RECENTLY The Pointer Newspaper of Saturday, September 12, 2015 in a story entitled “Religious Institutions to Pay Tax on Investments,” one Barrister Frank Nwugo, a member of the Delta State Board of Internal Revenue cited some sections of the law and thereafter, concluded that churches will henceforth be taxed for investments such as school, vehicles, business outfits, and land acquisition. He added in his last paragraph that, “even Jesus Christ himself paid tax.”
It is necessary at this point to note that when the righteous are in power the people rejoice and l like to add that when the tax master is in power and wants the people to pay their taxes with their blood, the people become weary.
Indeed, the said publication is not only provocative against the Church, it does not represent the position of the law of taxation in relation to ecclesiastical bodies in Nigeria. In fact, the publication, by my estimation, is intended to project the government, at all levels, in bad light before Christianity and Islam which are the two dominant religions in Nigeria. The end result of this is to set the Church and the Mosque against the government.
No doubt, in the last days the Church is expected to fight many challenges. In fact, there is an army of strong people who want to take the Church to the cleaners but the Church will continue to impact on its operating environment especially with men of the spirit still in the Church. As a religious leader in Nigeria, let me say that I am compelled to put the records straight. No one taxes the Church and the Mosque. It is a common practice across the world. Tithe is older than tax. Tax started from the time of Caesar. The Bible records that Jesus Christ paid tax for himself and his disciples but not for the Church.
It is a common knowledge that, both the churches and the mosques have schools. But it is wrong to tax any of these schools which are institutions of religious learning as they are established by these religious bodies to help the less-privileged. There is a difference between the establishments of ecclesiastical organisations and establishments of non-religious or private organisations. The Federal Republic of Nigeria has one major law that regulates taxation which is the Personal Income Tax Act.
Section 19(1) of the Act read together with the Third Schedule thereto provides clearly that: “The income of any ecclesiastical, charitable or educational institution of a public character in so far as such income is not derived from a trade or business carried on by such institution,” shall be exempted from taxation.
The government had the clear intention to separate the churches as well as the mosques and all their earnings and investments in the form of schools, cars, etc from any form of embarrassment by tax. No one can tax God; instead, one is required to bring all his tithes and offerings to God so that the state and the nation can be blessed. When the citizens flourish, the state and the nation at large will certainly experience high standards of living.
Besides, the tendency to impose double taxation on Nigerians is unacceptable. This is so because individual members of churches and mosques pay their taxes to the government. How will they now pay tax a second time at their places of worship? If we go by what was published in The Pointer Newspaper by the tax agent, it becomes double taxation. This is so because people give to the Church or Mosque out of their gains or profit and this is certainly after tax.
The Church admonishes Christians to pay their taxes individually to the government, it will be insensitive on the part of the tax office to overstretch that collaboration to begin to tax the churches and mosques to pay tax for church lands for instance, cars, buses, schools, etc. Religious institutions are non-profit organisations the world over.
In the United States of America (USA), when a church buys anything as a body or when people donate funds to a church, such resources are given tax exemptions. This is also the practice in Britain. By this concession, the government gives support to churches. If we run a democracy in line with that of the United States certainly, people in leadership position should contribute to the Church and the Mosque in order for both religious organisations to handle their daunting tasks in the present world.
For instance, the government of Chief James Onanefe Ibori, from 1999 exempted all mosques and churches in Delta State from buying stickers for official vehicles. Ask yourself why should we at this time ever contemplate taxing religious institutions and their investments in Nigeria? That aside, religious institutions are doing their best to support government to make society safer and better for all. For instance, churches are investing in agriculture to encourage members to go into agriculture and other sectors to grow the economy.
Is it wrong for the church to complement government’s efforts and make life better for the people. Is it wrong for the Church to empower its members to own plantain plantations and take to the cities to sell while providing jobs for some teeming youths and so on? Does it occur to apostles of tax regime for religious organisations that the religious organisations that currently run schools employ millions of people and by that act takes a lot of people out of the unemployment market?
We recall that when the military government decided to forcefully take over schools from the Church some years ago, the end of such blunder was cultism, criminality, bribery and corruption in our schools. If any state government plans to tax the Church in Nigeria, the Church will rise to stop it.
To say that standard of education came down is an understatement. To make matter worse we soon began to show lack of confidence in our own schools, that was when we started sending our children to study in Ghana, Cameroon, Benin Republic, South Africa, Liberia and so on. Now that the government has decided to return schools to the original owners, the effort of the church to revive the comatose institutions of learning should not be discouraged by any tax policy.
If any state government plans to tax the Church in Nigeria, the Church will rise to stop it because from the beginning it was not so. I doubt if the Mosque will accept it equally. For me, it is unacceptable to the Clergy and absolutely unacceptable to the Laity also. In fact the Church will not take it kindly because it is unlawful. It is unbiblical. It is sacrilegious. Owa joma hotor!!! (Let’s be careful) and let us remember that the poor and the rich have something in common: God made both. Let not our leaders be pushed to introduce policies that will further deepen the agony in the land that the Church is battling to confront spiritually. A word is enough for the wise.
Archbishop God -dowell Avwomakpa is the chairman of Christian Association of Nigeria, South South zone.