is to follow. He
had argued that: “In keeping other peoples’ money, you have to prepare
accounts. That is why churches fought me so badly, took me to court as a
person and then my office too. Mosques and orthodox churches freely
complied, but those Pentecostal churches called me to ask questions. They
said: ‘This church is church of God and we are accountable to God.’ And I
told them: ‘Very good, so you must take this church to heaven, you can’t
operate it here’. When public funds are involved, government needs to
ensure proper accountability.” We should think about this.

In this regard, it’s worthwhile recalling the story of Pastor Matthew
Ashimolowo, General Overseer of a Pentecostal church then based in a
disused cinema in north-east London. He was running one of the United
Kingdom’s richest religious institutions, the Kingsway International
Christian Centre, in Walthamstow. It emerged in 2009 that he had filed
company accounts, which revealed a £4.9m profit over the previous 18
months. It also had assets of £22.9m – more than three times the amount
held by the foundation, which maintains St Paul’s Cathedral in London. As
the boss, Pastor Matthew Ashimolowo had placed himself on a salary of
£100,000 in conformity with his preaching that God wants his people to be
rich.

The British asked some questions. The Church was registered as a charity
and its wealth was derived mainly from its 8,000 congregation that gave
£9.5m in tithes and offerings in the 18 months to April 2008, dwarfing the
£33,000 that the average Church of England congregation gave over the same
period. Maybe the British were jealous. While British Churches were dying,
this Nigerian Church was flourishing with active members who were paying
money to the Church.

The British Charity Commission objected to how the Church leadership was
using the money of the Church, which they believed belonged to members and
not the leadership. They ordered Ashimolowo to repay £200,000 after it
emerged he used church assets to buy a £13,000 Florida timeshare and
£120,000 on his birthday celebrations, including £80,000 on a car. The
Charity Commission ordered the Church to appoint new trustees and removed
Ashimolowo as chief executive of the Church. The Charities Commission also
queried Ashimolowo for earning royalties from sermons published in books
and on DVDs through his own company – Matthew Ashimolowo Media Ministries,
which was making a lot of profit. They insisted that as Churches were
charities, it was public money for the benefit of members and people in
need not Church bosses. Obazee’s script was therefore not totally crazy.
Nigeria however is not the UK and Ashimolowo moved back to Nigeria and God
blessed his Nigerian Church with even more wealth than the one he left in
the United Kingdom.

Nigeria, according to Forbes, is the world leader in terms of the wealth of
pastors. They claimed three years ago that our richest pastor is Bishop
David Oyedepo of the Living Faith World Outreach Ministry, aka Winners
Chapel with an estimated net worth: $150 million. He is followed by Chris
Oyakhilome of Believers’ Loveworld Ministries, a.k.a Christ Embassy with an
estimated net worth of $30 million to $50 million. Then comes Temitope
Joshua of the Synagogue Church Of All Nations (SCOAN) who is worth $10
million – $15 million. They are followed by Mathew Ashimolowo and Chris
Okotie. There is a debate to be held in Nigeria about the accountability of
public resources collected by religious organisations. Can such resources
just be disbursed as the boss decides?

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