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FACT CHECK: Is the Nigerian Government Planning to Set Up an Agency to Monitor Churches?

FACT CHECK: Is the Nigerian Government Planning to Set Up an Agency to Monitor Churches?

Verdict:  The claim is FALSE

The Claim

A 55-second video, titled: “The Church of Christ in Nigeria in Danger!”, has been circulating on social media especially on WhatsApp and Facebook which claimed that the Nigerian government had concluded plans to set up an agency to monitor churches across the country.

The professionally produced video, which kicked off with the pictures of the Kaduna State Governor, Nasir El-Rufai and President Muhammadu Buhari, unnamed inside sources in Aso Rock, Nigeria’s State House, revealed to the makers of the video, that the administration of President Muhammadu Buhari has hatched a plot to against churches in Nigeria.

The video claimed that this plot would be carried out through a new agency that would be established in August, National Faith Relations and Regulation Commission (NFRRC), will be given the task of “monitor and regulate church operations” in Nigeria.

The video claimed that the agency roles would include to monitor church operations, to scrutinise church account, to restrict pastors from maintaining foreign accounts and to regulate church messages to avoid “hate speech”.

The video also stated that other functions of the agency include prohibiting churches from investing in the housing and aviation sectors, and the agency will prosecute pastors and prominent church leaders who engage in “hate preaching.”

The video then claimed that Bishop David Oyedepo of the Winners Chapel, Pastor Paul Enenche, of the Dunamis International Gospel Centre and Apostle Johnson Suleiman of the Omega Fire Ministries Internation (OFM), have been marked as the first targets of the new agency.

The video further claimed that the Presidency had earmarked a former Inspector General of Police Suleiman Abba to head the so-called NFRRC.

The video asked called on Christians to protect and defend the church. Also, ends with a hashtag: #VoteWise2019

The Fact

Fact-checkers at the Centre for Democracy and Development investigated the claims in the video to ascertain if the Nigerian government was indeed planning to set up an agency to regulate and monitor churches.

First, we did a Google search to see if the so-called NFRRC had been reported in the news or mentioned by any government official or agencies in the past, the search did not produce any result.

The executive arm of government cannot unilaterally establish regulatory agencies and commissions without recourse to the National Assembly. Agencies and commissions become legal by an act of the National Assembly. This means that before the executive arm of government can set up regulatory commissions and agencies, it must first submit a proposal (bill) to the National Assembly for the creation of such commissions, which will be deliberated and put to the vote and if successful will be sent to the president for assent.

We search for NFRRC on the website of the National Assembly; the search yielded no result.

Also, the religious organisations are treated as charities and ones they are registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), they are not placed under any form of regulations.

A look at some of the functions of the so-called NFRRC shows that its claims are false, at best and at worst, a piece of disinformation aimed at causing religious disaffection. It is also aimed at misleading voters to vote in a certain.

For instance, the video’s claim that the so-called NFRRC “will prohibit pastors from investing in housing and private jets, will negate the constitutional rights of pastors from owning properties and other assets, therefore cannot stand as the constitution is the supreme body of law in the country, and any law that negates will automatically become null and void.

This particular claim is meant to pitch the followers of Pentecostal churches whose pastors own private jets and are known have substantial real estate investments.

One of such pastors is Bishop Oyedepo who was among the three pastors named in the video of being the target of the fake commission.

Putting “hate speech” and “hate preachers” in quotation marks, the producers of the video are indirectly stating that they do not believe in the general definition of hate speech or hate preaching. The by using a seal with the word Censor on it, the video is suggesting that the new commission is being set up to censor pastors that are critical of the government or its policies.

This point is further buttressed by the naming of Pastor Suleiman and Pastor Enenche, who have stirred controversies in the past for the slant of their preaching. Also, both preachers have had altercations with El-Rufai, whose picture was shown in the opening of the video.

Finally, the producers of the video exposed what their primary reason for producing the video at the end is. After calling on Christians to protect and defend the church, the video ended with the hashtag: #VoteWise2019. The hashtag is meant to make Christians vote against a government which it falsely claims is doing everything to clamp on churches. To them, voting wise in 2019 means voting against the government to stop the stop the creation of the fake commission, which starting date it mischievously claimed is August 2019, which is after the swearing-in date.