Churches and Mosques Should Pay Taxes

 
altA look at the statement credited to the Executive Chairman of Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS), Mrs. Ifueko Omogui-Okauru may appear shocking to a lot of people. At first, some people may quickly regard the statement as sacrilege, others may ask if she is an atheist or an Africa traditional religion

adherent. “Churches and mosques are not exempted from tax payment because the constitution says every citizen must pay tax irrespective of where he or she works”. There is the need for Ifueko to create a clear distinction between these religious organisations (registered non-profit making, philanthropic entity) and the employees (nation’s citizens) of these religious organisations. I do not have problems with the employees of these religious groups paying taxes, because Jesus the Chief Labourer in the Vineyard, paid his tax as a citizen (Matthew. 22:17-21, Mark 12:14-17). But Jesus did not go to the synagogue to ask the chief priests and scribes how much was in the coffers of the synagogue so as to pay taxes from it. Rather, He overturned the tables of the moneychangers and other traders in the synagogue, and said “My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:12 -13, Mark 11:15-17).

 

The constitution clearly exempts religious organisations from paying taxes so far as they remain non-profit making philanthropic organisations and do not engage in profit making ventures. But, what do we have today? God’s house has been turned into a den of thieves! People who call themselves “men of God” instill fear in their followers so as to extort money from them, live in mansions, drive state of the art automobiles and some have gone as far as to buy and maintain private jets while a larger percentage of their followers are living in abject poverty. Why can’t these pastors learn from mother Theresa, who sold all she had, even cars that were given to her as gifts were sold to ensure that she meets the needs of the poor? Don’t tell me that mother Theresa was upright because of her religious sect. If you read the book entitled “In God’s Name”, you will see how corrupt the leaders of her religious sect are.

 

Some time ago, it was revealed that one of the popular churches here in Nigeria with its headquarters along the Lagos-Ibadan expressway acquired a new aircraft for N4bn ($28m). To allow its leader carry out his calling more efficiently, the church bought a Gulfstream 4XP which has the capacity of about 15 passengers depending on its configuration and it was flown into Lagos from Bahamas. It is also very embarrassing to see pastors competing on whose aircrafts are bigger or better. On seeing what the above pastor did, another pastor with his church headquarters along Ota-Idiroko Expressway, who already flies around in a challenger aircraft, decided to order another aircraft obviously bigger and better than the one acquired by the first pastor who just bought his first aircraft.

 

Apart from costs of purchasing these aircrafts, the operational cost is another point to consider, a lot of money is spent maintaining these aircrafts and paying the crew, in addition to the landing and parking charges. Unlike a commercial aircraft that is always in the air, private jets spend more time on the ground and must be checked before taking off.

 

According to an aeronautical engineer at the Murtala Mohammed Airport in Lagos; “The same with refitting parts. These are parts that are changed after every 12 or 15 calendar months whether you are flying or not, so, acquiring a private aircraft means that you are ready to be spending money to keep it going.”

 

Let us also look at the other side of the divide, where religious scholars force children who are entrusted in their care to go several kilometers away from their homes in order to beg for alms. When these children return, the alms are collected from them while they are made to return to the streets again for the collection of more alms, thereby exposing these young Nigerian citizens to all kinds of dangers just because of monetary gains.

 

It will be worthy to note that there are a few of these religious leaders who are true and responsible to the service of God. They spend all their collections and other personal earnings for God’s work, they provide f
or the poor, the indigent, the homeless, the sick and the oppressed. These are men and women of God who do not care about mundane things; they do not have earthly possessions to their names because they want to see other people happy.

 

It may be safe for me to believe that Ifueko may have officially had access to the bank statements of some of these religious bodies and probably their leaders, she must also be aware of this extreme show of affluence by these pastors before making her pronouncement.

 

After presenting the good, the bad and the ugly sides of religious organizations vis-à-vis money, it is my opinion that Ifueko should consider both sides of the coin and leave the issue of taxing religious organisations aside and focus on those areas where she has generated several billions of naira for her motherland in the past. God is the owner of these religious organizations whether their activities are good or bad, leaves God to judge and tax them. No wonder He said He is going to start the judgment from His house. Ifueko has done well for this nation in her office as the nation’s number one tax collector; she does not need anything that will provoke God’s wrath.

 

McDonald Koiki

[email protected]

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