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In new offering, Oyagha deepens church administration

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One of the most memorable passages in the Bible describes Jesus response to some agent provocateurs, who had hoped to trap him into conflict with the Roman ruler, Pilate. Asked if it was right to pay tax, “render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s” was Jesus famous response.

This memorable reply would foreshadow Paul’s own in Romans 13 where he admonished Christians that they were obliged to obey all earthly authorities, explaining that as God had made those in authorities, disobeying them amounts to disobeying God.

The foreground is the kernel of Michael Oyagha’s thematic preoccupation in his new writerly offering, Church Administration in Nigeria: In the eye of the law.

Oyagha has not only deepened understanding of contentious issues in the country, but does so with a remarkable candour. Having two formidable backgrounds in ecclesiastics and the judiciary, Oyagha puts to bear his knowledge and grasp of both ‘callings’ to navigate through the thorny issues a lot of writers, who have had inclinations towards the subject, in the past, have run away from.

Analytically, Oyagha delves into his subject, firstly by explaining what Incorporated Trustees mean; and then foregrounding the legal responsibility of the church in that light.

As a matter of reference, he makes allusion to a Supreme Court Case, which involves the Iwaya Community in Yaba, Lagos State, and the Anglican Church. The case involved a land dispute that lasted for more than three decades.

Subsequently, the writer goes into arguably the most controversial subject in the country: should the church (or religious bodies) pay tax? He does not give a straightforward answer, as legal professionals are wont to do.

In stead, he takes some time to explain the concept of tax and the various forms of it. He thereafter makes reference to the exemption status of religious bodies, alongside charity and educational institutions. A caveat is, however, thrown into the reckoning as to the situations that may warrant the paying of tax by the church or such organisations with exemption status. One of those is a situation where the church involves in a trade.

A remarkable feature of Oyagha’s book is his eyes for detailed enunciation of fact and case studies. One will expect such rigorous detailing from a lawyer. He does not, however, fills up his work with avalanche of details, which may overwhelm the readers. The readers will actually find them as apt referential utilities. Through subjects as, Why Church End Up In Court, Church Property, Pulpit Immunity, Corporate Governance for Church, Conduct of Church Marriages, Homosexuality, the Law and the Church in Nigeria, Health and Safety Environment in the Church, Legal Risks Facing the Church and Church Leaders, and Dispute Resolution Mechanism for Churches, the author engages the legal rights and responsibilities of the church with various instances of allusions to the Nigerian constitution and the Bible. He also refers to earlier court cases whose pronouncements have served as precedence.

It is, definitely, understating the fact to say clergies and other religious leaders will find Oyagha’s work a worthwhile resource material. Conclusively, the book will help to address situation, which, in Oyagha’s own words, “the absence of requisite knowledge of the law as it relates to Church administration in Nigeria has led to many Churches and their leaders being found on the wrong side of the law.” He further quips, “Mind you, ignorance of the law is not an excuse neither is it a defence.”


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