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 no where 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 a 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?