Islamic Banking: How the CBN Governor Compounded Our Fears

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In compliance with a House resolution requiring him to clarify the cash withdrawal limit and the Islamic banking policy, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi the Governor, Central Bank of Nigeria (the CBN Governor) appeared on the floor of the House of Reps on Thursday 21st July, 2011. He had a field day courtesy the Deputy Speaker, Rt Hon Emeka Ehedioha who while presiding, shielded him from being asked questions. I concur with two respected colleagues cum principal officers among others, the Rt. Hons Femi Gbajabiamila and Samson Osagie who described the Deputy Speaker's conduct as 'an error of judgment' as well as 'a blunder' (Thisday & Leadership 22nd July, 2011). This breach of our privileges is reminiscent of the Dimeji Bankole era when those opposed to the views of presiding officers were shut out if not manhandled.

It becomes imperative to invoke the fundamental rights of a Nigerian citizen guaranteed irrevocably under Section 39(1) of the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (CFN 1999 as amended) to bring to focus serious reservations over the Islamic banking policy which unfortunately were aggravated by the CBN Governor's monologue on the floor of the House.

The CBN Governor's repeated reference to some countries including Britain, USA, South Africa, Kenya and Malaysia where he claimed Sharia Banking is in operation is premised on the wrong presumption that since these non-Islamic countries operate Islamic banking, non-Muslim Nigerians ought not to question it. The Nigerian nation, unlike any of these nations is exceedingly sensitive on matters bothering on religion and ethnicity. The framers of CFN 1999 had this in mind hence Section 14(3) which provides that 'The composition of the Government of the Federation or any of its agencies and the conduct of its affairs shall be carried out in such a manner as to reflect the federal character of Nigeria and the need to promote national unity, and also to command national loyalty, thereby ensuring that there shall be no predominance of persons from a few State or from a few ethnic or other sectional groups in that Government or in any of its agencies.'

The Fundamental Objectives and Directive Principles of State Policy in Section 16(d) of the CFN 1999 as amended provides that the State shall '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' (bold & underline provided).

The guidelines issued by the Sanusi Lamido Sanusi led CBN states that 'A Non-Interest Financial Institution (NIFI) means a bank or Other Financial Institution (OFI) under the purview of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), which transacts banking business, engages in trading, investment and commercial activities as well as the provision of financial products and services in accordance with Sharia principles and rules of Islamic commercial jurisprudence.' The Glossary of Terms of the CBN's NIFI Framework defines Sharia principles as 'the divine guidance as given by the Holy Qur'an and the Sunnah of the Holy Prophet and embodies all aspects of the Islamic faith, including beliefs and practices.'

Pork for example, is a delicacy and a major revenue earner in my constituency. The Brewery Agro-Research Company, Zallaki near Jos (though now moribund) became renowned for providing huge employment opportunities through Pork production. An Islamic banking system which prohibits any Pork related businesses, will exclude my constituents from pursuing a legitimate economic activity in breach of their constitutional rights to engage in any economic activity. Section 1(3) of CFN 1999 as amended provides that 'If any other law is inconsistent with the provisions of this Constitution, this Constitution shall prevail, and that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void.'

The Bank and Other Financial Institutions Act as amended (BOFIA) on which the guidelines are hinged, was originally enacted into law in 1991 as a decree promulgated by the Gen Babangida administration, the CBN Governor then was Alh Abubakar Ahmed, both were committed Muslims. Section 37(1)(a) of BOFIA prohibit banks and financial institutions from using names that project any religion, this was necessitated at that time because of the intense heat the country was thrown into (as is the case now) over Nigeria's membership of the Organization of Islamic Countries.

Prof Charles Soludo, whose policies including the removal of Arabic scripts from our currency have been reversed, may have 'approved' CBN's membership of Islamic Financial Services Board. However, it is Sanusi Lamido Sanusi who without any recourse to National Assembly, approved controversial operational guidelines so heavily injected with the 'Islamic' dose and at the peak of the terror of the Boko Haram sect who incidentally are equally seeking to enforce the same 'Sharia principles.' The expressions 'Islamic' and 'Sharia' are the chief offensive labels that have triggered and sustained fierce antagonism against this lopsided policy. The CBN Governor was definitely economical with the truth when he pretended that 'Islamic banking is just a name' (Daily Trust 22nd July, 2011).

The Islamic banking policy is inextricably rooted in the Islamic religion which is the blood upon which it thrives. In all intends and purpose, the CBN Governor's attempt 'to remove the product from religion' (Thisday 24th July, 2011) cannot be honest, it is an attempt to remove blood from the human system or to remove fish from water. It cannot survive! Islamic banking is an exclusive religious product explicitly hinged on Sharia law; no amount rhetoric can change this fact. It does not matter how many countries operate Islamic banking, as long as it is in conflict with the Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, it remains unconstitutional. Notwithstanding huge public outcry, the zeal with which the CBN Governor has continued to campaign for the enforcement his Sharia Banking agenda is unequalled in our history; it is enough ground to hold his motives suspect. It amounts to a conflict of interest for him to be the lawmaker, regulator as well as the chief marketer of the Islamic banking system all at once. The allegation that he has allowed his personal interest to influence his official conduct in my considered view is very well founded.

Had the presiding officer put the question, I would have dutifully voted against Islamic banking so that posterity will record me as such.  

  Hon. Bitrus B. Kaze is a member of the House of Representatives