Who Owns Nigeria – Christians or Muslims?

Nancy B. Alston

Nigeria, a country blessed by the Almighty God, is made up so many parts. All of these parts are associated with one form of religion or the other. However, there are two prominent religions that are practiced by the larger population of the country – Christianity and Islam. For obvious reasons, these religions have been struggling to maintain a leadership position or superiority over the others.

The government at the centre has always been watching the religious drama as it unfolds on daily basis. Most leaders have often been tempted to take sides with the ugly development thereby soiling their hands in the murky waters of religious extremism. In places, where the Christians are in majority, Muslims cry foul, alleging marginalization and same thing happens in places where the Muslims are in majority. In such areas, introducing oneself as a member of one religion where the other is in majority is to say the least, creating animosity.

In situations as bad as this, the central government is expected to remain neutral and unbiased arbitrator in matters of this nature. A perfect example is the seizure of all the Christian (Mission) schools by the Federal Republic of Nigeria years back. It should be noted that, the Federal Government of Nigeria acted in line with true “federalism”, the nature of these schools notwithstanding. Nationals who do not subscribe to the Christian religion will be free to acquire Western Education without engendering religious jealousy. Though, without apology, the Federal Government of Nigeria, it should be noted, acted in the interest of national unity to create an environment where Muslims and Christians will feel free in a plural society, attend the same school, and interact socially, without being maligned.

The on-going debate on the government’s introduction of “Islamic Banking System”, which has already put the two religions (Christianity and Islam) at loggerhead is an issue that calls for public attention. The Nigerian Banking Sector which has been experiencing myriads of reform policies lately, which are carefully initiated and carried out in its leadership position, has not witnessed the kind of heat this new reform is generating.

Right thinking Nigerians have remained apprehensive over the issue due to the power of religion to create division. The planned introduction of Islamic banking model into the Nigerian financial landscape is one of the issues that have raised so much dust as result of the term “Islamic” that is attached to the name. The things that happen in this country on daily basis have made the proponents of a single and indivisible nation under the name “Nigeria” to have a rethink. As a result, there is a debate on the issue of “nomenclature” whether or not the proposed non-interest banking should maintain the name “Islamic Banking”. Pundits have said that the term “Islamic Banking” will only succeed in stoking the fires of mutual distrust in a peculiar religion-sensitive environment like Nigeria. It is also seen that adopting the controversial name will be a grave violation of the nation’s secular status.

The on-going debate which has actually generated so much trouble. The Christians in one hand, are accusing the Muslims of enjoying cheap popularity by allowing the government to place Islam above and against other religions in the country, especially on their purported bid to Islamize Nigeria (see Daily Trust, Monday July 4, 2011, page 30 and Thursday July, 7, 2011, pages 26-27). The Muslims, on the other hand, are accusing the Christians of being ignorant and at the same time, deviating from real Christianity, if they agree with the present Nigerian banking system that promotes extortion.

Debunking the claims of the Christians that “Islamic Banking” is a way to Islamize Nigeria, the Muslims claim that their voices have not been heard over the years in the activities of Nigerian government especially, in policy making, because according to them, Nigerian government has been operating on the English Christian Laws. The question that most Nigerians have not failed to ask as a result of this unsubstantiated claim is, “When did English Laws translate into Christian Laws?” English Laws, as we know, came as a result of British colonization of Nigeria, not through religious (Christian) imposition. It should be noted here that the Christians in Nigeria are not at home with everything in the Nigerian Constitution because, there are so many things in the law that run contrary to Christian ethics. In other words, Christians and Muslims should learn to accommodate the plurality of the Nigerian nation and desist from unwarranted utterances that could cause chaos. Everybody (no matter the tribe, or religion) is needed in building a united Nigeria. Christians and Muslims are expected to live in peace with one another. Every good invention or discovery to advance the nation is highly appreciated. When one part discovers a thing, the other parts benefit without subjecting the up-coming parts to servitude.

The claim that the concept of “Islamic Banking” is ominous is an understatement, because it is truly not in the national interest. A critical look at the nomenclature tells us that Islam takes the credit of banking reformation in Nigeria even when all the people working day and night in building the solid banking system are not Muslims. As a person, I have always liked people initiating good projects and programmes that will not only unite Nigeria but help in taking her to the next level. This system of “non-interest” banking as advocated by the leadership of Nigeria’s apex bank is a welcome idea, but the religious colouration of it is not proper. In other words, the apex bank should develop a listening culture where people’s contributions in the way it runs the activities of the banking sector should be valued. This will kill the idea of a section of the country raising shoulders over and above the others for having their names written in gold, even when the hand holding the pen and the paper belongs elsewhere.

However, the idea of one’s voice not being heard in a nation like Nigeria suggests selfishness. Nigeria belongs to all of us and contributing to its growth should always be a collective work. This is why removing the religious colouration from this system of banking will go a long way in safeguarding against any form of discrimination, as the approach of the apex bank is a poor demonstration of sensitivity to the unity of Nigeria. The government should as a matter of urgency, suspend the action of the apex bank until a compromise is reached, since the idea of an “Islamic Banking” for a country like Nigeria is capable of playing one religion against another. Also, having studied the issue at hand, the government as well as the apex bank should consider the following as a way out:

1. A better, but unifying nomenclature should be adopted and the concept of “Islamic Banking” dropped hence it is capable of over-heating the already charged political and religious atmosphere of the country. It will also help in uniting all the different religious groups without engendering jealousy or religious bickering.

2. New banks should be established which will completely carry out the Islamic Banking System. This will create the needed difference from the already existing system of banking operation in Nigeria. This idea is also healthy because it will give room for competition and enhance customer’s banking choice.

3. Government should create room for religious organizations to participate in the banking sector by way of owning and managing banks to their own tastes and standards. This will help in creating an enabling environment for those who hide under the cloak a country to champion or further the course of a particular religion to have a level playing ground that will expose their expertise in handling financial matters.

4. If the establishment of new banks is not possible at the moment, already existing banks will be given the option of choosing between the present banking system and the proposed “non-interest banking” system. This will alleviate the fear of imposing a particular religion over a right thinking and free citizens of Nigeria.

Nigerians should understand that the nationality of this country is not built on a particular ethnic or religious group, therefore, learning to accommodate one another means that issues of national interest should always be weighed against all odds before they are adopted or implemented. However, the accusations and counter-accusations from these religious bodies should be put to rest because they are truly unhealthy to our cooperate existence. Nigeria belongs to neither the Christians alone nor to the Muslims alone. Let us learn to love, cherish and accommodate one another. God bless Nigeria!

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