Plans to introduce Islamic banking as one of the models of non-interest financial services has touched off intense controversy in religiously divided Nigeria.
The Islamic Bank commenced operation last week without a billboard on the bank building.
Reacting to why the bank opened without a billboard, a staff said, “We know we are supposed to announce to the public that we have opened our shop but given the charged socio-political atmosphere, we decided to start on low key. As time ticks on, we will definitely come out with strong messages conveying our start of business.”
Central Bank Governor, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, had last year indicated that the apex bank would soon introduce the banking model.
The decision to licence the Islamic Banking attracted criticism with many seeing it as a calculated attempt to ambush Christians, while others applauded the idea.
The CBN says the introduction of Islamic banking is part of its drive to propel Nigeria’s economy and promote financial inclusion by introducing alternative products.
Central bank governor, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi said: “The non-interest regime offers veritable incentives and attractive options for investors.”
Although plans for setting up Islamic banking have been on the books for years, Christian religious leaders suspect that Lamido Sanusi, himself a Muslim and who took the helm of the bank two years ago, has a hidden agenda.
Chairman of the bank, Alhaji Umar Mutallab speaking recently at the bank’s inaugural Annual General Meeting (AGM) said: “The whole idea of this banking option is to bring more people into banking in Nigeria that provides banking without interest.
“This kind of banking is for all religions because no religion wouldn’t want to help, especially funding critical project without using interest elements. Whether it is Christianity or Judaism, every community wants to borrow money without being bugged down with multi-layer interest structure.
“This banking option is a product with a difference. We hope our brothers from the divide will see it as an ethical bank which is not meant to promote particular religion. It is for all Nigerians and not Muslims alone.
“Once you have a viable project proposal which is ethical, which doesn’t cater for such things as liquor, gambling etc, it becomes a halal (lawful) project and would be looked into by the bank.”