CAN president to Sharia Council on Islamic banking: Keep your war drums

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*Hits Reps, says they got it wrong

*On Boko Haram: Solution lies with northerners

By Sam Eyoboka, Jimoh Babatunde & Olayinka Latona

NATIONAL President of Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, who recently returned to the country after two weeks spiritual retreat abroad, spoke to journalists  at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Ikeja, Lagos, on Tuesday, on the state of the nation including the vexed issue of Islamic banking and the insecurity in the nation. The CAN president says members of the House of Representatives disappointed Nigerians on their position on Islamic banking.
Excerpts…

While you were  out of the country, the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, governor, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, was at the floor of the House of Representatives to explain the workability of the proposed Islamic banking and, at the end of the exercise, members acknowledged the presentation with applause.  What is your reaction?

This is a very serious moment for us as a nation. It’s a time I think everyone must think seriously before doing anything or saying anything. What happened at the House of Representatives was a shock I think to well-meaning Nigerians; it was a shock because an issue that has generated so much controversy, you invite a man, he comes and he explains whatever he has to you, that is his job, he’s supposed to explain.

Now, after his explanation, we would have thought that a House of Representatives  is representing the  people; based on that, if you are actually representing  the people, you mean your people have no views  on  this? That a man would come, explain himself, you clap for him and you say it is over and he walks out? Does it then mean that you understood everything and it is  clear to you?

We are waiting to hear clearly from the leadership of the House of Representatives. Let them defend what happened. I  appeal to social activists and well-meaning Nigerians not to be quiet. They may think this is an issue they are not  interested in, but tomorrow, another issue  may  come that they will be interested in. If this issue can be treated like this in the House of Representatives, then  they should be prepared for bigger things that are going to happen in the House of Representatives. I am highly disappointed.

Let me again make it abundantly clear, we are not against  Muslims, they are Nigerians. There are some Nigerians who are Muslims, some are Christians, we are Nigerians and we have known each other for years and we will always be here. I’m a bit puzzled when I listen to what is coming from different angles. We are not basically against Muslims wanting a bank that would meet their needs. You can have a bank that will meet your needs.

What we are saying is this, does the law of this country permit the CBN  governor to spend state money promoting a sectional banking system? We are not against  non-interest banking; after all, it started from the Bible. It is the Bible that every other person  got it from. It is like someone or some persons are trying to blindfold Nigerians, but what we are against is the sectional non-interest banking.

The CBN is the CBN of Nigeria and not CBN of Northern Nigeria or of Islamic Nigeria. It’s  CBN of the Federal Republic of Nigeria that comprises everybody.

Now, how do you take state funds running into billions to  promote one kind of non-interest banking? That is a question that must be answered. It is absolutely wrong. Number two, why must you have one set of guidelines for Islamic banking and then probably you will now have another set of guidelines for other non-interest banking? That is wrong and discriminatory. For example,  in the education sector, we have uniform  guidelines for any person who wants to start  a  school. Today,  in this country, there are universities that lean towards Islam and Christianity, nobody is quarreling with that, but do we have separate guidelines for them?

No. The ministry of education has one set of guidelines that covers  the system. So, why create separate guidelines for Islamic banking? It is wrong. You are discriminating and then, you now say within CBN, you will have what is called Sharia Council of Experts, but, after a  lot of pressure, we heard  that he changed it to Council of Experts. Those are just words, now this Council of  Experts, will it include Christians? That is the question. Who are these experts? They are Islamic experts. If you want to do non-interest banking, there are at least three or  four non-interest banking, what we expect from the CBN is one set of guidelines.

The argument by the CBN is that the UK also practises  Islamic banking, does the  Exchequer’s  Office in Britain have a Sharia Council of Experts? Islamic banking in the UK is a very small part of what goes on in  the banking industry  there. So, why make  a big deal out of this?

I have said it again and again, Saudi Arabia is the headquarters of Muslims; we all know them for what they are and what they stand for, we are not against them; but even in Saudi Arabia, the most important industry there is the oil industry, but do they  run the oil industry with Sharia banking?  How are they running it? Is it not with the regular banking?

Some people say Islamic banking is practised in India, but is it Islamic banking that has made India  what it is today? Let’s be honest. I repeat, we are not against Islamic banking per se, but we are against Islamic banking being separated from other non-interest banking and the CBN using state money to fund it and creating so much tension in the country. Why are they not telling Nigerians  the other kinds of non-interest banking? Or is it that our CBN governor doesn’t know there are other non-interest banking?  Why promoting  Islamic banking and not other non-interest banking?

