The government of Imo State recently, denied plans to impose taxes on churches and other places of worship in view of the increasing commercial grandstanding and lavish lifestyle of some of their leaders and overseers.
Even so, government views as very disappointing the proliferation of churches and their ominous slant towards prosperity and materialism, without a commensurate attempt to address pressing socio-economic needs of the society, and challenged them to emulate the contributions of early missionaries, by partnering with government to invest in education, charity, health, social welfare, community development initiatives and moral re-orientation.
Speaking through the Special Assistant to the Governor on Inter-religious Affairs, Chief Kennedy Zanders, the Imo government said it would soon convoke a conference with the theme, “The Clergy As Agent of Development”, to discuss ways churches could assist the public.
While declaring its preparedness to tax churches only if such a suggestion were to emanate from the churches themselves, Chief Zanders held that the churches were being mobilised and sensitised to engage in humanitarian and social services for which they had been known in the past.
These views have inadvertently re-opened a long-dragging debate over whether or not, churches and other places of worship should be taxed, in view of their recent appeal to commerce, trade and industry.
The Tide considers this fresh debate unnecessary because churches are purely charity organizations, set up mainly to administer to the spiritual needs of society. As agents of moral re-orientation, churches are depended upon to preach exemplary filial living; love, endurance, forgiveness of sins, piety, long-suffering, righteousness, faith, family and selfless sacrifice. Also, the Church of Christ and indeed all places of worship are relied upon to preach repentance as a way of furthering reconciliation between man and his Maker.
With these services in mind, the church has over the years proved itself as a dependable partner with government; and as agents of morality, integrity and patience, many churches have even invested in education, health and other community-based services by establishing schools, hospitals, markets, scholarship endowment funds, and built civic centres.
In fact, like the early missionaries some churches have not only continued to preach the gospel of love, but have also built schools that are exemplary, successful and commendable.
However, The Tide is tempted to agree with the Imo State government that some churches have indeed become everything that a place of worship should not be. In such churches, the sermon has truly changed drastically from love, repentance, forgiveness of sins, restitution, righteousness, selfless service and how to make heaven; to how to make money.
This, without doubt, explains the frequent warnings by foremost Pentecostal preacher and TV evangelist in Rivers State, Apostle G.D. Numbere, “here we do not teach people how to make money, we teach them how to make heaven”, in veiled reference to the now prevalent prosperity preachings among supposed men of God.
Frankly, the flamboyance daily exhibited by some church leaders and the excessive preference for materialistic pursuits like choice cars, personal jets, palatial personal homes and investments in stocks and shares, are capable of confusing their gullible followers who might be tempted to deviate from worshiping their Maker, in spirit and in truth and instead scamper desperately in vain pursuit of wealth instead of forgiveness of sins and salvation.
It is indeed, for examples of this kind, and with little or no visible investment into societal welfare and well-being that the debate over whether or not churches should continue to enjoy tax immunity have been reawakened.
This is why The Tide considers it most instructive to remind churches of their primary duty to society: which include attending to the spiritual needs of the citizenry, promoting charity and helping to infuse in their flock and indeed society the virtues of patience, faith, love, selfless sacrifice and above all being moral soldiers of Christ.
They will achieve these by making meaningful contributions out of the abundance of the blessings that daily grace their places of worship, to setting up schools, awarding scholarships for the indigent, building homes for the aged and abandoned children and even maternities. These, we believe are some ways of justifying the tax immunity churches, like other charities, have enjoyed over the years.
Time To Account For 13% Derivation Refunds
How did the other South-South states, aside from Rivers, expend their arrears of the 13 per cent derivation refunds that were illegally deducted from the oil-producing states by the Federal Government since 1999? That is the tough question on the lips of some stakeholders mostly in the affected states.
This came after the startling revelation by the Rivers State Governor, Chief Nyesom Wike, that Nigeria’s President Muhammadu Buhari authorised and paid the arrears to Rivers, Bayelsa, Delta, Edo and Akwa Ibom States. Wike spoke on the development last Friday during the inauguration of the N17 billion Port Harcourt Campus of the Nigerian Law School.
Responding to those who had been seeking to know how the Rivers State Government was able to obtain funds to execute projects many of which are being inaugurated or commissioned, Wike replied that President Buhari’s gesture was the major source of revenue for his projects, including the flyovers, the law school, the cancer centre, among others.
Hear him: “Monies that were not paid to the Niger Delta states since 1999 mainly 13 per cent deductions, the President approved and paid all of us in Niger Delta states.” Wike had reiterated a similar remark at two separate events afterwards. Following the disclosure, stakeholders have begun to ask their governors questions on how they spent or are spending their allocations of the money.
