I believe that, as Nigerians, we should welcome everyopportunity to broaden the base of popular participation in economic activities. Poverty has persisted in the country for so long because the economic space has excluded many disadvantaged groups like the Niger Delta.
This is part of the explanation of the violence that has continued to blight our national life, to the extent that the very fabric of the nation is currently under serious threat.
On this score, the introduction of non-interest banking would appear to be a welcome addition to innovative efforts to bring otherwise marginalised populations into the mainstream of economic activity. However, every good thing always has its down side. It seems to me that the down side to the concept of Islamic banking is the religious colouration.In a country that is quite familiar with mutual suspicion between the two major religions, those who are promoting this system of banking need a good deal of explanations to provide. However, those to whom these explanations are to be made need to have a listening ear. But, sadly, neither have explanations been coherent nor have those in need of these explanations been the most attentive listeners.
In a pluralistic society as we have in Nigeria, it is wishfulthinking to expect any new introduction to an existing ordernot to generate controversy. Controversies are very often the opportunity that people have to get educated on issues outside the classroom. Thus, we have a responsibility in this country to insist that controversies are engaged in civilized ways and in languages that do not inflame tempers.
For a country that has experienced a civil war and is grappling with some virulent peace-time violence and insecurity, we cannot afford any controversy with the potential to degenerate into a religious war.
This is why as an elder, and one who has been involved in the politics of this nation for over 30 years, I am concerned that the current controversy over the proposed introduction of Islamic banking to Nigeria has the potential to further polarise the country along religious lines.
This concern has been particularly heightened by the pronouncements made in good faith by both the spiritual leader of Nigerian Muslims and Sultan of Sokoto, His Royal Majesty, Alhaji Sa’ad Abubakar III, and the President of the Christian Association of Nigeria, CAN, Pastor Ayo Oritsejafor, which could be misunderstood.
My special appeal to these prominent Nigerians in momentslike this is that they should also advise their followers to exercise greater levels of constraint than in normal times in their pronouncements. Their followers should show stronger commitment to consensus building than to defence of their faiths. Indeed, this is my special appeal to all those commenting on the issue.
I strongly condemn the tendency of politicians, who are opposed to the present government, to exploit the vulnerability of disadvantaged groups to fan the embers of destabilisation. After all, it is under a peaceful atmosphere that programmes to eradicate poverty can be successfully implemented.
It is on this score that I call on the various agencies of government involved in this issue to promote greater awareness on this issue of Islamic banking that can lead to an amicable resolution of the seeming impasse. Likewise, I call on the media to exercise a high sense of social responsibility in handling this and other issues that currently threaten national security.
It will not be out of place to call on the President to set up an enlightened multi-disciplinary panel to review the whole concept of Islamic banking as currently conceived by its proponents and the bases of concern by those opposed to the system. This is with a view to finding a national consensus on its acceptability or otherwise; its implementation or alternative to the concept.
The panel should be given the mandate to conduct a thorough risk assessment of the system so that all stakeholders can reach a consensus on the way forward. In the meantime, I sincerely appeal to and call on all to stop making inflammatory comments on the issue in the interest of our great nation.
Chief Tony Anenih, former Chairman of Board of Trustees of the Peoples Democratic Party, PDP, wrote from Abuja.