For instance, you don’t expect me to stop selling pork because I want to do business with an Islamic bank because, if I go there, the operations is based on Sharia law and  Sharia law says you can’t touch pork;  so, automatically, I’m disqualified. So, if I want to do anything with the bank, I either convert to a Muslim or close down my business. There are implications  for  these things and we should look deeply into them.

Nobody can intimidate me or the Church. Our children yet unborn will ask us questions and say when this thing was happening, what did you do? There are so many things that happen in Nigeria that people just look and allow.

Council of Sharia on Islamic banking and the threat  of  war
First of all, I’ve just returned to the country and I have not read it. So, it will be very difficult for me to respond comprehensively because what you have just said is heavy, it’s a big statement. For the Sharia Council, going by what you said,  to say they  are ready to go to war, is a big statement. The   problem,  most times, is that they say some of  these things to heat up the polity, but they don’t really seem to identify those who are really heating up the polity.

If a group of people say they are prepared to go to war, won’t you also expect us to respond to that naturally? But, by the time we start responding, people will turn around  to say ‘you are the ones heating up the polity’. It is difficult to comprehend; my only response to what you have said for now is that I want to assume they are misquoted. Let me settle down, give me about 48 hours, you will hear from me, but I will be surprised if the Sharia Council thinks the best way to find a solution to a problem and to bring peace to Nigeria is to declare war. Violence is not the preserve of one person, anybody can be violent and we don’t advocate that. I will never come out to say we are prepared for war, but you are hearing it now.

What is the way forward

The way forward  is, first of all, the governor of  the CBN should  clarify  that things have been mixed up. Non-interest banking is not just Islamic banking. Number two, the CBN governor should revert back to the laws and principles, the Act of the Central Bank. What I’m saying is that he  should not promote one kind of banking above the other. He has to find ways  to change the  guidelines that he has put on ground and bring out  the guidelines that work  for everybody.  He should simply put aside the sectional idea and embrace Nigeria as a country and give one set of guidelines for everybody.

Amnesty for Boko Haram and the threat by a Christian group to revenge the killings of  Christians in the  north

Don’t be surprised. No nation survives  religious war. I pray that Nigeria will not get to that point that there will be a religious war. Boko Haram is not just a group that came up because of economic reason, it is  purely a religious group with a religious ideology. Now, how do you  give amnesty to them? Are you now going to tell them to forgo their religious belief? I don’t rule out dialogue, but I think dialogue should begin within the  north itself, among the Muslim leaders. We are not hearing their voices. When we had problem in the Niger Delta, we heard a lot of Niger Deltans  making noise. They even went to the extent  of saying  the Niger Delta was doing it to create problem for the Yar’Adua  government.

But  what happened in the Niger Delta was completely different. Those boys were crying out because of discrimination, because of marginalization and non-compensation for 50 years of exploiting oil from their land. You go to those places,  water is no longer useful to the people, the fishes are  dead.  Do you know that if you go to Escravos or Burutu, fish is more expensive there than in the city? These are the places where the ocean is, where the rivers are and, yet  fish is expensive. Do you also know that petrol is more expensive there than in the city? These were the things that agitated these boys.

We didn’t support the violent part of it,  we were part of those that supported peace in the Niger Delta. Those in government know that. We did all we could, but did  you ever hear they burnt any church or mosque through all those years  or targeted the Muslim community in the south and started killing them? Nothing like that, but what we are seeing now with Boko Haram is purely a religious  issue. So, like I said, dialogue  should  start with the  northerners themselves who believe in one Nigeria.

So, what they should do is to meet with these boys and find a way to convince them about the way they are going and, while  that is going on, you don’t expect government to just sit down doing nothing. I expect  government to beef up security and work more on area of security.

You can’t have peace without justice and you can’t have justice without truth. It is truth that breeds justice and it is justice that breeds truth, but  as long as we are not saying the truth, we will not have justice because justice  feeds on truth.

First of all, government must find ways to look into the fact that the security agencies have been polarized along religious line. Let’s be honest, these are the things they don’t want people like us to say.

How on earth will bombers get into the headquarters of the police without the help of an insider? Obviously, there are people within the headquarters of the police probably even in the high ranking of the police who are of the ideology or who sympathize with the ideology. So, we have them like that in most of the security agencies and as long as these people are there, whatever the security agencies plan to do, they will leak the report to these boys and so, it makes it almost impossible to actually do much in the area of security.

So, it’s important to get other means and I can’t get into details of this to be able to pinpoint some of such people.

I also believe that  we must reach out to nations that have experience in this area, but I will not mention nations, those in government  know them.  After all, when a terrorist attack happened in America,  Europe helped and when it happened  in Europe, America  helped. The world has become a global village, whatever that affects one country affects the other. So, they need to seek help in the area of training and  other areas.

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