28 October 2009

Nigeria: Faseun And Islamic Banking


Abuja — Dr. Frederick Faseun needs little or no introduction in Nigeria. A medical doctor and self-styled President/Founder of the Odu'a Peoples' Congress (OPC), the ethnic militia that claims to be the defender of the Yoruba, he is a veteran of the organization's intermittent civil wars and of its battles against the regime of late General Sani Abacha and any one or group it regarded as anti-Yoruba.

Lately the man has been waging a personal war against Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, erstwhile chief executive officer of First Bank who President Umaru Yar'adua recently appointed to replace Professor Chukwuma Charles Soludo - he of the banking consolidation fame and now controversial candidate of the PDP in the forthcoming governorship election in Anambra State - as governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria.

Sanusi, a Hausa/Fulani aristocrat like the president, says Faseun in a series of full page advertisements in newspapers entitled "Questions after Sanusi raided 5 banks," is unfit to be CBN governor for at least two reasons; he is an ethnic bigot and a Muslim fanatic. In Part 3 of the series in The Guardian of October 9 sub-titled "The Man Sanusi - Prey to Predator", Faseun quoted extensively from the man's numerous interventions in the past in national debates to prove his point.

Of the thirteen questions he posed in the advert about the character and competence of Sanusi to manage our apex bank, I found the sixth indicative of how shallow an otherwise educated person can get when he allows blind prejudice to get the better of his rational thinking.

"We have seen how his views are coloured by ethnic bigotry, what about his devotion to Arabic and Sharia Studies?" Faseun asked. "Of course," he said in self-reply, "all such derogatory comments against other nationalities within the Nigeria project surely put a question mark on Lamido Sanusi's qualification for the office of the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria. As soon as he seized the key to the CBN, he launched a personal campaign for Islamic banking, a very alien and sensitive affair in a country still mired in the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) and Shari'a controversies. But the question is whether Sanusi's first acts are not measures aimed at giving conventional banking a bad name in order to promote his pet ideas of Islamic banking."

Sanusi is, of course, very much capable of defending himself as he has shown in his many encounters with journalists and in his testimony before the Senate as governor-designate. So this piece is not out to defend him.

Even then I must say I found it strange that anyone would accuse the man of "seizing" the key to the CBN presumably to pursue an agenda of Islamic banking. As Faseun knows all too well, far from seizing the key to the CBN, the man got the job in spite of a most vicious and well-funded campaign in open and in secret to stop him from succeeding Soludo. He also got it after giving a good account of himself before the Senate on how he intended to sanitize the banking industry that was galloping towards a catastrophic implosion under Soludo's watch, in spite, some would even say indeed because, of his heroic effort at consolidation.

Similarly it is also strange that Faseun would argue that the measures that Sanusi has taken so far to sanitize the industry amounted to merely giving conventional banking a bad name in order to hang it. Only someone living on another planet would not have known that if anyone gave conventional banking a bad name it was the conventional bankers themselves, what with their opaque governance culture and the obscene and indefensible executive pay they gave themselves.

It is unfortunate that a man of Faseun's education would allow himself to be so driven by personal animosity that he finds it impossible to acknowledge that even the devil has his due, let alone someone whose villainy is debatable. And if the texts I received from the readers of my column in The Nation of August 26 on Sanusi's reform of Soldo's reform are anything to go by, Faseun must be among a tiny minority who believe Sanusi is a villain; of the 95 texts I received on the article, less than a dozen said he was pursuing any sectional or sectarian agenda.

Even more unfortunate than Faseun's apparent personal animosity towards Sanusi is his obvious disdain for Islam.

Faseun claims Islamic banking is "a very alien and sensitive affair" in this country. Sensitive? Perhaps. But alien?

If Islamic banking is sensitive in this country it is not because its application would do any damage to our economy. It is simply because people like Faseun who do not like Islam and whose views dominate our media suffer from this knee-jerk beggar-thy-neighbour attitude of objecting to anything the other person or group holds dear even when it could be of universal benefit.

I am sure Faseun and those like him who are instinctively opposed to anything Islam know all too well that Islamic banking has since established a global presence in Europe, Asia, America, Africa and, of course, the Middle-East. The last region may be overwhelmingly Muslim, but the rest are not. By some estimates Islamic banking in all these regions is now worth over $750 billion in assets. And the on-going global financial crisis has only led to even greater interest in it among financial experts and laymen alike the world over. This is for the simple reason that Islamic banking - and not surprisingly, the Holy Bible itself - forbids speculation which is the root of the crisis in Faseun's "conventional" banking.

Here I would like to refer Faseun and others like him who seem to think nothing good can come out of Islam to a survey entitled "Islam and the West" by The Economist - the West's pre-eminent newsmagazine whose editors are by no means Islamic Jihadists - dated August 6, 1994.

In a section of the 18-page survey sub-titled "The cash-flow of God", the author concluded thus: "The economics of Islam, in short, is not as special as its enthusiasts claim; but neither does it deserve the usually rather ignorant sneer it gets from many non-Muslims. As one bright Malaysian banker says, 'If the scholars of the Koran had economic degrees, they would understand what we are trying to do!' And if Western economists knew more about the Koran, so would they."

Even without any understanding of the workings of Islamic banking anyone with half an eye can see that there is nothing inherently bad about it. And as for Faseun's claim that it is alien to Nigerians, nothing could be more fallacious and untenable.

Islamic banking alien in a country at least half of whose population is Muslim? Haba! How blinded by our prejudices can we get!

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