Taxing Churches, Mosques – Leadership

While discussing the report of the Committee on Religion, delegates to the ongoing National Conference overwhelmingly voted that religious bodies in the country should pay tax to the government coffers. They hinged their decision on the fact that many religious leaders have veered off evangelism to run religious bodies like business ventures. If the recommendation sails through the full enactment process, it means that every kobo made by all churches and mosques will not be spared the Federal Inland Revenue Service’s oversight.
We consider this a generalist approach and inconsistent with global best practices where churches and mosques are treated as non-profit organisations.  Caution must be advised because of the sensitive and explosive nature of religion on the one hand and the fact that the resolution sees religion within the precincts of mercantilism on the other. This is not right. If not properly handled, the issue could precipitate actions, problems and complications that may spiral into every facet of our society.
We are not unmindful of the flamboyant lifestyles of some religious personae who the proponents say “buy private jets when people in their churches are suffering and living in abject poverty.” These are individuals who should be taxed progressively in consonance with their income and expenditure pattern. Tithes and offerings of worshippers which might be the targets of the proponents of this new tax regime are non-taxable income, according to our tax laws.
Churches and mosques facilitate charitable support programmes for widows, orphans, the destitute and other vulnerable groups. Their rehabilitation and reintegration are funded from these non-taxable revenues of religious organisations, and that is salutary. We, however, should desegregate these noble charities from recommendation aimed at putting a stop to sponsorship of pilgrimages by the government. Sponsorship of pilgrimages has no place in national development and constitutes a humongous waste of national resources.
If, however, the targets are the money-making ventures of religious organisations such as schools, hospitals and allied businesses, it is understandable.  Any religious activity that has business-like implications must pay tax to the government like all other secular profit-making organisations. Their workers, including clergymen, should also pay and the searchlight must be beamed on those with ostentatious lifestyles to ensure there are no cover-ups. It is high time we blew the lid on those who cloak their businesses as religious undertakings too. We must strengthen our corporate affairs legislation and oversight to tame tax evaders as done in other climes. But subjecting religion to taxation is duplicitous because the persons who have come to bring these offerings and tithes have already paid their taxes in their workplaces. It amounts to double taxation and a conspiracy against divine dictates if government succumbs to mawkish sentiments.  Religion is sacred and should be treated with every sense of responsibility.

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