I have followed with great interest the debate and controversy over the introduction of Islamic banking by the Central Bank of Nigeria. I would have been very surprised if the Central Bank Governor, Sanusi Lamido, had gotten away with this controversial banking policy without some criticism or opposition from the Nigerian public.
I want to say that it is healthy that people make their views-good or bad, sensible or nonsensical- known on issues of national importance as they have done in the case of Islamic banking. Freedom of expression is one of the hallmarks of a democracy. So what we have seen in the debates over islamic banking is not really a show of shame as some have argued but actually democracy at work. Any program being marketed to the public purportedly for public benefit cannot be shielded from public scrutiny-from public expression of approval, disapproval, objection, reservation, acceptance, criticism or caricarture.
Having said that, I would like to make some clarifications. First of all, I am not a Christian. I am not a member of CAN and need not be one in order to make my position known on this matter. I am not writing on behalf of CAN or to defend whatever may be CANÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s position on the matter. In fact I disagree with the positions of CAN on so many issues. But that is by the way.
I am not against islamic or christian, Hindu or Ifa banking. I believe that muslims, christians and people of all religions and beliefs have the right to manage their finances or investments in line with their faiths or convictions. But that is entirely their business. It is not the business of the government to regulate peopleÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s faith.
It is not the duty of the government to tell Nigerians the best islamic way to bank their money. The government should leave that to the Imams, Sheikhs and the Mullahs
I am a humanist. I am a non religious citizen of Nigeria. I am suspicious and critical of any faith based program. Mainly because in most cases it is opposed to reason and commonsense. It is often an evangelical weapon, what it says is not what it does. Again religious positions are often absolutes, dogmatic and authoritarian. They are divinized. The belief is that one cannot question, challenge or revise them. Because religious positions -no matter how harmful they are or may be- are believed to be infailible dictates of Allah or AllahÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s messenger. Any attempt to question, criticize or change them is haram(forbidden) and often is violently opposed. Any form of criticism is taken to be blasphemy. Critics risk having fatwa imposed on them or being brutally murdered by fanatics. Critics risk being branded enemies of Allah or Islam as the case may be. I support freedom of religion or belief which includes freedom to hold religious beliefs, to change oneÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s religious beliefs or to profess no religious belief at all. I believe people have the right to manage their finances in a way they deem fit. I regard government regulation of sharia banking to be a kind of government interference on religious matters. And that is against the secular spirit of our constitution.
My views and arguments in this piece are personal and do not represent the views or positions of other humanists in Nigeria or those of other humanist groups I work for or represent. Like we say at the humanist movement, we are like minds but we do not always share similar views. I support the separation of religion and state or state neutrality on religious matters. I am of the view that we should keep religon out of our state houses, we should keep religion out of our banks too.
So I want to say right away that the debate over the introduction of Islamic banking is not a waste of time. Nigerians should continue to express their views, concerns and opinions both the good , the bad and the ugly concerning any policy or program that affects their lives.
I want to say categorically that anybody who thinks that the introduction of a sectarian or faith based financial management program in Nigeria will not heat up the polity is greatly mistaken. The person must be a poor student of history-the history of mixing religion and politics in Nigeria. In the past years, attempts to politicize religion or make religous policies state policies- no matter how beneficial they are or are believed to be have always generated controversy. Whether in the attempt to make sharia part of the Nigerian constitution at the constitutional conference in the 70s or the status of NigeriaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s membership of the Organisation of Islamic Conference(OIC) or the adoption of sharia by the muslim dominated states in Northern Nigeria. We have heard all the arguments being reharshed today.Like this claim that sharia is the panacea of our moral, social and economic woes. That islamic banking is in the interest of the people. That it has nothing to do with Islam or religion etc But we know where we are today as a nation with regard to the religious control of our lives, thoughts and culture. Any of us can tell how those measures have improved the lives of common Nigerians. All these theocratic moves generated heated debates and deepened the religious divide as we have seen in the case of islamic banking. Were they also exhibitions of political libidos?
Nigeria is a pluralistic society comprising people of different faiths and none. And the founders of Nigeria were aware of this and tried to stir the country away from religion. That is why Article 10 of the Nigerian Constitution says that No part of the Federation or State should adopt any religion as state religion. If we are to apply this to the issue in question, we can say that No part of the Federal or state bank should adopt any religious banking policy as its policy. And one can further argue that the Central Bank is a state agency. Therefore the Central bank should not adopt any religious banking policy as its policy. But unfortunately our policy makers continue to stir the government towards religion and thereby initiating what some have called the Ã¢â‚¬ËœDialogue of the DeafÃ¢â‚¬â„¢. The Ã¢â‚¬ËœDeafÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ in this case are the policy makers, not Nigerians. Beause they have refused to listen to the Ã¢â‚¬Ëœsecular criesÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ of Nigerians of different faiths and beliefs for equality, justice, non discrimination and inclusion. Many parts of the Federation have adopted Islam or Christianity as state religion, islamic law as state law, christian prayer as official prayer. They continue to mix religion and politics.
At this instance, we should strive to take measures to secure and strengthen the wall separating church, mosque and state and not weaken it. So it is imperative that the state remains secular, that state programs are religiously neutral, that they are not biased against any religion or belief.
Islamic banking is religiously biased. There is no doubt about it. The attempt by Sanusi and other advocates of islamic banking to state or argue
otherwise is flatly unconvincing. Islamic banking is part of islamic religion period. It requires people banking money or managing their finances in line with sharia law. The crafty attempts to market islamic banking as a form of non interest banking or ethical banking will continue to be bogged down by the divine, divisive, sectarian, dogmatic and authoritarian baggage of religion and supernaturalism. Rather the Central Bank should strive and make non interest banking program religiously neutral. It should secularize ethical banking policy so that it becomes inclusive, impartial and non discriminatory. The ethical integrity of non interest banking should be derived from what people think is just and fair, not on what Allah, the Koran or sharia law says.