WINNERS Chapel founder Bishop David Oyedepo is being investigated by the UK Charities Commission over the alleged misappropriation of at least £16m collected as tithes between 2008 and 2011.
This is not the first time Winners Chapel and other Nigerian evangelical churches in the UK are being investigated as they collect huge sums from their followers who are made to pay tithes, representing one tenth of their earnings. Under UK charity laws, churches have to declare such income but many Nigerian churches treat such revenue as profit and clergymen regard such monies as personal income.
In this latest case, over £1m (N250m) of the amount in question is said to have been repatriated to the Nigeria headquarters of the church between 2009 and 2011. A spokesperson of the UK Charities Commission said that investigations regarding the charity’s management and policies are on-going.
Congregants of the UK branch of Winners Chapel are given credit cards forms to make donations as they arrive for service. These forms are inscribed with a verse from the bible’s book of Corinthians which reads: “God loveth a cheerful giver.”
Documents submitted to the Charities Commission show that World Mission Agency, the parent organisation of Winners Chapel is worth £8m but only makes paltry donations to charitable causes. Its books shows it donated £10,500 to Great Ormond Street Children’s Hospital, £9,000 to Christian Aid for the Haiti Earthquake appeal and £2,500 to charities in the Lewisham area of London.
In contrast, it transferred £324,683 and £663,532 to its world headquarters in Nigeria in 2010 and 2011 respectively. In 2009 and 2010 N48m was set aside for welfare assistance for an unnamed certain member of the church.
Also, the church claimed it spent N37.25m for charitable activities in Africa. Bishop Oyedepo, who is believed to be the richest pastor in Nigeria, lives a life of opulence, owning at least three private jets and one of the most expensive private universities in the country.
Among other things, Winners Chapel’s Nigerian headquarters prides itself as having the biggest church auditorium in the world that can seat over 50,000 congregants. Joel Edwards, a senior figure in the British evangelical movement and director of Micah Challenge, which is running Exposed, a global anti-corruption campaign directed at churches, business and government, said something needs to be done about this exploitation.
Mr Edwards said: “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 Chapel, to be open and account for its money wherever it goes because it comes originally from hard-working faithful people.”