18 July 2011

Nigeria: Islamic Banking - Time for Policy Discourse, Please


Mni — Tons of written and verbal commentaries on the new (old) CBN's policy initiative on Islamic Banking could very well fill a banking hall of a bank yet to be licensed.

Paradoxically most commentators so far are not disinterested commentators. Sorry, the commentators are not interest-free as the principle of Islamic banking envisages.

On the contrary, the self-appointed protagonists and antagonists alike are motivated by anything other than banking and economics of which Islamic banking is just a specialization.

What we have at hand so far is purely an avoidable and unhelpful clash of some petty religious fundamentalisms as distinct from informed disagreements arising from some structured policy discourse.

The most outlandish is my colleague in the naughty business of weekly commentary; Mallam Bala Muhammed. His back page of Weekly Trust entitled Leave Our Bank Alone (see 2nd of July) was vested interest driven rather banking informed. His concluding remark sums up his religious preferences as distinct from CBN's announced policy guidelines. Witness him "Let them leave our Bank, Jesus' Bank, God's Bank, alone! Lakum dinukum wa liya din!" Haba Bala! I have listened up teeth time to the Governor of CBN, Sanusi Lamido.

According to him Islamic banking is all about financial inclusion and financial deepening for a nation begging for much needed financial resources for development. Exclusivist mindset which informed such literary dictation such as Leave Our Bank alone does not in any way advance a policy discourse on the proposed Islamic banking as promoted by CBN. Islamic banking is all about financial inclusion, not financial exclusion. First at the upstream! Only 20 per cent of Nigerians currently patronize banks. Islamic banking undoubtedly opens up a window of opportunities to capture more depositors who may be Muslims and non Muslims alike.

There is a shared value regardless of faith that we must in Nigeria work towards a cashless society. Islamic banking is one strategy to achieve this singular goal.

Kenya is not an Islamic country. But Islamic banking has helped to improve financial inclusion and financial deepening there. At the down-stream end, Islamic banking is open to all just as any other forms of banking are opened to Muslims as long as you play by the rules of engagement and inclusion.

Therefore Bala does not inadvertently need to pitch "Nigeria Christian clergy" against the Vatican which according to him already appreciates the "ethical principles" on which Islamic finance is based any way.

The singular fact that the Vatican chooses to promote policy discourse rather than religious bigotry means that the challenge at hand is policy and policy discourse not clerical shouting matches and point scoring. Bala ought to therefore be more measured to explain the principles of Islamic financing to those yet to be converted, sorry to know, regardless of faith rather than throwing dart at the "lives of luxury; on fleecing their congregations; on buying private jets; on paedophilia; on gay bishops; and, closer home, on the daily 'Pastor-puts-in-family-way' scandals". Economics, calls for explanations, logical reasoning and persuasion not a smear campaign at others, a smear campaign that indeed mirrors the true lifestyles of all of us regardless of faith! Collapse of industries and poverty are not faith blind. The critical question is how Islamic banking makes a difference from the existing commercial/industrial banking in moving Nigeria forward open the path of development.

It is time we engaged each other from the perspective of fundamental inclusive problems we all shared namely; unemployment, income, food, social and job insecurity rather than exclusive labels we carry; Muslims or Christians. India and China, for instance float zero interest banking that finances and propels textile industry from import substitution to export promotion.

Yet neither China nor India carries the labels of Christian or Islamic countries. Similarly my sister, Aisha Kabir Yusuf muddled up the case for Islamic banking with her unhelpful legitimate religious prejudices. Witness her; "In the final analysis, if Nigerian Christians want to establish banks that go with their 'no usury' Christian principle, then by all means they should apply to the CBN to register their 'Christian bank'. For now they are only raising hell over the 'Jewish bank', and amazingly the Jews aren't complaining." Haba! From simple policy discourse about a form of banking which Islamic banking represents, Aisha has deviated into some unhelpful fundamentalism and even racism.

What is "Jewish" about a bank? Is it because it is interest driven or manned by Jews? Is it all about our race, tribe or our faiths, economic preferences or piety? Many existing commercial banks are manned by Muslims managers. Does that qualify them as "Muslim" banks? Terms like; "Christian" bank, "Jewish" banking have nothing to do with CBN's new policy initiative. On the contrary such terms only arm the chieftains of religious-industrial complex such as the President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor who irreligiously and certainly unfairly accused CBN governor of wanting to "Islamize" the country through Islamic banking.

In terms of exclusive terms and categories the difference might not be clear between both the protagonists and antagonists of Islamic banking after all. But the challenge is for CBN to increase the tempo of its all inclusive awareness campaign on its core inclusive albeit contentious policy initiatives, namely recapitalization of some banks, intervention development fund, non-interest banking, its autonomy and accountability and cash limit policy among others.

Copyright © 2011 Daily Trust. All rights reserved. Distributed by AllAfrica Global Media (allAfrica.com). To contact the copyright holder directly for corrections — or for permission to republish or make other authorized use of this material, click here.

AllAfrica publishes around 2,000 reports a day from more than 130 news organizations and over 200 other institutions and individuals, representing a diversity of positions on every topic. We publish news and views ranging from vigorous opponents of governments to government publications and spokespersons. Publishers named above each report are responsible for their own content, which AllAfrica does not have the legal right to edit or correct.

Articles and commentaries that identify allAfrica.com as the publisher are produced or commissioned by AllAfrica. To address comments or complaints, please Contact us.