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Tax question rages in Mosques, Churches

But in a swift reaction, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie quoted section 7 (1) of the laid law which, he said,…

But in a swift reaction, the Catholic Archbishop of Lagos, Cardinal Anthony Olubunmi Okogie quoted section 7 (1) of the laid law which, he said, excludes churches from paying tax for the land they use. He, however, called on the public to cooperate with the government in its efforts to preserve physical features like rivers, lakes, lagoons and the ocean.

Considering the glamourous lifestyles of affluent pastors, observers feel that it would be a step in the right direction if the wealthy men of God are asked to plough back what they get from the public, for the development of the society, as they appear to be contributing little to the development of the society, by way of paying tax. They argued that the tax would be used by government to develop infrastructure for the common good of the people who willingly contribute to the coffers of the worship places.

But this argument has drawn the ire of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) president, His Grace, Archbishop John Onaiyekan. In an interview with Sunday Trust, the Catholic Archbishop said it was wrong under whatever guise to tax places of worship since they are non-profit organizations.

Reacting to the allegation that Fashola is planning to implement a stringent tax regime that would require places of worship to pay for the land they use, Onaiyekan said: “As long as a church is a non-profit organization, there is nothing to tax, you only tax profit. The issue of non profit organisations not paying tax is not only in Nigeria, it is all over the world. By the name non-profit organisations, it does not mean that there is no money there, but whatever money that is there is used in a non-profit way. The sooner we encourage this kind of thing in Nigeria, the better. Churches that run schools, that run hospitals and welfare programmes ask members to contribute for such purposes and once the money comes, they use it for the execution of the projects. These are the things that government should be doing, but they are not doing. And in many countries, such organizations are subsidized by government but here they don’t do it. ”

He said that the issue has not come to CAN officially, and even if it came, it would be better if the religious places of worship in Lagos took their complaints to the Lagos State House of Assembly where it will be thoroughly thrashed on the floor of the House. He said since this is a democratic dispensation, it was always better for the government to take a sound decision and then the people would abide by it, stressing the fact that such issues are not new in the world as churches and mosques have different status in different parts of the world.

“Some governments do not even allow churches to be built, not to talk of taxing the ones that are already built. Even here in Nigeria, there are some parts of the country that even to build a church is a rough battle. And there are places, of course, where government uses money to maintain churches. In Europe especially, the old churches are protected as cultural heritage of the nation and government pays money regularly for the maintenance of these churches. If the government of Lagos decides to be a government that has no respect for churches and mosques, that is their own decision. But if you ask me, I will say that is not a good image for our country. And we are not going to gain much from that act because we need God’s help and they should tax some other places. Our country has a very high regard for God and God’s places of worship, so we expect Lagos state government to cultivate that habit.”

He lamented that government has not been tapping its vast resources very well and it would be a pity if, suddenly, a state government realizes that tax collection should be effective to add to government’s revenue and then start with religious bodies. According to him, government should start taxing people who own mansions across the nation and also, people who spend stupendous amounts of money on weddings and birthday parties of their children.

He, however, said that a church is not supposed to be a business centre so anybody who turns a church into a business centre should be taxed like any other business. “But it is not me who is going to come out and say this church is business, that church is business. And before government comes out to say that a church is business, it must have proof. You can’t just look at a church and say it is business, you must have proof for it,” he said. Cont’d from page 22

For Rev. Fr. Mathew Kukah, it is a welcome development for government to begin to realize that people who evade tax under the guise of shepherding the flock should be made to fulfill their obligations. “As a citizen of Nigeria, and by being a priest, I have not relinquished my citizenship status, so I should be happy to pay tax on what I consider as my personal income. As a catholic priest, I don’t have a direct income but I don’t consider myself a poor man because I have got a house and I’m pretty well fed. I am allowed some little amount of money to buy my personal items. So I don’t feel that I am disadvantaged. I could be a lecturer in the University and earn money and I see no reason why I shouldn’t be taxed. I am very happy with what the Lagos State government is doing because it is trying to do what some of us would want to see, to introduce some level of professionalism in how government is run.”
He added that the introduction of tax for spiritual leaders would discourage some of the miscreants who have gone into church business because of the new trend of prosperity gospel preachers. He said it was high time grain was sieved from chaff so that people who are divinely ordained to propagate the gospel can do their work with integrity.
He, however, said that mosques and churches should not be taxed but that an effective tax regime should be put in place so that ministers of God’s and Imams’ personal incomes can be taxed. “I am not saying tax mosques and churches but there should be a tax regime which could determine where everybody fits in,” he said.
Imposition of tax on places of worship, according to an Islamic cleric and Executive Director of Islamic Foundation in Nigeria, Ustaz Muhammad Jamil is unnecessary and uncalled for. He said the Lagos State Government has enough resources from both its internally generated revenue and the federal allocation to execute its developmental projects in the state.
“I want Governor Fashola to understand that mosques are not profit making organisations. Therefore, I don’t see any reason why they should be taxed. In fact, it’s the Muslims that shoulder the responsibility of building and maintaining these mosques,” the executive director said.
The cleric added that Mosques, unlike other places of worships of other religions, are not financially viable. He said that “Unlike places of worship of other religions, our mosques live on the stipends faithfuls give as alms. Even in Lagos State, most of the Mosques are characterised by dilapidating structures such as leaking roofs, poor infrastructure that include carpeting, toilet and drainage systems. How do you expect these mosques that are in dire need of assistance to pay any tax?”
He cited the case of the National Mosque, Abuja saying that former President Olusegun Obasanjo had to intervene before it was renovated. “Look at what happened in the case of the National Mosque. President Obasanjo had to make it a national monument before it was renovated.  How do you tax a place that can’t even maintain itself? Some of the state governmens have not yet redeem the pledges they made during the appeal fund for the mosque renovation.”
 He therefore urged the Lagos State government to concentrate on its developmental effort on bettering the lives of its citizens, not to be distracted by this policy that is capable of pitching against the same people that voted for it in the first place.
Since the issue has some legal implication to it, Sunday Trust spoke to Barrister Raymond Nyagba of Kokuna Chambers, Labour House, Central Business District, Abuja. According to him, it is not only right to pay taxes to government but it is also necessary. “It is not as if the law is not there. It is because government has not deemed it fit to enforce what is already in existence. For example, most of the churches are duly registered as corporate bodies and technically it means that they are legal entities, they own properties, they do business, they earn income.  And to be very specific, under the Companies and Allied Matters Act, which is the legal framework regulating the registration of businesses, churches and mosques are incorporated trustees under part `C` of the act. And part of the requirement is that all the incorporated trustees should file in annual returns with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), stating the affairs of such organizations.”
He argued that since the places of worship are dully registered and referred to as corporate entities, it would only be proper for them to remit their annual returns to CAC, stressing that it is mandatory under the law for all income earners to pay their taxes. “Once you are an income earner, corporate or individual, the law requires that you must pay tax. It is a fact that places of worship earn income.”
He countered the argument that money generated in these worship places for sacredly for the use of God’s work and so should not be taxed. “If you say the money is for God, who is Gods? If you use what you generate in churches to invest in the stock market, if you use what you earn in churches to invest in various kinds of profitable businesses, are you not doing business? Let me tell you what most of these churches do is business, take it or leave it. If you say the money is used in winning souls, I don’t know what you mean by that, but as far as I know, and from a legal perspective, churches are not excluded from paying taxes. It is left for the government to ensure that are made to pay tax,” he said.