Mr Frank Tietie, an Abuja based lawyer and Human Rights activist, says the newly amended Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) poses no threat to religious freedom.
Tietie spoke in an interview with the News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) on Thursday in Abuja.
Recall that President Muhammadu Buhari signed CAMA into law on Aug. 7, to facilitate the ease of doing business in the country.
But a part of the law, particularly section 839, was not acceptable to some religious organisations.
Although it was not compulsory to register religious bodies in Nigeria, the activist said that CAMA still provided an advantage in the areas of corporate personality and perpetual succession.
“Any group of persons, either Muslims, Christians, or traditionalists that I am familiar with, can operate legally without having to register with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
“That is a fundamental right of every Nigerian, which has the force of law that is fundamental to the existence of the country itself.
“However, the law provides for the optional, twin benefits of corporate personality and perpetual succession to any group who so wish, only on the condition of registration with CAC,’’ he said.
The activist noted that any group of persons, who decided to be registered, means such a group has submitted itself to be regulated by the law applicable to corporates bodies.
According to Tietie, groups cannot continue to claim the twin benefits of registration and reject the corresponding responsibilities to such benefits.
He said that many people, including institutional donors, would not give money to an organisation, whether a mosque or church if they knew such an organisation was owned by one man who laid personal claim to all the property of the group.
He also said that no persons would support religious organisation that doesn’t have a clear-cut succession plan.
“Many members of such organisation often grumble when its leadership is passed onto either the wife, son or daughter of the founder, upon his death.
“Any group of persons that holds out itself to be registered, either as a church or mosque, must operate according to the minimum standards of transparency, accountability and predictability in the management of its property, particularly financial resources.
“There have been recent cries against some of the provisions of the new CAMA, which many claims, are meant to detract from religious freedom. That cannot be correct.’’
Tietie said that the controversial provision of Section 839 of CAMA, which enabled CAC to suspend trustees on certain conditions and in conjunction with the court, appointed interim managers for the association and deals.
The legal practitioner said that the deals were mainly with the property of such an organisation.
“Property is at the heart of the matter, not religious freedom.
“A good example is the application of the said provision is the recent suspension of the trustees of the Mountain of Fire and Miracles Ministry in the UK, for failing to file its financial reports on time.
“The UK authorities reasonably does not have to appoint a Sheikh or Mullah to superintendent over the church.
“Only persons with knowledge in such areas as accounting, management, and administration were likely appointed.
“CAC has always enjoyed such wide discretionary powers in the repeal law that it can transfer the property of one defunct organisation to another that it considers having similar objects,’’ the lawyer said.
He said that there has been clearly, a regime of abuse in the management of the property of religious organisations in Nigeria and called for a serious understanding of the CAMA law.
He added that the requirements for transparency in the Not- for- Profit sector as contained in the new CAMA are not strange to Nigeria’s legal environment.