By Aliyu U. Tilde
Nigerian Bishops and Islamic Banking, Plus the Missing Link
I will not be surprised if this essay is short in the end because honestly there is little to add to the blind statements circulated daily around the country in the name of ‘debate’ about ‘Islamic’ banking, which the country, we are told, must ditch for the sake of its ‘unity’. The whole wahala about Islamic banking is mounted on the defective tripod of debate, Islam and unity, which are poorly joined by the clandestine glue of self-interest.
Debate is about objective reasoning. But there is no reason in this one, much less objectivity, at least not to my hearing so far. The speakers opposing the motion of Islamic banking have failed to make a single point, economic or constitutional. Instead, they flaunt threats, as if intimidation will earn them the points which only reason could accord.
There are also reservations about the characterization of the interest-free banking as ‘Islamic’. Many learned people, including some prominent Muslim scholars in Nigeria, would readily argue that interest and usury are not synonyms. But even if we grant that interest is usury, then Islam is not innovative in forbidding it. Christianity and Judaism have earlier condemned strongly. Categorizing it as ‘Islamic’ also gives the feeling, albeit a subtle one, that the contemporary interest-based financial institutions, including the World Bank and the IMF that have aided the proliferation of misery in the world, are Christian. We must not fall into this trap of the bigotry. Let us keep in mind that the West has abandoned many teachings of Christ (blessings be upon him) long ago, just as the Muslims have long abandoned an equal quantum of the teachings of Muhammad (peace be upon him). Very bad followers of the trio – Moses, Jesus and Muhammad – inhabit the world today. Oh Heaven. Come to our rescue.
The third leg is the ‘unity’ of Nigeria that is often used to justify any self-motivated clamor. We have seen this before in the OIC question of the 1980s. It was said that the country would be divided if it becomes a member of the organization though Kenya, Ivory Coast, Ghana, Uganda and so many Christian dominated countries did not give up to the ghost when they took the OIC membership pill. Nigeria must be a strange beast, therefore. The reaction was the same when the country contemplated taking an interest-free loan from Islamic Development Bank. Again, the cry was Nigeria does not need the Bank since it is ‘Islamic’. It should take it from the IMF where, as someone put it, the country finally paid $16billion on a $5billion loan, and still owed the debtors $28billion. But it is cool in the eyes of our Bishops because IMF in their misconstrued judgment is ‘Christian’.
And now it is the turn of interest-free banking that is now a global financial product to reincarnate that blind dissonance. Our ears, again, are deafened by the fallacy of the 80s. Here we go again: ‘This is a plan to Islamize Nigeria’ ‘It is Boko Haram banking’ ‘Nigeria will be divided’. Evidently, a visitor from Mars will not fail, upon hearing these statements, to declare that Nigeria is a haven for imbecility and mischief. A simple survey of the so-called Islamic banking will reveal that it is practiced by ‘Christian’ banks in ‘Christian’ nations like Europe and America, the principal mentors of its antagonists in Nigeria. As if to silence the Christian leadership in Nigeria, the Vatican press published an article extolling the merits and successes of Islamic banking two weeks ago. Poor Vatican! It does not know that Nigerians could be more Catholic than the Pope.
I will plead with my Christian brothers that we the laity should not listen to our local leaders on this matter. Reason should prevail. It is high time someone bold enough among our brothers rise to the occasion and tell the clerics these simple facts:
“Please separate economics from politics, for God’s sake. Give to the bank manager what is to the bank, and to PDP what is to Caesar. Transact here, and cheat there. Mixing the two could be a lethal cocktail. Embrace the teachings of Jesus by condemning usury in all its ramifications. Follow the Vatican and establish your interest-free banks or let the Central Bank of Nigeria the breathing space to perform its statutory duty of issuing license of the same genre to whoever is interested and qualified. Christianity does not take its measurements from Islam. So do not make Islam to determine Christianity. Opposing Islam and Muslims in Nigeria does not always qualify anything as Christian. Christianity, like Islam, is a religion based on values, principal among them the abrogation of all forms of human exploitation, of which usury plays the major role in the prevailing world economic disorder. Not a fly would die in Nigeria because a bank or two have adopted an interest-free product as part of their portfolio.”
These are the words I am waiting to hear from the bold Christian who would publicly come forward and call the clerics to order. A Soludo who initiated the product, an Iweala that is respected even by the oyinbo, just any name they can trust. Why not a word from Jonathan? If there is none, then I cannot help becoming sick. Please check me at the emergency ward.
But some ‘Christian’ banks in the country cannot afford to wait for that brave voice. Driven by the Smithian principle of profit, every week one of them is approaching the CBN for a license for Islamic Banking. I believe, before long, all the ‘Christian’ banks in the country would buy the product to the dismay of the Bishops.
I join those who are intelligent enough to know that Nigeria will not break up for the sake of interest-free banking. It may break up, perhaps soon, but on different grounds. I will enjoin all well meaning Nigerians not to engage in the futile exercise of defending ‘Islamic Banking’ in the face of opposition from our Christian fathers. They should continue to embrace the Shafi’ite logic: the lion is feared though it is silent, but the dog is stoned in spite of it's barking. Let us not bark at any visitor to our house. He may be a friend. It is the statutory duty of the apex bank and I am satisfied with the quantum of energy it is expending to explain, notwithstanding the deafness of its audience, that it is not a matter of religion but business, unusual though.
Muslims must not confuse the clerics with Christianity or our Christian brothers. The clerics are billionaires. Recently, one of them boasted that he is a billionaire and that “there is nothing anybody can do about it!” Yes Bishop. What can ordinary souls like me do about it? My Christian brothers and me are not billionaires. We are only struggling to make ends meet in Nigeria. Aha.
The clerics, it seems, are in an unholy alliance with the interest-based banks to extort ordinary Christians. The banks are where the bishops and pastors safely keep, and profiteer through interest banking, the millions they harvest from their fellowship weekly. As billionaire depositors, how much interest do they earn daily? Oh! That is the missing link in the ongoing debate on Islamic banking. In a vicious way, opposition to anything Muslim serves as a lubricant to this extortion engine. It is expected to impress the followers and make them more susceptible to increase the returns of their billionaire bishops. Thus in Nigeria Islam has become an interest-free product of primitive accumulation that makes Mr. Bishop and Mr. Bank Manager smile every Monday morning.
Finally, when all is said and done, with the ‘debate’ on ‘Islamic’ banking in a ‘united’ Nigeria long forgotten, one indisputable fact would remain: both Muslims and Christians, in America or in Nigeria, are victims of the present free-for-all financial institutions that are based on interest and speculations. It should therefore be an area of mutual interest, not mutual discord. Fighting this exploitation should be a joint project for Muslims and Christians in Nigeria with common sense.
But I am sad to note that for many in my country Nigeria, sense is not common.
6 July, 2011