28 July 2011

Nigeria: The Politics of Islamic Banking System


When the debate on the Islamic Banking started, little did those that set the ball rolling foresaw a situation where the unity and the corporate existence of Nigeria would be at stake. But now with a war signal coming from one of the stakeholders, it is high time the Presidency intervened, BAYO OLADEJI reports.

Nigerians are always in love with controversies and it is almost impossible that a week would go without one burning issue or the other in the front burner for a public debate either for counterfeit or genuine reasons. The most unfortunate thing about these debates, is each is always at the expense of the corporate existence of the country even as each camp is intolerance of dissenters.

Today, one of the on-going debates in the polity is the proposed Islamic Banking which has polarized the country along religious line and each camp is threatening fire and brimstones if its position is not adopted.

The proponents of Islamic Bank have the soft-spoken Governor of the Central Bank, Sanusi Ado Sanusi, who few days ago was on the floor of the House of Representatives debating with self on the good sides of the banking system.

According to Sanusi, Islamic banking was not a new product, since it had been introduced over 35 years ago in over 75 countries and spreading over 435 institutions in United States of America, the United Kingdom, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Singapore, South Africa, Uganda, Senegal, Kenya, Gambia, among other countries.

To buttress his point, he listed DOW Jones, NASDAQ, FSTE and Hang Seng as some capital markets that currently operate Islamic financial products in their daily transactions.

Sanusi informed the House that licences for Islamic banking had been issued in Nigeria to some banks as far back as 1991 when the Banks, Insurance and other Financial Institutions (BOFIA) Act was amended.

Citing an internal memo of the CBN, which he brandished during his presentation, the CBN boss said that the first application to open an Islamic bank was received between 1991 and 1993 from Alquida and Albarka banks, while an approval to open an interest-free bank window was given to Habib Bank in 2004. The approval to open Islamic banking window, he maintained, was given by his predecessor, Professor Charles Soludo, on October 28, 2008, for Intercontinental Bank, United Bank for Africa, Standard Chartered Bank and Habib Bank. Sanusi said it wasn't his initiative as the process began six months before he assumed duty as CBN governor, under the tenure of Prof. Soludo with majority of directors of the CBN who are Christians.

According to him, the CBN Financial System Stability Committee had Professor Soludo as chairman, deputy governor Tunde Lemo, a Christian and a pastor while Dr. Kingsley Moghalu, another Christian, was later brought from Geneva to work with the CBN. Sanusi named a director, Christian Chukwu, as one of the proponents of Islamic banking, even as he noted that the idea was embraced by Anambra State which took a loan from the bank.

However, despite the impression being created by the media reports concerning the acceptability of the proposed banking system, some members of the House have come out to fault this even as they accused the Speaker, Hon. Aminu Tambuwal of bias by not putting the outcome to voting. Among those expressing this position are the Minority Whip, Hon. Samson Osagie, Hon Uche Ekwunife and Hon. Adeola Solomon Olamilekan.

But the unofficial spokesman of the opposition, the highly respected fire spitting cleric, Pastor Ayo Ortsajafor has taken the lawmakers to the laundry for this new development and asked them to withdraw support for the project that might doom whatever reminant of the unity of the country.

Explaining the position of the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN) the cleric said, "We are not against Muslims. Muslims are our brothers and sisters. Nigeria is a nation that has both Muslims and Christians. It doesn't matter what we say, Muslims will always be here. It doesn't matter what Muslims think, Christians will always be here. We might as well accept each other and be happy, because that's the reality. So, we appreciate them and wish them well. The problem is this; what does the original CBN Act say about non-interest banking? The original thing does not specify Islamic banking. I don't know why the CBN governor is kind of twisting things in a way to confuse Nigerians. The original provision is just non-interest banking.

"Islamic banking is just one kind among many other kinds of non-interest banking. So, why would CBN, an organization, an institution that represents the Federal Government, that is an institution that represents all Nigerians zero in on only on one kind of non-interest banking. This is the problem with Sanusi and his idea.

"In education, there is only one set of guideline for those who want to establish schools. The Ministry of Education or any other institution charged with the responsibility in Nigeria will not come out with Islamic guideline, Christian guideline, or native doctor guideline. It's only one basic, level playing field guideline for education.

You want to start a school, you take the guideline, vis-à-vis your belief, to go and start. We have Islamic universities in Nigeria. We have Christian universities. Do they have different guidelines? They all have the same guidelines. This is what we are saying. Now, the guidelines for non-interest banking has been changed two or three times," Oritsejafor stated.