Now that the Rivers State Chief Executive has let the cat out of the bag, some of his fellow governors in the region have come out of their comfort zones to offer explanations or tell cock-and-bull stories better told to the marines. This divulgence indicates that Wike is truly fighting for the masses, even though he stands the risk of making more enemies for himself.
Speaking on the matter through his Chief Press Secretary, Olisa Ifeajika, the Delta State governor, Ifeanyi Okowa, said the state had drawn only N30 billion from its accrued share of N270 billion from the 13 per cent derivation arrears. He said his administration opted to access its share through a bridge finance loan of N150 billion from a bank. The Delta governor declared that since the Federal Government could not pay the money in bulk, the oil-producing states agreed for some part of it to be disbursed within three years and the other within five years.
Some Bayelsa stakeholders took to social media over the slow pace of development amidst considerable resources. The big question on their lips has been what happened to Bayelsa’s stake in the money paid by the Federal Government? Similar questions are asked by residents of Akwa Ibom and Edo States. While some have threatened to use the Freedom of Information (FoI) Act to compel their government to account for the money, others have called for a probe into the seemingly looted funds.
Astonishingly, some governors in the Niger Delta could receive such a tremendous amount of money in these hard times yet decline to pay salaries and pensions regularly. In some affected states, infrastructure is decrepit and development is apprehended. While Governor Wike has been building flyovers and executing other developmentally-oriented projects in his state with the windfall, the question is, what have the other governors who got a similar treasure-trove been doing with theirs?
It is time transparency and disclosure were enforced in the administration of the 13 per cent derivation by state governments. Reportedly, eight states have been benefiting from the scheme. The eight oil-producing states received about N6.589 trillion from the federation account under the derivation principle, between 2009 and 2019. Sadly, there has been little or nothing to show for such allocation in some beneficiary states as agitations for benefits continue among the people directly impacted by oil production.
For states receiving derivation payments, translucency is even more key, given the history of state governors’ management of these funds. That way, the temptation to yield to corruption risks is reduced, wasteful spending is curtailed and oil-producing communities have a greater chance of getting these funds to work in their interest.
Governor Wike deserves commendation for exposing the non-performing governors in the crude oil and gas-rich Niger Delta region, who collect huge derivation funds and arrears but without any corresponding projects on the ground to justify the allocations. But for his bringing the situation to limelight, many would not have been aware of it. The other governors in the region must ensure that their funds reflect massive developmental and infrastructural projects, as seen in Rivers.
We hail President Muhammadu Buhari for authorising the payment of the funds to the deserving states and not playing politics with it, particularly since the benefiting states are virtually in the opposition Peoples Democratic Party (PDP). This is an abiding testimony to the President’s political maturity and his commitment to the tenets of democracy and the rule of law. As can be seen, Buhari’s release of the money has enabled the Rivers governor to embark on more projects in the state.
Unfortunately, the 13 per cent derivation which is a form of royalty for mineral owners has been hijacked for political expediency rather than meeting the needs of the host communities. There must be a paradigm shift away from political expedience in the use of the funds to employing it to maximise the social and economic welfare of the oil-producing communities in particular and the state in general.
An energy expert and former adviser at Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Garuba Dauda, said extractive revenues face a huge utilisation challenge at both national and subnational levels in Nigeria. He stressed that there were far-reaching accountability gaps in the management of oil revenues at both national and subnational levels of government, especially the 13 per cent derivation.
Accountability remains key if benefit transfer must get to the citizens. The need to imbibe and integrate corporate best practices in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria must include holding the state governments accountable for disbursement of the 13 per cent derivation funds. Oil-producing communities in derivation-receiving states must be seen to be enjoying the dividends of the derivation.
Enough Of Attacks On INEC’s Offices
A resurgence of arson targeted at the Independent National Electoral Commission’s (INEC) offices has again raised fears of a volatile electioneering season as the country begins its countdown to the 2023 general polls. In the latest direct assault on the electoral umpire, hoodlums attacked and set fire to its offices in Ogun and Osun States, destroying physical structures, equipment, and permanent voter cards (PVCs). These materials are critical to the successful conduct of next year’s election.
The attacks prompted INEC to summon an emergency security meeting with the head of security agencies, who are members of the Inter-Agency Consultative Committee on Election Security (ICCES), including the National Security Adviser (NSA). Amid other security challenges and the desperation of politicians and their hirelings, the President, Muhammadu Buhari, and the security agencies must take extraordinary measures to ensure hitch-free polling.
