Vanguard (Lagos)

3 October 2013

Nigeria: Private Jets, the Church and Nigerians

opinion

Recently, Mallam Nasir El-Rufai, claimed to know the source of the plane owned by the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor. It is now running into weeks and he is yet to tell how the Pastor got his plane.The annoyed Pastor has threatened to sue.

If suing is best the way to deal with this type of man, he should be sued to tatters. Litigation is perhaps the only language such a man will understand, since he obviously has no respect for servants of God.

In his book the Accidental Public Servant, he took a swipe at OBJ under whom he served as a Minister. At one time he thought,laughably, that Igbos were not well educated; at other times he seemed to be against everybody and everything Nigerian.

I pray he gets a good trouncing from the Pastor. There are many Nigerians who consider themselves wealthy enough to own private jets; why should that of Pastor Oritsejafor be his problem? El-Rufai must learn to respect Men of God, and stop the jabbering with Christianity and Church leaders. Period!

Nigerians, they say, top list of private jet owners in Africa, spending N1.3 trillion on these big flying toys.Our aviation sector has brought into sharp focus, the paradox of a nation that is endowed with huge oil resources but where only a few are wealthy.

In a country where the average Nigerian lives on less than $1 a day, there is a super-rich class of business moguls, bankers, preachers, politicians and oil magnates whose private ownership of jets is more than that of any other country in Africa.

In fact,the ownership of the state-of-the-art jets in Nigeria had grown from only 50 in 2008, to over 200 in 2012.

Their planes mostly carry foreign registration credentials rather than Nigerian registration, for which the owners have their reasons, while Nigerian money continues to flow from our super-rich to other nations because of the hostile registration environment.

The chief of the many factors that have encouraged the rise of acquisition of customised jets, which cost between N2.4 billion and N9 billion, is the fact that flight schedules in the aviation industry are no longer flexible.In a situation like this, wealthy Nigerians would opt to acquire their own private jets to save time that would have been wasted waiting for flights whose times of departure are not known.

The FG has begun to impose a luxury tax on the non-scheduled flights of private jet owners and operators in Nigeria. A tax of USD4, 000 is now to be levied on the owners and operators of foreign-registered private jets for every flight departure within Nigeria, while Nigerian-registered private jets have to pay USD3,000. The tax has to be paid before each departure. Private jets are for the super-rich.

How right is it, therefore, for a Pastor, or an Alfa, to own a private jet, being a person managing and running a non-profit organisation per se? There are two sides to the question: On one side are those who say the work of God is a big business, and also with big rewards.

The pastor needs to take the advantages of the private jet to cope with the ever increasing challenges of his work, both as a preacher and an evangelist. After all, he is serving His Father in heaven who owns all the gold, silver and wealth on earth. Jesus died poor that His believers may become rich. Wealth, affluence and opulence become proofs of serving a rich God.

On the other side, are those who think that modesty and humane standards should define the life style of Church leaders. As servants of God, most of their wealth should be spent on humanitarian works rather than on pleasure.

They are thus expected to be pious and humble, helping in the reduction of the spiritual and physical sufferings and groans of the people around the world, victims of wickedness in high places, deceit, bad rulership and bad governance all over the world, especially in Nigeria. They argue that Christians should live in modesty and humility, shunning boisterous life styles.

The early missionaries were not men of super affluence. They had the money from their home countries, but used this money to introduce and enhance human development in the world around them. Money is of no use if it cannot be channeled to change the life of the majority of the people for the better. Politicians, business men, and others, may live as they like, servants of God are not expected to follow the world.

Many out of ignorance and lack of knowledge have therefore argued that churches and mosques should be taxed.Where the clergy has accumulated wealth, using his gifts, influence and time well, nothing excludes him as a person from being taxed based on his known income.

But the Church and Mosque being charitable organisations involved in humanitarian non-profit ventures cannot and should not be taxed. Whereas there are a few religious leaders who are very affluent, an overwhelming majority of the rest struggle over their annual budgets.Non-governmental organisations, NGOs, cannot be taxed because of their services to humanity.

The multiplicity of religious and non-governmental organisations in Nigeria make it mandatory now that a Charities Commission be set up by government to register,regulate and control all charity organisations and their activities in Nigeria.

The Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, should be relieved of the burden and responsibilities of registering, regulating, controlling and monitoring all charities, including NGOs.

This way, the CAC will be more focused on the creation of the necessary enabling environment for company development in Nigeria.

The Charity Commission should be a non-Ministerial Government Department, part of the civil service which registers and regulates charities in Nigeria. Charities are accountable to the public, so the Charity Commission will prescribe the rules and regulations of registered charities in the best interest of society.

Mr. CLEMENT UDEGBE, a lawyer, wrote from Lagos.

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