Monday, August 1, 2011

Tunde Bakare defends Islamic Banking in Nigeria

While virtually every Christian institution or individual leader in Nigeria is either outrightly critical or at best cautious on the proposed Islamic Banking in the country, the concept has at last found an enthusiastic Christian advocate - Pastor Tunde Bakare. Apparently enjoying the free publicity that comes with being labeled “controversial,” Pastor Bakare entertained newsmen in his church auditorium on Sunday July 24 by calling for the immediate take-off of Islamic banking.

Bakare, who was the running mate to General Muhammadu Buhari in the last presidential election, failed to address any of the issues being raised by the Christian Association of Nigeria (CAN), but merely kept mouthing the mantra that Islamic banking “has benefits for everybody economically.” In his vigorous passionate defence of Islamic banking, Bakare tried to appeal to the Bible. He was quoted by the Sun newspaper as saying: if the Bible says “do away with usury, any cleric who says otherwise would be an anti-progressive element in the church.” He further expressed the conviction that “business strives better in an interest-free system where no businessman can be tied to bondage.”

In reality however, while “interest-free” banking follows the letters of “no usury”, it can hardly be said, as being practiced, to imbibe the spirit intended in the Bible (see for instance Deut 23:19-20). Neither also does it guarantee a freedom from bondage. Here the “interest” payable on loans are simply transferred to profit-sharing, making the loan-giver effectively a joint-owner of the business. An enterprising guy might prefer to pay interest and keep his business to himself while a less sure individual might want to share the risk with the capital provider. Both are legitimate means of doing business and each individual should be free to choose their preference. The contention of CAN is that state fund ought not to be used to promote or organize such a system, especially where the CBN is now overtly discriminating between general “interest-free banking” and “Islamic banking” in particular.

In the words of CAN president, Pastor Ayo Oritsajefor, “ we have continued to frown at the way the CBN governor who is being paid by taxpayers’ money is championing the cause of Islamic banking in isolation of other non-interest banking formats. We are against Mallam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi using state fund to promote Islamic banking as though that is the only form of non-interest banking. It is against the spirit of the Nigerian Constitution.” Declaring at several forums that the CAN is not necessarily against Islamic Banking per se, Pastor Oritsajefor nevertheless wants the CBN governor to “allow people who are interested in Islamic banking to use their money to sell their manifesto to Nigerians with a view to wooing them to accept that form of banking which is different from what they used to know.”

As noted by other Christian and secular business leaders, the zeal with which Mallam Sanusi is prosecuting the Islamic Banking issue is simply amazing and hardly ethical.

Speaking at a seminar organized by the Apostles in the Market place (AiMP), the Chief Executive Officer of Pharez Consulting, Mr. Eghes Eyieyen wondered: "What is the inordinate drive and ambition behind the introduction of Islamic banking? To me, it seems as if the CBN is in a hurry to introduce it and why does the CBN think it is going to be a major driver of financial inclusion? It is not about religion, it is about the law and professionalism. Why has the CBN not given such passion and priority to the Small and Medium Enterprises Development Agency of Nigeria (SMEDAN)? You cannot use a small provision in the BOFIA that gives you the power to regulate, to now begin to legislate."

The answer to the question of why the CBN is having to use state fund and clout to promote Islamic Banking could be gleaned from a quote by Junaid Bhatti, a member of the team that set up the Islamic Bank of Britain (IBB): "As we now approach the sixth anniversary of IBB's launch, I'm sad to finally have to admit that Islamic finance in the UK has been a huge flop." In a World Street Journal report of June 2010, Bhatti added "IBB may still be limping on as probably the last bastion of the cause, but it's difficult to imagine it holding out for much longer." In short, without state backing and active sponsorship, Islamic banking would be dead on arrival in Nigeria. As we wrote in the last edition while discussing the demonstrations in Arab lands, Islam is seriously handicapped to deal with real life situations –especially the problem of human lusts and sin. Islam and her institutions always needed some measure of state muscle or coercion to survive in the real world. But that is none of our business or problem.

The other major issue raised by the CAN is that Mallam Sanusi is writing a separate guideline for Islamic Banking, different from other non-interest banking systems. In the words of Pastor Oritsajefor, this can be likened to the National Universities Commission issuing different rules for the establishment of Islamic Universities and another for Christian or secular Universities – which of course is unthinkable. What is probably more serious with the procedure is that the proposed guidelines for the establishment of Islamic Banking requires the establishment of a Shari’a Council of Experts - to be based at the CBN to monitor the operations of the Islamic banking! Pastor Oritsajefor asked rhetorically: “ is this what operates in all the countries in the world where Islamic banking operates?” Speaking further on the proposed Advisory Council, Dr Bankole Sodipo of Babcock University stated bluntly: “there is no way they [the CBN] can delegate the decision making of the body[Islamic Banking] to another body because the National Assembly doesn’t give them that power.” Dr Sodipo, an Associate Professor of Law and Security Studies made this contribution at the AiMP seminar previously referred to above. (see

In making his contribution to what he calls a “worthless and useless debate,” Latter Rain Pastor Bakare used disparaging words on everybody holding views different from his, and as usual, managed to bring in the President for mockery and taunts. One simply cannot help wondering why Pastor Bakare should be the most passionate defender of a concept blatantly labeled as “Islamic” – and that in a clime where Islamic zealots are out on rampage, killing and maiming Christians in pursuant of their publicly declared vow of making the country ungovernable!

In the meantime, the Fellowship of Christian Ministers is insisting that the Islamic banking was a booby-trap that could threaten the corporate existence of the country; and the Anglican Bishop of Enugu, Rt. Rev. Emmanuel Chukwuma has disclosed that the Anglican Church would embark on a protest if the apex bank ignores its position on the issue. He warned that the Anglican Church would equally pass a vote of no confidence on CBN if it approves Islamic banking.

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