Sanusi and the myth of islamization

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With more than half of the over two dozens of articles I have written in the last   two years bordering on Mr. Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, governor of Central Bank of Nigeria, anybody that   accuses me, mischievously, of   being commissioned to do PR job for the apex bank boss can be forgiven.   Since June 2009 I have found myself being a leading participant in the Sanusicentric   debates, from the arguments over his appointment through the sacking of bank chiefs to the brush with the legislators, most times vigorously defending him, while not turning blind eyes to areas I felt he could have done better, since, of course, I do not believe he is infallible.

Here we come again. Sanusi continued with his predecessor's lofty initiative of plugging Nigeria into the new bride in global finance - Islamic banking - and hell is being let loose! I thought I had had enough of writing about Sanusi and was initially hesitant in joining the ongoing debate about Islamic banking, but reading through the many articles that dot the pages of Nigerian newspapers and online portals about the issue, one can't help joining the fray again.

The introduction of Islamic banking, critics allege, is a grand attempt to Islamize Nigeria. The Islamization cry is not new in Nigeria. Some revisionists on the internet quote with reckless abandon a statement allegedly made by the late Sardauna of Sokoto, Sir Ahmadu Bello, that they(Muslims, Northerners) will not relent until Qur'an is dipped into the Atlantic Ocean, literally meaning Islam will be spread from the beginning   to the end of Nigeria. Never mind the fact that none of these commenters has been able to supply any documentary evidence for this lugubrious allegation. More spuriously, some of them claim, naming the last street to the Atlantic Ocean in Victoria Island, Lagos after Ahmadu Bello is a proof to that. That's how 'creative' conspiracy theorists are in Nigeria.

The Islamization cry also surfaced during the Organization of Islamic Conference(OIC) debate of the IBB regime.   Since then, any action by a northern Muslim leader is first brought under religious and ethnic scrutiny by Nigeria's army of pedestrian and sometimes even informed commentariat.   Muhammadu Buhari, whose high integrity standing is widely acknowledged, was literally crucified on this slaughter slab. Now, it's Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, apex bank boss.

First, in a country whose nationals are almost equally divided into Muslims and Christians, I find it unthinkable that anyone will think a leader, political or economic, will Islamize Nigeria. If at all anyone will try it, it definitely cannot be Sanusi Lamido Sanusi. A lot of Nigerians obviously do not know anything about the man. Many people do not know that Sanusi has taken on Muslim and northern leaders in the past, for hiding under the garb of religion to impoverish their people. He was a strong critic of what he called political Sharia of the 1999-2003 dispensation. So vociferous was he against people that exploit Islam for their personal political gain that he was once labelled a disservice to Islam and a sympathizer with Christians by his people (I read all these writings and counter-writings, 1998-2005). And this is the same Sanusi that some people are now claiming being a party to Islamization of Nigeria. Why are they suspecting him?   Because he has Sharia background, having read Islamic studies in Sudan for 6 years, he is an Islamic fanatic.   Isn't it funny that if he had studied Christian Theology for 6 years as he did for Islamic studies, he would have been hailed as a holy man of God that can be trusted?

I do not know Sanusi in person but I have studied his past enough to draw reasonable conclusions about his personality and philosophy, and I can say with confidence that Sanusi will not be a party to tilting national policy in favour of any religion or region. Islamic Banking, like his previous policies, is for the national interest.

Islamic banking is a banking model that, though derives from Islamic Religion, is fast gaining momentum around the world, including   in western countries, which many Muslims believe, quite wrongly in my opinion, are anti-Islam. This is why a global financial powerhouse like HSBC will have Islamic banking window.

Even in Nigeria here, while many people are still firing salvos in the direction of the CBN boss for wanting to Islamize Nigeria with Islamic banking, a serious institution like the StanbicIBTC Bank has quickly obtained approval-in-principle to operate Islamic banking subsidiary.   This is an international bank, which Nigerian business is even run by two born-again Christians, Sola David-Borha and Yinka Sanni. These are smart corporate executives that have grown beyond religious sentiments as opposed to some analysts and clerics that have climbed to the top of the roof, shouting down the policy. By the time other banks wake up to the opportunity, StanbicIBTC would have become the market leader in Islamic Banking services, just as they are in investment banking and Pension Funds Administration.

The issue with us in Nigeria is that a lot of people are only literate and technology-savvy, we know little about what is going on on the global stage, and even practically nothing beyond politics. Otherwise, one would not expect the issue of Islamic banking to generate this kerfuffle.   Sanusi perhaps also overrated Nigerians by assuming they are aware of Islamic banking as one of the emerging models in global finance. Even if one ignores the fact that Nigerians would not have read any ulterior motive to Islamic Banking if the CBN boss was a non-Muslim, just as it did not generate any hoopla when Soludo kick-started the process, Sanusi would still have done better by enlightening Nigerians on this model.

Nigerians should learn to assess national policies on merit rather than first looking at the tribe or religion of the initiator and fabricating some mythical motive to it. Even a global professional Accounting body like the Association of Certified Chartered Accountants of the United Kingdom(ACCA) has introduced Islamic Finance into its recently updated syllabus for prospective Accountants to be informed about this principle. CFA, an even more respected body, I read, are also pondering finding a space for Islamic Finance in their process of training world-class financial analysts. These are bodies that have nothing to do Islam, preparing their members for what they believe is fast gaining currency in global finance.

Islamic banking is nothing but Islam's contribution to the field of Economics, just as many other already established principles in Economics and other fields of human endeavour have origins that can be traced to other religions, ideologies and philosophies.   This is why a world class development economist like Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala will not see any problem with it. Other Nigerians too should rise above sentiments and see what Islamic banking has to offer for the economy, bearing in mind too that the new model is not supplanting conventional banking system that is already in place.  

Suraj Oyewale, (