The Lagos State Government on Tuesday debunked viral report on the social media suggesting that it was planning to commence paying salary to religious leaders in the State, saying the claim was totally untrue and misleading.

Commissioner for Home Affairs, Mr. Abdulateef Abdulhakeem who made the clarification while speaking on a television programme monitored in Lagos, said there was no iota of truth in the said report, and urged members of the public to disregard it in its entirety.

He said: “The clear position is that the Lagos State Government is not intending to employ Imams and Pastors. There is no such plan and there is no willingness on our part to delve into a private realm.

“What exists in Lagos State is that there is a symbiotic relationship between the Lagos State Government and faith-based organizations and it is a mutually beneficial relationship which has contributed to the growth and development of the State,” Abdulhakeem said.

In the said report, Abdulhakeem was quoted as saying that the State Government would soon place religious leaders on the State salary structure to encourage them to use their Pulpit and the Minbar to re-orientate citizenry to shun corruption and immorality.

Clarifying his statement, the Commissioner said: “I must have been misunderstood or misquoted. We were at a forum where we were trying to encourage religious leaders to be advocates against corruption because religious leaders have millions of adherents and they enjoy the allegiance of millions of followers and we expect them to use the Pulpit and the Minbar to advocate for good governance and selflessness so that they can influence their members positively.

“In Lagos State, one of the remarkable successes of the present administration is that we have cutting-edge approaches to relating with religious leaders and that is why Lagos remains the most peaceful and most religious crisis-free State in the federation inspite of our cosmopolitan nature.”

Already, the Commissioner said a structured approach had been put in place to relate with religious leaders in the State through the Nigeria Inter-Religious Council (NIREC) which consists of people nominated by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) and the Muslim Community across the 57 Local Councils in the State.

According to him, “We have them at the State level; they meet regularly in the Home Affairs and instead of leaving them as dysfunctional silos, we ensure that there is an integrated approach.

“They meet regularly to interact on religious issues and the Governor, Mr Akinwunmi Ambode has even further decentralized that whereby over 700 of them were appointed based on their nominations and they are volunteers who are not paid anything. They come together to nip religious crisis at the bud,” he said.

He added that the general approach of the State Government to religion was that of rule of law, good governance, constitutional democracy and more than anything, the observance and preservation of the fundamental human rights of Lagosians to freely practice their religion.

“Section 38 of the Constitution is very clear and explicit that every person is entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion including the freedom to change your religion and the freedom to either alone or in community with others practice, manifest and propagate your religion. Clearly, that is unequivocally telling you that religion is a private affair as far as the Lagos State Government is concerned,” Abdulhakeem said.

Responding to a question on why the State Government was yet to implement a Court of Appeal judgment on the use of Hijab by school girls, Abdulhakeem said being a government which firmly believes in rule of law, the State Government was awaiting the pronouncement of the Supreme Court on the matter which, he said, was already before the apex court.

On taxes, the Commissioner said though religious institutions were exempted according to the State laws, but any religious body which engages in commercial activities was liable to pay tax.

“Religious institutions are not taxable under the Lagos laws but where religious institutions engage in business transactions like schools and so on, then such are liable to pay taxes but as far as the institution is concerned, it is exempted from paying tax.

“Also, those who convert their buildings into Mosque to avoid paying taxes, we have made it abundantly clear that you are not allowed to convert residential premises into religious centres. So, people should just respect God the way the Lagos State Government has respected God and do not come under that arena to avoid payment of taxes,” he said.

Besides, the Commissioner said the State Government had already embarked on massive enlightenment and re-orientation against noise pollution by religious leaders, but any resident who is affected by such should however report either through the Lagos State Environmental Protection Agency (LASEPA) or the Ministry of Home Affairs for action.