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Religious Institutions: To Tax Or Not To Tax?

By Pamela Agboga.

There has been a lot of hoopla about the call for taxing religious institutions based on the kind of wealth some church leaders have been displaying. While no formal actions have been taken, the churches have been very proactive in their self-defence. No sooner had Femi Falana aired his views than the Primate of Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion), Most Rev. Nicholas Okoh faulted his argument on the strength of the fact that ‘if there is an excess in one or two individuals. It is not a justification for government to impose taxes on the church.’

CONTENDERS:

FEMI FALANA and supporters: Due to the recent jet- buying spree by some Pentecostal pastors, taken as a sign of excessive spending, he has called for taxing of religious bodies.

CHURCHES and Supporters: They believe that they contribute to the country in the communities where they are established and actually help the government yet they do not receive any aid from them apart from the tax exemptions. They provide water, schools and various other amenities, along with spiritual guidance and succour to their members.

FACTS:

  • At this time, religious bodies are registered as trusts and not companies; they are not run for the purpose of making money, and so are not taxed. They are funded by donations, offerings and (in the case of churches) tithes. Some have other special offerings they take which they give special names like seed offerings, etc.
  • The orthodox churches do not classify themselves in the same category as the Pentecostal as regards this spending matter, nor for that matter, do the Muslims and perhaps the Jewish and Hindu communities.
  • The Pentecostal churches believe the private jets are of extreme importance to the ministry of the gospel, much like their internet presence or television ministry.

While I do think this is much ado about tithing (offerings are freewill donations), until the legislative arm takes it up, the questions that this issue raises have been very interesting. Here are just a few:

  1. Why is it now, when the country is under religious pressure, that a call is made for taxing religious institutions?
  2. Since the crux of the matter seems to stem from tithing, will it just be churches, since those of the Islamic sect claim they do not pay tithes? Let’s not even go near the matter of the tiny fledgling churches that have not even found their feet in funding yet.
  3. If these taxes are taken, how does that affect the country? With all the taxes being collected from the oil companies, what has been done to better the country? How will church tithe make THE difference?
  4. If the pastors had not bought the private jets, would we have been hearing about this? In all honesty, would they not still have the money but just use it for a less obvious cause, like take shopping trips every fortnight?

I am betting you have even more questions. Until the legislative think the issue is worth tackling, let’s keep asking, but let’s ask fair and not let this matter degenerate to a blood bath. After all, tax is just money, and money is just paper. Why kill yourself over paper?

 

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Chojare Pamela Agboga is a Legal Practitioner, Writer, Editor, Chartered Secretary and Administrator. She is currently working on her first novel 'Weekends are for Loving' as well as a devotional for women.

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