Excogitative Deconstruction of the Discourse Dynamics of the Controverted Non-Interest Banking and the Islamicizing Controversy Issues

By benim
In News
Jul 11th, 2011

Approbatory and disapprobative voices have trailed the Central Bank of Nigeria’s (CBN) decision to implement Non-Interest Islamic Banking (NIB) in the country, a package, whose initiative, framework, process leading to its formation and approval in principle date back to the reign of Sanusi’s predecessor, Professor Chukwuma Soludo. Granted that those discommendating the introduction of IB have raised issues of diverse hues, aimed at achieving a common end, this article explores the contours of their perspectival formulations and seeks an objective excogitation of what the IB’s content is, in the eyes of history, world religions and state affairs. Before venturing into the heart of this piece, it appears logical to first delineate and explore the topography and hues of the disapprobative comments.
Topography of the NIB Disapprobative Contestations
Generally, the denunciating voices may be classified into two streams- institutional and personal. The institutional includes objections raised by and through religious groups, newspaper editorials, professional bodies, religious NGOs, and human rights groups; the personal embraces statements issued by individuals of diverse shades and affiliations- professional, religion and ideological.
The fear or rationale underlying the reprobation expressed by a section of the Nigerian organized religious groups is best captured in a yet to be rebutted statement issued in the name of Christian Association of Nigeria by Archbishop God-DoWell Awomakpa. The Archbishop stated, “it has become increasingly obvious that the Islamic community has stepped up its determination to totally Islamise Nigeria as a nation. This observation is clear from the ongoing efforts to establish Islamic banking in Nigeria through the instrumentality of the Central Bank Governor, Malam Lamido Sanusi.” Deducible from this religious objection is that the introduction of NIB- Islamic Banking (IB)- amounts to subverting the proclaimed secular foundation on which Nigeria subsists as a nation-state. It also suggests that NIB is to CAN, an Islamicizing package through which what it considers a partially Islamized Nigeria would be completely Islamicized. One may also contend that established Christian religious organizations are worried that this might lead to suppression of the Nigerian Christian’s economic and political interests. Little wonder, the fearless and Anthony Cardinal Olubunmi Okogie, a former CAN president and Prince of the Catholic Church proclaimed, “we condemn such moves in all ramifications.” We are against the operation of Islamic banking in Nigeria because we see it as another deliberate move to subjugate Christians in Nigeria, Okogie adds.

Although fragments of religious undertone appear to underlie repudiatory reservations expressed through newspaper editorials, one must add that like those articulated by human rights groups, such claims seem to be based on constitutional related matters. Evidential basis for this contention appears perceptible in the June 8, 2011 Guardian Newspaper editorial where it was submitted that, “focus on sharia principles was so total” in the NIB formulation, “that any serious reading of the guidelines makes anyone (not necessarily a stickler for sharia) to wonder if it was not an oversight, nay, “haram (abomination)” that rules purportedly offering sharia-compliant financial solutions could be left to apparent non-Moslems to sign in the first place.” Similar theme featured in the 30 June 2011 editorial of The Sun Newspaper where it was argued that, “though Islamic banking is said to have some benefits that will appeal to Muslims, those who feel uneasy about the idea of a religious bank also have genuine fears.” A more religiously gravitating theme surfaced in the 4 July 2011 editorial of Nigerian Tribune wherein it was submitted that, “the initial guidelines issued by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), on the incorporation of the Islamic Banking Institution, we observe, contained a lot of religious connotations, which are visibly anathema to the constitutional secularity of the country. It was further argued, “even the expunction of the troubling aspects of the guidelines has not totally removed the anxiety of some Nigerians as to the ulterior motives of this Islamic banking project”.

Reservations expressed by professionals and cooperate entities most of whom who spoke under the aegis of Apostles in the Market Place (AiMP), a network of Christian professionals and leaders mainly were mainly on the impermissibility or otherwise of NIB within the provisions of Banks and Other Financial Institutions Acts (BOFIA). Eghes Eyiegen’s (Pharez Consulting CEO) statement which reads, “it is not about religion, it is about the law and professionalism. …You cannot use a small provision in the BOFIA that gives you the power to regulate, to now begin to legislate” authenticates the fore-stated. By further echoing that, “CBN cannot use a guideline to change the law, the CBN is not the National Assembly. If Islamic banking must happen, the CBN should send a draft bill to the National Assembly.” Eyiegen adds legislative dimension as a procedural requirement to the body of argument articulated by those in this quarter.

It appears as well that behind the objections raised by the above group is religious interest, a feature which is in evident in both the communiqué issued by AiMP and in Eyiegen’s remark which reads, “CBN has shown inordinate passion. Those that are worried about the sharia agenda have real reason to be worried. You cannot use a small omission in BOFIA that gives you the power to regulate to begin to legislate. This is not about religion. It is about the law; it is about professionalism”. By insisting that Non-Interest Banking products must be sharia compliant, the CBN has unjustly excluded non-Muslim Nigerians from engaging in Non-Interest banking business,’ AiMP Network stated. Section 16 1(d) of 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) which states that “without prejudice to the right of any person to participate in areas of the economy within the major sector of the economy, protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy” was used by AiMP to buttress its claim. Of note is the part of AiMP communiqué entitled, “’Re-purposing Capital: Non- Interest Banking in Nigeria “ which reads “by its earlier interpretation of NIFI, the central bank has not only introduced Religion into banking but also added clauses that contravene the Nigerian constitution”.

Dominantly, varying tones of personal objections expressed by people of different shades appear to reflect in the remark credited to Mr. Mohammed Fawehinmi, who is struggling to step into the shoes of his father, Gani Fawehinmi, the late legal icon The NIB, the younger Fawehinmi avers, “will wreck our economy and destroy our global financial status as a rich nation.” Mohammed who argues that “Sanusi is carrying out these powers without supervision from the executive and legislature” also wonders, “what is the relevance of non-interest banking to Nigeria now? Of what benefit is it to our economy?”. Like Ogogie, who curiously speculates, “what will happen if Christians wake up tomorrow and say they want to start a Christian Banking scheme and traditional religion practitioners decide to do likewise” the eldest son of Gani Fawehinmi also ponders, “If the Muslims claim they are entitled to Islamic banking, the Christian lay claim to the fact that they are entitled to Christianic banking and the traditional practitioners want traditionalistic banking or Ifa banking or Okija banking, should the CBN readily agree or grant licences to such banks” ?
Granted that a modest overview of the attributive outlook of the disputing voices have been outlined, against the backdrop of what the NIB and the introduction of IB is projected to be by the disputing voices, the NIB/IB would be examined in relation to its conception by the CBN and what it has been in the eyes of history, world religions and present contemporary world affairs.

To be Continued

Adebiyi Jelili Abudugana, the author of this article, a former UNILAG Student Union leader can be reached through abudugana2000@yahoo.com

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