Oyedepo in trouble over tax evasion in Nigeria and UK… The Law must take it’s course, Amosun insists

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By Busolami Idowu and Adeola Ayinde

Bishop David Oyedepo, founder of Winners’ Chapel, was in Abeokuta to meet with Governor Ibikunle Amosun of Ogun State. The meeting was facilitated by former president

Gov. Ibikunle Amosun
Gov. Ibikunle Amosun

Olusegun Obasanjo, whom Oyedepo contacted to reach out to the Governor over the latest controversy involving Oyedepo’s church and tax evasion matters.

Sources close to NigerianEcho said that Governor Amosun did not conceal his disgust at the conduct of Oyedepo’s followers. Pastor Oyedepo was reported to have pleaded for leniency, but the governor who was visibly angry said the church must pick the hospital bills of the victims and replace all the damaged equipment. The governor was also said to have insisted that law must take its course in the matter

Two days earlier, some members of the church assaulted a team of officials of the Ogun State Ministry Of Urban and Physical Planning, who had gone to the church’s headquarters in Ota to serve building inspection notices, as well as two journalists attached to Ogun State Television.

Peter Falomo, a reporter, and Lekan Egunjobi, a cameraman, were the worst hit. A statement issued by Alhaji Yusuph Olaniyonu, Ogun State Commissioner for Information and Strategy, said the journalists were savagely beaten, their camera seized, the recording deleted and the camera damaged before it was released. Olaniyonu alleged that Oyedepo was present; watching the assault as though it was a spectator sport. “The assault was witnessed by the Head Pastor of the Church, Bishop David Oyedepo, who equally was visibly angry at the decision of the officials to attempt to carry out their statutory duties in his church premises,” said Olaniyonu. The commissioner added that Oyedepo repeatedly spewed insults at the officials and asked why they imagined they had the licence to regulate building of structures for commercial purposes in his church premises.

Aside from the journalists, two officials of the ministry were also wounded by church members, who denied the team access to the church premises. The victims were taken to the General Hospital in Ota, where they were treated and subsequently discharged. The church authorities are said to have severally ignored invitations to meetings of the Stakeholders Forum, set up by the government, for organisations in the state to discuss with the government issues like physical planning and taxation regulations.

General Manager, Ogun State Urban and Physical Planning Board, Mr. Stephen Adewolu, who led the team of officials, accused the church authorities of acting as though they were above the law. “No organisation can carry on as if it is above the law. We have information that the people in that church are just building structures indiscriminately without building approval, without necessary environmental impact assessment reports and they are violating planning laws and regulations,” Adewolu said.

It was the second assault on government officials by Oyedepo’s followers in as many days. A day before, officials of the Ogun State Internal Revenue Service, OGIRS, who visited the church premises to effect the payment of outstanding taxes were similarly attacked.

Officials of the agency said the outstanding taxes, which cover a seven-year period, are owed by Kingdom Heritage Nursery School, owned by Oyedepo’s church and located within its headquarters. The tax owed is put at less than N2 million. “What they owe is below two million naira. It is from 2003 to 2010. We have sent several notices to them. The first one was in 2010, followed by that of 2011 and the last was in May 2013. Our men were explaining to them when some personnel, including their legal officer and accountant, came out and in the course of discussion, our men were beaten blue black and our equipment were destroyed,” OGIRS Chairman, Mr. Jide Odubanjo said.

During a press conference a day after the assault, the state government showed a video of the attack on OGIRS officials and subsequent detention of journalists for three hours by staff of the school. The video was recorded on the sly by a government official with a mobile phone and later downloaded on DVD. The detained staff was released following the intervention of the Divisional Police Officer of Onipanu in Ota Division. Odubanjo said the service is legally empowered to access and inspect financial records in the premises of any business located within the state. He explained that the recent inspection was part of the government’s drive to ensure compliance with tax laws and enforcement efforts. Odubanjo added that the visit to the church’s headquarters became necessary in view of the fact that the authorities of the church had ignored reminders to pay up.

Muyiwa Adejobi, Public Relations Officer of the Ogun State Police Command, said the matter will be investigated. Ogun State Attorney-General and Commissioner for Justice, Mrs. Abimbola Akeredolu, said her ministry is studying the facts on the two incidents with a view to fashioning an appropriate legal response.

Before the meeting with Oyedepo, Amosun was said to have met with some key officials of his government, including heads of law enforcement agencies, and taken a decision to seal off the premises of the church last Monday. The decision was, however, leaked to the church, a development that pushed Oyedepo to seek Obasanjo’s assistance in getting through to the governor.

It would be recalled that Pastor Oyedepo has been having a running battle with The British authorities who have also developed an interest in his church in Britain. Reports have it that Oyedepo has received an estimated £16 million in tithes from followers between 2008 and 2013. Of this sum, according to a recent report in The Guardian of London, over £1 million has been transferred into the church’s operation in Nigeria, this is the major reason for which the Charity Commission of England and Wales is scrutinizing the church’s finances.

The Guardian reported that the Charity Commission was investigating allegations that charitable funds that accrued to Oyedepo’s church have been misapplied invariably called capital flighting. The commission is looking into two Christian charities connected to Oyedepo, estimated by Forbes to be worth $150 million, over concerns about misapplication of charitable funds and conflicts of interest.

World Mission Agency, the church’s charity vehicle, registered with the commission in 2001 and lists its objectives as the proclamation and advancement of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Its 2011 accounts list Pastor David Oyedepo Jnr, the preacher’s son, as its chief executive.

Investigation showed that World Mission Agency and Winners’ Chapel International, shares the same trustees and website as World  Mission Agency, registered in 2010 and lists among its objects the advancement of education and the relief of those in need.

The latest accounts on the commission’s website show that World Mission Agency had an income of £224,000 in 2011, but spent almost £7.5 million. World Mission Agency – Winners’ Chapel International had an income of £11.9m in 2001 and spent £3.4m, according to its 2011 accounts.

The World Mission Agency annual accounts for 2011 state that its net assets, valued at £8.5m, were donated to World Mission Agency – Winners’ Chapel International. According to World Mission Agency’s accounts, the sum £663,532 was contributed in 2011 by the congregation “for onward transmission to the world headquarters in Nigeria”. The year before, payment to the Living Faith Church totalled £324,683. In 2009 £149,000 was sent “for charitable activities in Africa”.

Other payments from the cash donated weekly by the congregation include £192,000 in 2009 and 2010 as “welfare assistance” for unspecified “certain members of the church”. Identified charitable donations were discovered, however, to be considerably smaller. These include £10,500 to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital in London, £9,000 to Christian Aid–an international charity that attends to emergencies worldwide–for the Haiti earthquake appeal and £2,500 to charities in Lewisham, East London.

Joel Edwards of Micah Challenge, which runs Exposed, a global anti-corruption campaign aimed at churches, business and government, praised the generous spirit of congregations such as that of Oyedepo’s church, but called on church leaders to be more transparent. “All of us have a growing concern about any kind of mercenary response that puts cash at the centre of Christian faith. I challenge any movement, including Winners, to be open and account for its money wherever it goes because it comes originally from hard-working, faithful people,” said Edwards.


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