INEC’s Resident Electoral Commissioner (REC) for Ogun State, Dr Niyi Ijalaiye, reported that the commission’s office in Abeokuta South Council was attacked and set ablaze. The incident occurred when some unidentified persons overpowered the security personnel on duty and set the entire building afire. The main building and all the movable assets in the office were destroyed. They include 904 ballot boxes, 29 voting cubicles, 30 megaphones, 57 election bags, eight electric power generators and 65,699 uncollected PVCs.
Similarly, the REC for Osun State, Dr Mutiu Agboke, informed that the commission’s office in Ede South Council was under assault and also set on fire. The incident happened in the early morning when unidentified persons attacked the building and set it on fire. However, Agboke said the damage was limited to one area of the building and only a few pieces of furniture were destroyed.
Before now, serial violence and arson against INEC personnel and facilities in some states, especially in the South-East and South-South zones, had destroyed buildings and vital election equipment and loss of lives. The attacks in Osun and Ogun suggest that the violence could spread to the South-West. Those responsible for these acts can only be agents of lawlessness and disorder. The authorities must do everything to contain this rapid descent into lawlessness.
The growing violence and attacks on INEC’s facilities nationwide may raise the cost of next year’s general election. Rampaging hoodlums had razed no fewer than 11 INEC offices, 13 vehicles, 429 generators, and others in over 41 attacks in the last few months. In the past, INEC estimated that each card reader cost N167,063 while each memory card cost N6,000. Today, the cost will be much higher, given the depreciation of the Naira against foreign currencies. So, these attacks cannot be allowed to continue.
Furthermore, while enlisting the types of incidents and the parties that are responsible for violence, the electoral umpire revealed that one of these attacks was from bandits, one by the Boko Haram, four post elections violence, 18 EndSARS protests, 11 by unknown gunmen, six from election thuggery. The commission also stated in another report that over 1,000 people, including its employees and security personnel, lost their lives in the past three election cycles held in 2011, 2015 and 2019.
Besides the perturbations of Nigerians, the United States and the United Kingdom have expressed concerns over the recent irruptions on the offices of INEC nationwide. The United Kingdom Development Director, Foreign Commonwealth and Development Office, Chris Pycroft, and the United States Consul General, Mr Will Stevens, expressed the concerns while speaking at a forum recently. According to the diplomats, that prognosticated grave danger to the 2023 elections.
It is now up to the authorities to put in place measures that will prevent disruptions in future election operations and protect the lives of innocent citizens. While a combined technique of intelligence, law enforcement and special operations may help in containing the menace, it is also in the enlightened interest of our politicians to curb the attacks that could, if care is not taken, torpedo our democracy. It is imperative to deploy joint safety and security teams in all INEC assets and facilities on a national scale.
Security agencies will also need to upscale intelligence gathering, sharing, and utilisation of the same to stem further sabotage. Similarly troubling is the rising incidents of attacks on supporters and facilities of political parties, ostensibly by political opponents, so soon into the five months for campaign rallies, processions, and meetings as provided in the INEC timetable and schedule of activities for the 2023 general election.
In addition to the measures already taken for the arrest and prosecution of offenders, the Inspector-General of Police, as head of the lead agency in internal security, should convene a meeting of all political parties, candidates, and other critical stakeholders to reiterate the necessity of peaceful campaign and to convey the enforcement measures to be taken against violators. Purveyors of violence should be prosecuted in line with the Electoral Act.
Experience elsewhere shows that successful elections can be organised even in the middle of insurgencies. A report by Bridgewater Review recalled that with UN assistance, Iraq held three successful national elections in 2005 notwithstanding insurgent threats, with a voter turnout of between 58 per cent and 76 per cent. It cited a mix of mass security sweeps, effective voter education and trust in the rectitude of the electoral umpire as success factors. Nigeria ought to imitate this model.
Beyond the insecurity, an avalanche of pre-election cases before the courts is very unsettling. It is unhealthy for democracy. INEC’s chairman, Mahmood Yakubu, deplored over 600 court cases arising from the party’s recent primaries and the nomination of candidates for the 2023 election. The decelerate stride of the judicial system in Nigeria means that some cases will not be resolved in due course before the opening of election in February. This has an effect on INEC’s proficiency to print and distribute ballots before voting begins.
We applaud the Chief Judge of the Federal High Court, Justice John Terhemba Tsoho, for designating a team of judges subsequent to the large volume of pre-election suits that have swamped the court. The judges who are members of the task force will hold off all ordinary cases in their specific courts because of the seriousness of election cases, which are time bound. This will assist the commission to expeditiously prepare for the 2023 ballot.
G20: Resolving Global Crisis
Indonesia gathered the leaders of the world’s 20 largest economies commonly referred to as G20 in its
island paradise of Bali for a two-day summit from November 15 to 16 to discuss how they could cooperate on building a more stable future. But while this year’s summit has a post-pandemic theme of “Recover Together, Recover Stronger,” geopolitical divisions are taking centre stage.
