The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) under Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi has done more than anyone else to turn the concept of ‘Islamic banking’ into an Islamist political project. Politicisation could imperil an otherwise unassailable experiment to align Nigeria with over 75 countries where Islamic financial institutions have assets exceeding US$950 billion.
‘Political Islam’ is a controversial term that takes different forms and spans a wide range of strategies and tactics. Most definitions, however, include the belief that ‘Islam should guide social and political as well as personal life.’ The global explosion of Shar’ia-compliant banking and insurance services, in this context, can be interpreted as a movement that draws upon the belief, symbols, and language of Islam to inspire, shape, and animate economic activity that could benefit people from different and even competing faith communities. A ‘divide-and-conquer’ strategy therefore contradicts this brand of peaceful political Islam.
This column has earlier endorsed Islamic banking in a two-part series, ‘Nigeria’s Islamic banking dilemmas’ (BusinessDay, April 8, 2010 & April 15, 2010). Presciently, however, the series warned that CBN and the promoters of Islamic banking risked politicising and badly managing the project due to lack of preparation and professional skills to run a very complex financial system.
Trouble started with the unnecessary linguistic gymnastics and intellectual obfuscation engaged in by CBN management. By splitting hairs over whether ‘Islamic banking’ and ‘Shar’ia banking are different from or part of non-interest banking, CBN inadvertently made their ‘motive’ the issue, rather than focusing on the product. Calling on ‘those who are interested in other forms of non-interest banking to come forward for licence’ when the CBN itself has no idea what these ‘other forms’ are does not appear to be smart political communication.
Governor Sanusi has skillfully, but disingenuously applied ‘indirect rule’ strategy to try to put out the mid-day fire he set on the savannah and to absolve him self of Islamist demagoguery. ‘The circular requiring anyone interested in setting up an Islamic Bank was first issued in March 2009, by the present deputy governor, Tunde Lemo, a reverend; and the [CBN] governor then was called Professor Charles Chukwuma Soludo. At the time I became governor, that circular was already out there collating inputs from the general public, and was finally put together by the director, financial policy and regulation, whose name is Christian Chukwu. So, if there is a grand process for Islamisation of the banking sector, then it started with Professor Charles Soludo, Reverend Tunde Lemo, and Mr Christian Chukwu’ (NEXT, 28 May 2011).
Whether Sanusi would equally zealously push for a ‘Christian bank’ or ‘Okija Shrine bank’ aside, can he explain why none of these Christian knights of Islam are not on the Islamic Financial Services Board (IFSB) and its Technical Committee? The IFSB is ‘an international standard-setting organisation that promotes and enhances the soundness and stability of the Islamic financial services industry by issuing global prudential standards and guiding principles for the industry….’ It’s exclusively preserved for two Muslims: Sanusi and Dr Bashir Umar Aliyu.
How many non-Muslims have been trained in Shar’ia-compliant products by CBN and the Islamic Banking and Finance Institute (IBFI) of Nigeria? Will non-Muslims ever head the Islamic banking unit of the CBN? How many women are being trained in Islamic banking? In the 21st century, shouldn’t we be using state resources to advance constitutional guarantees of equal treatment for all, rather than following a potentially Islamist tradition of shutting out women from public life, as Islamic banking takes off?
Why do Muslims deserve an illegal affirmative action that lowers the bar—N5-N10 billion, instead of N25 billion—required of everyone else to float a bank? If there has been ‘overwhelming yearning’ for Islamic banking in Nigeria, why were Muslims (Lotus Capital and Jaiz International) unable to raise N25 billion in almost 20 years to get the first and only approved Islamic bank off the ground? The more you create a difference between two things, the more the difference is created, we are told.
Rather than come clean, CBN prefers deploying its ‘Christians’ to launder the sludge it has thrown at Islamic banking. But, that’s not ‘washing’ with Bishop David Bakare of the Kaduna State chapter of the Pentecostal Fellowship of Nigeria; Rev. Yakubu Pam of the Christian Association of Nigeria, North-Central; or the Venerable Andrew Igenoza of Crowther Graduate Theological Seminary. The ‘Apostles in the Market Place (AiMP),’ a contrived network of CBN-aligned ‘Christian professionals’ is fluff, compared to millions of Christians, aroused by CBN, whose loud silence reverberates over this issue.
Organic growth of Islamic banking in other countries has served them well, instead of media-hyped, manufactured top-down quicksand. Some of the best business schools in the world, including DePaul University—the largest Catholic university in the United States—are running Islamic banking programmes for the next generation of Islamic banking professionals. Instead, we’re using Islamic banking to advance subtle or overt political goals, to further divide us when we can ill afford it. Similarly, discounting over 120 years of Nigerian Muslims’ modern banking experience to appease revivalist dreams is a dangerous route that will, once again, make Nigeria a graveyard of ‘popular’ policies that worked elsewhere but failed woefully here due to our usual lack of preparation, zealotry, politicization, and bias.
Originally published in Business Day (Lagos), 3 July 2011