Until Pastor E.A. Adeboye stepped down as the General Overseer of the Redeemed Christian Church of God (RCCG), one of Nigeria’s largest and most influential leaders few days ago, very few Nigerians had heard of the Corporate Governance Code of the Financial Reporting Council of Nigeria (FRC) which forced “Daddy G.O” to relinquish his office.
Expectedly, Adeboye’s resignation because of the Code and the likely resignation of many more influential pastors who have led their churches for more than 20 years has caused a controversy which in the end has cost the jobs of the Executive Secretary of the Council and the appointment of a new board and Chief Executive. It has also caused the enforcement of the code to be suspended.
However, if any segment of society that needs this Governance Code for Not-For-Profit Organizations desperately, it is the Nigerian Church. Let us explain:
Some of the key provisions of the Code is that non-profits, which includes churches, hold annual general meetings at which it presents its annual accounts; that it pays tax on activities it conducts that are profit-earning and that a founder cannot head the three governance organs of the organization – the Board of Trustees, the Governing Board and the Management Committee – at the same time. In a situation where a founder has held these offices for up to 20 years or is up to 70 years of age, s/he must relinquish these offices except for the Board of Trustees.
One cannot deny the positive impact of the Church on Nigeria’s development; indeed, long before government presence got to many parts of Nigeria, missionaries and churches were there already, bringing modern education and healthcare alongside spreading the gospel. It was also through missionaries and the church that many Nigerian languages were put into writing.
However, over the past few decades, as a wave of Pentecostalism has swept the Nigerian Church, it has brought with it a strong prosperity gospel and seen the growth of megachurches headed by billionaire pastors. It is now common to see pastors who own private jets and the most exotic of cars, and stories of people who go into ministry and become super-rich are also commonplace.
It is not that having wealth is bad; however, such pastors and their churches have one thing in common: a lack of accountability and transparency in their finances. Details of how much the church earn by way offerings, tithes and gifts and the line between the personal wealth of the founders and the income of the church seems blurred. It is no wonder that church founding is seen by many as a business, and one that is booming.
All of this give the church a bad image and increases resentment for it, especially in a society where the divide between the rich and the poor and where more than two-thirds of the population live below the poverty line. It also obscures the positive work that these churches do in the society; for instance, not many people know that universities run by churches often run at a loss and that many offer scholarships, besides running subsidized or cheap (in comparison to its quality) primary and secondary schools?
As human beings, we all must be accountable to someone, and leaving a person or body without anyone to keep it accountable runs the risk of abusing or misusing their power. Also, it will be hypocritical to demand accountability from our leaders in government and not do same for our leaders in the church. As a matter of fact, accountability from church leaders is more important as they do not just deal with temporal matters, but also with spiritual matters.
Being accountable to the members and being transparent with the finances will also enhance trust for church leadership. It should not be enough to just say that whatever wrong they might do is for God to deal with – that amounts to blind trust and it hardly ever augurs well.
Also, save for the churches established by missionaries and RCCG, not many Nigerian churches have transitioned beyond their founders who are mostly still alive. From all indications, these founders do not have succession plans should they pass away or unable to carry on with their functions as the leaders of the church. It is also common to find these founders heading all governance organs in the church, as well as filling other positions with family members.
These churches are built so tightly around the founders that one will be forgiven for not seeing them as more than personality cults.
The provisions of the FRC Governance Code for NFPOs as it relates to tenure limit for the founders will do the Nigerian Church a great deal of good in confronting the issue of leadership grooming and to consider what the future of the ministries will be after the exit of the founder(s).
All in all, I do not think the Nigerian church should fight the Governance Code. Rather, it should embrace it and see it as a catalyst for it to build enduring institutions that will stand the test of time and outlive its founders.