President Muhammadu Buhari made a Pontius Pilate move* when he decided to sack the executive secretary of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRCN), Mr Jim Obazee, over the controversial not-for-profit-organisation code affecting all institutions in Nigeria, including the religious ones.
On Saturday, Pastor Enoch Adeboye of the Redeemed Christian Church, Nigeria’s largest penticostal church, made a statement his resignation, which took the whole country by surprise. The statement was however withdrawn as the church explained that the clergyman would remain the general overseer of global operations while a new national overseer, Pastor Joseph Obayemi, would lead the church in Nigeria.
The announcement caused an uproar within the religious sphere in Nigeria, some claiming that it was illegal for the government to interfere with the affairs of the church. President Buhari in his ‘rational’ approach felt the next best move was to sack the former FRCN executive secretary.
Was the President right?
The President has not stated the reason for the dismissal of Jim Obazee. However, inferring from the current issues, the magnitude and political weight of church could have been the influencing factor.
The National Code of Corporate Governance code is a code established by the FRCN through its Steering Committee on the National Code of Corporate Governance. The Steering Committee of Corporate Governance is a board comprising of experts and professionals with relevant years of experience in corporate governance.
The committee was headed by Mr Victor Odiase and formed in January 2013 under the directive of the former Minister of Trade and Investment, Olusegun Aganga. It was mandated to create the National Code of Corporate Governance because of the discrepancies in having several corporate governance codes. Nigeria observed the need to unify the guiding laws behind the corporate governance leading to the creation of the code.
The National Code of Corporate Governance’s creation process began in 2013 and has gone through several processes of scrutiny before the actual code was released in October 2016. An exposure draft was released in 2015 alongside a public hearing to include all stakeholders in the creation process before being reviewed and modified to create the final national code.
The code creation process indicates that all relevant stakeholders were involved while this code was being created. The code was even contested at the Federal High Court prior to its release. However, the court upheld the decision in favour of the FRCN. The code specifically covers all sectors in the country and it comprises of laws for the private sector, public sector and the not-for-profit sector.
Apparently, the National Code of Corporate Governance is not new and is just a unification and buildup on other corporate governance acts in the country. The tenure rule has been successfully implemented in the banking and insurance sectors with company founders like Jim Ovia having to step down from their companies to honour the regulation by the law.
If President Buhari is sacking the FRCN boss because of the code’s effect on the church, then he is making a breach to the law making process, which took years to develop. The President is definitely undermining the authority of the FRCN. The FRCN boss was not even directly involved in the decision-making process as the committee were in charge of creating and developing the law.
In the exposure draft of the code, the code stated the premise for the law was to ensure effective succession planning and the sustainability of organisations. It stated, “A Founder or Leader should not take on too many responsibilities in the organisation or have an indefinite term in the running of the organisation.”
Nigerian organisations have a poor history of succession in the sense that there are very few companies in Nigeria that can be said to have transcended generations of leadership. The churches are not exempted from this trend despite the spirituality attached to appointing their leaders. Churches like the Christ Apostolic Church and the Assemblies of God Church have had internal crisis rocking their ministries because of a lack of governance structures and poor succession planning.
The Punch reported that the Minister of Trade had written a letter to FRCN to suspend the law but FRCN ignored the suspension of the code, as there was no official gazette to back the letter.
However, it would be hypocritical of the government to annul the implementation of a law it created because of the political influence of a church, as this action could pose a threat to judicial precedents for potential future court cases. For example, if the federal government creates a law that affects another religion tomorrow, that religion could decide to just cry to the government to rescind the law for their sake because they have a reasonable influence on the government and can also fall back to the time when the government compromised for the Christians. That means, as far as a group can influence the government, laws could be changed in their favour.
The church is not above the law and if the law affects the church, it should comply. After all, it was carried along in the law-making process. The National Code of Corporate Governance affects all, not only churches but also mosques, schools and other civil organisations. Churches in Nigeria are registered under the law and should, therefore, conform to its constructs.
*A Pontius Pilate move: A move to disinvolve oneself from a seemingly complex situation where one’s action or inaction could directly affect the outcome, this done to avoid backlash. It is culled from the Bible when Pontius Pilate washed his hands to show that he was not responsible for the execution of Jesus.