Unfortunately, this year’s G20 meetings attracted more international attention than in previous years. The summit took place against the backdrop of global political and economic crises: a challenging post-pandemic recovery, the ongoing Russian invasion of Ukraine, soaring food and energy prices, and the worsening climate crisis. It was expected that the gathering would provide an opportunity for the world’s biggest powers to address those pressing global challenges.
The summit was preceded by a bilateral meeting between United States President Joe Biden and Chinese leader Xi Jinping, the first time the two had met since Biden became president. Although there were few tangible results, it was overall a positive meeting after relations between the superpowers plunged to near-historic lows earlier in the year. Conversely, Putin’s in-person absence spared the summit a major distraction and helped it focus on economic matters.
The G20 is a multilateral forum representing the world’s largest economies. It involves 19 countries – Argentina, Australia, Brazil, Canada, China, France, Germany, India, Indonesia, Italy, Japan, Republic of Korea, Mexico, Russia, Saudi Arabia, South Africa, Turkey, the United Kingdom, and the United States including the European Union. The forum represents more than 60% of the earth’s population, 75% of global trade, and 80% of the world’s gross domestic product (GDP).
This summit was organised as the world edges toward a global recession. Countries’ central banks have been hiking interest rates to curb inflation, but prices struggle to return to pre-pandemic levels. The World Bank reports that these hikes, coupled with financial market stress, could lead to global GDP growth slowing down to 0.5% next year, which would destabilise major economies and significantly slow poverty alleviation in developing countries.
During last week’s meeting, the world economic leaders adopted a declaration deploring Russia’s aggression in Ukraine “in the strongest terms” and demanding its unconditional withdrawal. They also recognised that while most members condemned the war in Ukraine, “there were other views and different assessments of the situation and sanctions”.
On the global economy, the G20 nations agreed in their declaration to pace interest rate rises carefully to avoid spillovers and warned of “increased volatility” in currency moves, a sea change from last year’s focus on mending the scars of the COVID-19 pandemic. The reference to spillovers was a nod to emerging economies’ concerns about the potential for huge capital outflows if aggressive U.S. rate increases continue.
Also, the leaders pledged to take coordinated action to address food security challenges and applauded the Black Sea grains initiative. But the body has come under intense criticism by Global Citizen, a civil society group, for the absence of concrete steps on hunger. The group says, “Fifty million people are at the brink of starvation as we speak. There is no time for the G20 to issue calls to action, they are the ones who have to act.”
About climate change, leaders of the foremost economic countries agreed to pursue efforts to limit the global temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius, confirming they stood by the temperature goal from the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change. That could boost negotiations at the U.N. COP27 climate summit in Egypt, where some negotiators feared the G20 would fail to back the 1.5C goal — potentially thwarting a deal on it among the nearly 200 countries at the U.N. talks.
However, is the G20 not merely repeating old commitments from previous years or noting developments elsewhere, rather than taking on leadership themselves? When the forum last met in April, the International Monetary Fund (IMF) had just cut its global growth forecast to 3.6 per cent for this year and next and experts warned this could get worse given potential downside risks. Since then, several of those risks have materialised and the multiple crises facing the world have intensified.
The human tragedy of the war in Ukraine has worsened. So, too, has its economic impact, especially through commodity price shocks that are slowing growth and exacerbating a cost-of-living crisis that affects hundreds of millions of people and especially poor people who cannot afford to feed their families. And it is only getting worse.
Inflation is higher than expected and has broadened beyond food and energy prices. This has prompted major central banks to announce further monetary tightening, which is necessary but will weigh on the recovery. Continuing pandemic-related disruptions, especially in China, and renewed bottlenecks in global supply chains have hampered economic activity.
Indeed, the outlook remains extremely uncertain. Think of how additional disruption in the natural gas supply to Europe could plunge many economies into recession and trigger a global energy crisis. This is just one of the factors that could worsen an already difficult situation. It is already tough in 2022 and possibly going to be tougher in 2023, with an increased risk of recession. That is why we need decisive action and strong international cooperation led by the G20.
Therefore, the global economic body must practically tackle the root causes of hunger, extreme inequality and poverty, human rights violations, conflict, climate change, food, and energy price inflation. G20 must develop an economic and social rescue plan that protects the rights of the poorest people and tackles extreme inequality. If the group cannot come together and function at this time of real economic hardship, then it calls fundamentally into question its effectiveness and relevance. So, the challenge for the G20 is to prove that it is still fit for purpose coming out of these annual meetings.
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