Several Comments have been made about the introduction of Islamic banking in Nigeria, some in support and others against it. However most commentators are simply too religious about the entire issue to see the real truth. Without any recourse to my own religious inclinations, I don’t believe that Islamic Banking will work in Nigeria, the problem however is not at all with Islamic banking, no, the problem is with Nigeria.
As a system of banking; Islamic banking has been practiced in several countries in the world, some of these being “Christian” countries. Even the Vatican is said to have suggested Islamic finance principles as a solution to crisis in Western banks. It is a system of banking that offers low interest rates and although because of the Islamic principles upon which it is founded it forbids lending to certain kinds of businesses, it is generally one which most business can look to for funds. That said, I would like to say that though Islamic banking may be beneficial to most countries, practicing it in Nigeria would be like trying to install a Microsoft office 2010 on Windows 93, it just won’t work.
Most of the countries where Islamic banking is practiced successfully enjoy peace. In the UK and other “Christian” countries where Islamic banking is practiced, conflicts based solely on religious preferences are extremely rare. But in Nigeria, they are everyday news. We forget that just in 2009, Miss Grace Ushang was raped to death in Borno for “wearing Nysc khaki trousers” or that Nigeria could not host the Miss World Pageant after Agbani Darego won the crown of Most Beautiful Girl in the World because of religious banking. While Islamic banks in the south may not pose threats to Christians, what about those in the North? What are the odds that a Christian who goes to one of such banks in the North will come out alive?
There is also the issue of whether Christians will be employed in such banks, of course in other countries there are laws that ensure that people are not discriminated against by virtue of race, sex or religion but are these laws even existent in Nigeria? If they are, are they being implemented? In 1970 , after the civil war was brought to an end, all the Igbo people who had money in banks or properties in the North lost all they had. Irrespective of how much an Igbo person had they were only given 20 Nigerian pounds, so tell me if after Islamic banks are established there happens to be a religious crisis in Nigeria, (perhaps one not even related to Islamic banking) will Christians who may have put their possessions in the hands of these Islamic banks get anything back or will they go bankrupt overnight? If the banks refuse to give them back their possessions will the ever complacent Nigerian Government fight for them?
Let us not forget that Nigeria is a country characterized by disparity; we have the extremely rich and the extremely poor, we have the “Muslim” North and the “Christian” South. Will Islamic banking not further increase this disparity? while Islamic banks may take over the North leaving conventional banks there with very few customers, the exact opposite will most likely be experienced in the South and this will create a huge economic gulf between the two halves of the country because each will be supported by very different financial systems with different modes of operating.
Most importantly, we must realize that with regards to issues that border on religion, logic only takes second place, at best. In country so full of religious zealots and fanatics, it is impossible to imagine that Islamic banking would be taken at face value and accepted based on whatever advantage it provides. Religion is regarded as the greatest cause of war and so with the long standing tension between Muslims (who regard Christians as infidels) and Christians in Nigeria (who regard Muslims as trouble makers) it is surprising that this issue was brought up in the first place without greater consideration to what tensions it will create. With CAN and the NSCIA which are the foremost organisations for Christians and Muslims (respectively) in the country trading words about it, a person’s stand on Islamic banking may soon been regarded as a show of religious faithfulness and a reason for victimization of people with “contrary opinions”