While this was going on, a new dimension was added on Sunday when the Supreme Council for Sharia in Nigeria (SCSN) in a statement declares its readiness to go to war if the proposed Islamic Banking system is aborted even as it warns Christian clerics to watch their tongues!

Speaking through its President, Dr. Ibrahim Datti Ahmed, the group disclosed that Muslims would defend the implementation of the Islamic banking system "with the last drop of their blood" as it called on the Federal Government to call Christian leaders to order over their opposition to the project.

According to the council, "Jaiz bank has come to be and there is nothing they can do about it and if we have to go to war on this, we'll go to war. let those wearing cassocks stop disturbing our peace...being peaceful doesn't mean we are cowards. we warn them to stop disturbing our peace if they want us to live together in Nigeria. everybody can go his way; we don't have to live together. we cant live under people dictating to us how we should live our lives even within the laws of the country..."

Speaking on the new development, a top Presidency official said, "It is regrettable that our religious leaders do not weigh their utterances before releasing them to the air. As the representatives of God, it behoves them to watch their utterances and to be conscious of the implication of every statement they make. We cannot afford fighting another war in this country again. Okay. imagine this scenario, if the group that was beating the drum of war were to be invited and cautioned those involved would begin castigating the Federal Government of intolerance and if we are to live them doing nothing, other side would be accusing us of being bias. As you know religion is a very sensitive matter."

Speaking further he appealed to the two sides to shealth their swords and allow peace to reign in Nigeria adding, "It is when there is peace that we could enjoy the gain of this Islamic banking system."

Interestingly, it is not all Christian leaders that are taking sides with the CAN position, for example, speaking in a sermon last Sunday in his church, Latter Rain Assembly, in Lagos, Pastor Tunde Bakare, the Presidential running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari of the Congress for Progressive Change (CPC) has distanced himself from the criticism of the banking system by Christian leaders, stressing that even though it was christened as Islamic banking, its legality or otherwise remained sacrosanct so long as it operates under the arm-bit of the law creating it even as he argued against those who alleged that the banking could lead to islamise the country.

Instead, he said people were free to practise any religion he or she so desires, explaining that he himself could not impose his own belief on his children if they choose not to follow the Christian faith. Bakare said he had been to Dubai and Bahrain and witnessed developments in those countries.

According to him, "Islam is not the problem but the greed of our leaders. I have been to Bahrain, they practice Islam there and there is progress. If they are practising Islam here and there is no progress, then they are practising worselam."

But in his own view, Rev.Joseph Hayab, the Special Adviser to Governor Yakowa said if the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi goes ahead with the establishment of the bank, it was likely to cause serious problems because some people may hijack it to cause crisis.

"The issue of Islamic banking or non interest banking is not new. We have people who sought for such license in the past, but the question people are asking is, why attaching it to faith?

"Non interest banking is okay, but when you attach it to faith, it is just like the manner Sharia came up. Sharia was propagated and championed by someone in the seat of power, so people misunderstood it. "If some Muslims out of their desire to promote and champion the cause of Islam and decided to gather money and open Islamic bank, there is no problem. But if it is the sitting Governor of the Central Bank that is spearheading it and insisting that it must be, then people will start asking questions," he said.

A top government official who sought for anonymity expressed reservation over the bank because of the position of the CBN Chief, Sanusi. Hear him, "Honestly speaking, the CBN Governor should be held responsible for the controversy arising over the Islamic Bank. It was Sanusi who has been projecting the project. Why? Why can't he allow those who secure the licence do that? What is his business taking side on the matter when he is supposed to be an adjudicator? Now, he has lost the cedibility of doing that because people now see him as the mastermind of the project. In fact, in my Ministry, somebody alleged that Sanusi and a highly placed Nigerian originated the idea when they were together at the helms affairs of the First Bank. How could we fault this allegation?"

An Abuja based Pastor accused the Christians who are the stakeholders in the banking sub-sector of greed and selfishness. According to him, "The interest rate in Nigeria seems to be among the highest in the world and this is why people are looking for the alternative. If they had allowed God to influence the way they run this sytem, nobody would have thought of this controversial bank. Although I totally disagree with Sanusi with the way he is going about his campaign. For example, he refers to one of his deputies, Lemo, as a pastor. Does he call him a pastor in the office? This is nothing but blackmail and it can not work."

From all indications, the Presidency is now in a dilemma whether to allow the project to go on or to stop it. Whichever way the pendulum swings, the unity of the country would be at stake. President Goodluck Jonathan is expected to intervene in the matter before it is too late.

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