Some senators, on Friday, raised the hope of church leaders advocating a review of the controversial Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) as it affected religious and non-governmental institutions and insisting that the legislature should revisit the law to address the contentious aspects.
The CAMA Act was passed by the 8th National Assembly but did not get the assent of the President, Major General Muhammadu Buhari (retd.).
However, the 9th Assembly reworked the aspect that made the President withhold his signature and passed it again for approval.
But the signing of the bill into law by the President has sparked off protests by the Christian Association of Nigeria and founders of some Pentecostal churches, who claim the law was enacted to enable the government to take over the administration of religious institutions and NGOs.
The source of CAN’s concern was a section of the act which empowers the Corporate Affairs Commission to suspend trustees of not-for-profit organisations like the church and appoint an interim management committee to manage their affairs for reasons bordering on funds mismanagement.
CAN argued that the government has no business dabbling into the affairs of churches and questioned the insertion of the provision into the act without getting the views of its members.
The senators, who spoke with our correspondent on the issue, agreed that enough legislative consultation was not carried out before the amended bill was forwarded to the President for his assent.
The lawmakers pledged to raise the issue on the floor of the Senate when the National Assembly resumes from its current annual vacation on September 15, with a view to addressing all the contentious areas for necessary amendment.
The minority leader of the Senate in the 8th Assembly when the law was passed, Senator Biodun Olujimi, said the law should be revisited for necessary amendment in the interest of peace and religious harmony.
She said, “The issue is a very contentious one. The amendment was carried out before I joined the 9th Senate. So, I wasn’t part of it and I didn’t quite understand how the contentious section got into the bill. It was about to be signed by the President before I resumed.
“However, if we want to do things right, we should have had a public hearing that would have religious leaders in attendance and they would have stated their opinions. Whether that was done or not, I am not aware.
“I would not want to comment further on something that I am not very sure of but, beyond it all, religion is a very dicey matter in Nigeria and there is a need for everybody to be circumspect on it.
“Why have we not been able to pass the Gender and Equal Opportunities Bill? It is because of religion. Why have we not been able to do so many key things that are very important to the people? It is because of religion. Why are we now going to use that to upset the apocalyptic?
“Therefore, there is the need to look at the bill again and see what can be done. I am one of those who will speak to the Senate President when we resume, to say the time has come for us to look into the CAMA issue and see how best Nigeria can do it without hurting the religious bodies.”
Another female senator from the South-South geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, told our correspondent on Friday that she would support any motion aimed at revisiting the CAMA issue.
She said, “I have listened to the argument of CAN and I think we erred as a parliament by not getting their input before amending the act and including the controversial sections. I believe we should look at the law again for possible amendment.”
Senator Francis Fadahunsi, who represents Osun East, noted that the issue was a very delicate one which the parliament must handle with utmost care.
He said, “The leadership of the Senate should have a dialogue with all the aggrieved parties on the issue with a view to resolving the matter amicably.”
But a lawmaker from the North Central geopolitical zone, who spoke on condition of anonymity, agreed that the matter should be revisited but that there should be checks and balances in the affairs of churches.
He said, “Church leaders are now concentrating on how to generate money, instead of winning souls for God.
“CAMA should be amended to ensure that government representatives in the boards of trustees should also be Christians.
“If the Muslims are not upset by the new law, then the issue of checks and balances should not be a cause for concern for the Christians too.
“Non-Christians should not be involved in the running of the churches.
“When there is an issue bordering on the mismanagement of church funds, the church leaders could be invited to nominate members of the caretaker committee, subject to government approval after due diligence on them, pending investigation.
“Religious and state affairs should not be mixed; they should be separate. There should be no church or mosque within government circles.”
Meanwhile, the spokesperson for the Senate, Dr. Ajibola Basiru, declined to comment on the issue.
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