IT is rather unfortunate that every issue in Nigeria today is debated on the basis of ethnic or religious sentiments, while every action taken is politicised, becoming a weapon for further escalation of animosity among Nigeria’s citizens.
What is more alarming is when religious leaders join the bandwagon in fanning the ember of hatred and enmity through provocative pronouncements and combatant posture against programmes and policies that might have good intentions.
The recent brouhaha over the non-interest banking grossly associated and referred to as Islamic banking system is one debate that has created divisions in the polity. Interestingly the Islamic banking principle was mooted long before the appointment of the current Governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi as attested to by principal insiders in the apex monetary institution. In an interaction in CBN, Pastor Tunde Lemo, the Deputy Governor of Central Bank in charge of Operations disclosed thus: “Islamic banking is a programme that started several years before the appointment of the current Governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi”. He added that the first application for license was about 10 years ago. He went on to mention that more than three years ago he led a team to Malaysia to develop the framework for non-interest banking, part of which, of course is Islamic banking.
Also at the floor of the National Assembly when he was summoned by federal legislators, the CBN Governor expressed dismay over the unfortunate tendency of treating every single national matter on ethnic and religious basis. While denying suggestions that the new banking policy has religious motives, he said most of the key decisions preparing Nigeria for an Islamic banking were taken under his predecessor, Professor Charles Soludo who is a staunch Catholic and that communications detailing the guidelines for the transactions were signed by the Deputy Governor of the bank, Tunde Lemo, a Christian cleric.
Sanusi also disclosed that Professor Soludo approved Nigeria’s fulltime membership of the International Islamic Banking Council, while the administration of former President Olusegun Obasanjo approved Nigeria’s full membership of the Islamic Development Bank, IDB. Meanwhile many Nigerian banks, including Bank PHB, Intercontinental Bank, and the United Bank of Africa, UBA, have long sought windows to operate Islamic banking in the country. Bank PHB has operated the banking system in minimal measures since 1999, the CBN boss added. In addition, the Securities and Exchange Commission, SEC, and the Nigerian Depositors Insurance Corporation, NDIC, have long issued guidelines for Islamic funds and Islamic insurance, respectively.
Before this disclosure, the current President of Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, a Niger-Deltan, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, has been the arrowhead of Christian critics against the non-interest banking. He uses the harshest words of condemnation over the issue. Meanwhile other respected Christian leaders deliberately refuse to engage in provocative statements but rather take diplomatic steps towards resolving the misconceptions.
There are various ways religious leaders can promote their faiths without resorting to provocative and intimidating statements in an effort to prove there are strong leaders. We have seen how other peace-loving religious leaders provide scholarships, establishing institutions of learning and investing in ventures that could be inspirational for evangelism and at the same time promote religious tolerance and peaceful coexistence among people from diverse backgrounds.
Some Christian leaders like Bishop David Oyedepo, Pastor E.A. Adeboye, and even Prophet T. B. Joshua, among others, have received endorsement of government to establish Christian universities and broadcast stations that were neither objected to nor criticised by Muslims and their groups. Those institutions established by them are also patronized by non-Christians. Today, for instance, more than 80 percent of faith-based universities in Nigeria are owned by Christians. Since such educational ventures are positive steps towards economic growth, there was never any objection or campaign of calumny from Muslims to associate such ventures as attempt for “Christianisation of Nigeria”.
Unlike his predecessor, Archbishop John Onaiyekan who established and maintained cordial and mutual relationship with Muslims and Islamic groups in Nigeria towards a united and prosperous country based on better understanding, Pastor Oritsejafor is always engaging in political activism and actions that are mostly against anything Islamic and the sections that are presumed as predominantly Muslims. Rather than engaging in unnecessary outbursts, Pastor Oritsejafor and his co-travellers clamouring against the introduction of Islamic banking should be advised to channel their energies towards ensuring the realisation of Christian banking in Nigeria that could be fashioned in line with biblical injunctions.
Though Islamic banking system is globally recognised as financial model for investment alternatives, the prohibition of usury or charging interest on loans as well as investment in prohibited goods and products are not only abhorred in the Quran but also have references from verses in the Bible. Some sections that prohibits usury, for instance, in the King James version of the Bible include: Exodus 22:25-27, Leviticus 25:36-37, Psalm 15:1-5, Deuteronomy 23:19-20, Jeremiah 15:10, Ezekiel 18:7-9, 17 and Matthew 25:27, just to mention a few.
Though literatures on Islamic banking and finance are in their thousands, getting similar publications from the Christian perspectives should not be difficult to obtain. In fact, the many Christian universities in Nigeria are not established to churn out graduates but to provide scholarly materials in various subjects. Pastor Oritsejafor should exploit those potentials and also engage scholars and intellectuals to work out the frameworks for Christian banking in Nigeria. The Nigerian Muslim will surely not object or condemn the initiative just like similar programmes and policies initiated and formulated by Christians.
Since Christian professionals in the financial world, including our Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala and Segun Aganga, among others, have spoken to express supports for the Islamic banking, including the recent endorsement by the National Assembly, agitators against the system should either give peace a chance or go to court, the last resort.
It is dangerous to use religion for selfish political power and economic gains when it should be the weapon to uplift our spirituality and enhance moral standards in whatever we do. No one should be against Christian banking in Nigeria even if operated side by side with Islamic banking.
Mr. YUSHAU SHUAIB is a former Press Secretary, Federal Ministry of Finance and Revenue Mobilisation Allocation and Fiscal Commission.