If you are a pastor and you join a couple after 6pm you may well be heading for jail if the arms of the law catch up with you. If you think it is a ruse, then you needed to have listened to Barrister Tomi Vincent who addressed PFN officials during a session in Lagos, Nigeria.
He was unequivocal in his declaration. “Many pastors are ignorant of the law and many of them are being sent to jail due to a crime that was not their fault. As we speak, Yongi David Cho is in prison and except he gets a presidential pardon he may remain in prison for a very long time. And this is because of a business deal run by his son that went awry. It was not his fault but he is suffering for the sins of his son.
Cho is just one out of many pastors that are currently facing the wrath of the law. With a file full of reports of pastors who are facing legal battles, Vincent explained that being ignorant of the law is not an excuse. He pointed out that pastors are cheap targets of the lawyers because they know their reputation is at stake when they are accused of a crime.”
He cited a number of examples that shocked his listeners. “A CAC pastor was careless about the youth of his youth who came to seek permission that they were going for picnic. They took the church bus. At the picnic, one of them died and the pastor had to be prosecuted for this incidence.”
Another pastor according to him was jailed for unauthorized banking. What happened? “He started what is known as esusu (contribution like cooperative where people could borrow money) he allowed non-members of the church to join. In the process of running this illegal banking, there was a problem on who gets what and some of the members wrote a petition to the police and then the pastor had to answer for the charges.”
There was yet another pathetic case of a catholic priest who blessed a stolen baby brought by a woman to the church. The woman claimed she just put to bed and brought the baby for blessing. Unknown to the priest the baby was stolen by the woman. The police came to the scene and asked the priest if he ever saw the woman pregnant.
Or how do you explain a situation where a pastor accommodates a pregnant woman who was being beaten by her husband only for the woman to fall into labour in the night in the pastor’s house. Before he could get her to the hospital she died. The pastor had to answer for the dead body.
Vincent who has had cause to handle several cases on behalf of church leaders told the bewildered pastors that they have a responsibility to be armed with the knowledge of the law if they are to succeed in their ministry noting that many have gone bankrupt because they take basic legal issues for granted. He cited instances of a church that bought a property with millions of naira in Lekki area of Lagos only to find out that the place was a government territory. The surveyor according to Vincent was all along showing the pastor another survey plan.
He also cited the example of the former president of the Christ Apostolic Church in Nigeria who have been appearing in court over the issue of the certificate of incorporation of the church which was said to be missing. But which was later found to be untrue. There are also cases of pastors who stand in as surety for people but end up in trouble”
Giving a run-down of the basic things they must know, he said, “Pastors should know that marriage according to law should only be contracted between 8 am and 6pm. And the couple should have filed in application at the registry 21 days before the ceremony. And the marriage should be contracted in an approved place of worship. Any marriage that is conducted without following this law is no marriage and the pastor who joined such couple could be charged to the court.
A pastor according to him must ask the following questions:
Is your ministry properly incorporated?
The incorporation being talked about is not the one that we just get some fictitious names together for the purpose of registration. If in the future an investigation is carried out and the pastor fails to present the people mentioned in the certificate of incorporation, then the pastor will be in trouble
Is the constitution well written?
There is no law that says you must register your ministry. You can as well just be a gathering where you come together and pray. But the moment you register with the CAC there must be accountability. There will be need to present your records for public scrutiny.
Are decisions taken in tandem with the constitution?
The pastor should ensure that all the decisions he takes are in tandem with what are stated in the constitution because a dissident member may just capitalize on that to sue the pastor.
Are trustees getting any remuneration from the church?
The trustees are not meant to get any money from the church. If a pastor is a trustee of the church, he is not supposed to draw salaries from the church because everything that about the church is kept in his trust
Vincent could be reached on +234-803302 6306