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Nigeria's megachurch megabucks

Friday, October 24, 2014 - 02:34

''Megachurches'' in Nigeria attract millions of followers from inside and outside the country - and make millions of untaxed dollars from worshippers. As Hayley Platt reports, questions are being asked over whether the churches are transparent and accountable enough.

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Some of them can hold 200,000 people but there's rarely a spare seat in the house. This is one of Nigeria's many megachurches. Where the country's Pentecostal Christians come to worship. They've spawned almost an entire economy of their own through hotels, universities and merchandising making millions of untaxed dollars. As a charity, the church is tax exempt. But after over 100 people died when a guesthouse belonging to one of Nigeria's leading preachers collapsed last month, focus has been shifting towards the church. Bismarck Rewane is an economist based in Lagos. SOUNDBITE: Bismarck Rewane, Economist, saying (English): "There's total lack of transparency and accountability in the church system, therefore one hopes that it's only a question of time before... even for the good of the church that there should be transparency if not what happens is that the people that run the church if anything happens to them, then there'll be no records." Half of Nigeria's 170 million population are Christians. And the popularity of the Pentecostal church has propelled its preachers to become some of Nigeria's richest individuals. David Oyedepo, Bishop of the popular Winners' Chapel is said to be worth 150 million US dollars. (SOUNDBITE) (English) DAVID OYEDEPO, BISHOP, WINNERS CHAPEL SAYING: "My understanding of fortune is someone who has what he needs to use at any point in time but I don't see myself having 150 million dollars stacked up somewhere or.... whatever way they found their figures, I'm only say that I'm blessed of the Lord." Oyedepo's blessings include a Gulfstram V jet and several luxury cars. He says he needs transport to get to him to the 6,000 branches of his church in Nigeria and abroad. Worshippers in Nigeria typically donate 10 percent of their income to the church. Further funds comes from book sales and souvenirs. (SOUNDBITE) (English) OFFOR IFEANYI, OGUN RESIDENT SAYING: "Worshipping God in truth and in spirit is very very necessary because if I want, I don't know what the enemy would have done with me." On the issue of whether the church should pay taxes, Oyedepo argues his church doesn't use taxpayers money. It builds its own roads and supplies its own water, so why, he asks, should it pay tax?

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Nigeria's megachurch megabucks

Friday, October 24, 2014 - 02:34