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By Abdulfattah Abdussalam

The commencement of the practice of Islamic Banking in Nigeria came with sacrifices on the forbearers of this kind of financial module. The battle to procure an operational license was fierce. The opposition to its commencement was intimidating as the Christians of Nigeria under the aegis of the Christian Associations of Nigeria opposed its debut in Nigeria’s financial sector.  Some Christians opposed the passage of its bill at the National Assembly, instituted court cases and unleashed their propaganda machineries to sway public opinion against it. The Muslim community and proponents of Islamic banking undauntedly overcame the hurdles when it came out with JAIZ Bank. 

In a lecture delivered at an Islamic event in Lagos, Malam Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the then Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, narrated the herculean tasks that his board members went through before the licence was approved. He and others had to use their extensive contacts in the banking industry within and outside Nigeria to put the bank in operation. He stunned the audience when he told them, “ the Muslim community could not even raise the initial deposits required for its take off, and he had to cajole a Muslim brother before the brother paid the balance with a promise of directorship”. He also told the audience, licence given was for regional practice, unlike the national one that others had as operating licences.  

Today, Islamic banking is operational in Nigeria, but it is disheartening that the Muslim community, the primary constituent, is not fully involved. In an interview that Malam Muhammad Bintunbe, the pioneering Managing Director of JAIZ bank, granted in the PEACE magazine some years ago, he lamented the lack of patronage of the bank’s products by Muslims: “Imagine our population and recourses as Muslims yet we could not have the required capital base even after we were licensed to commence operation as a national bank and were open for business and even though we advertised both on local and national televisions, did intensive campaign visits and held presentations to sensitise many through various chambers of commerce and industries as well as massive reach to our primary targets; the Ummah: yet the level of responses in terms of patronage to our disappointment was low”.

Beyond patronage, Islamic financing is beset with the challenge of human capital to further the gains of this all- important Islamic module of finance. The competition for qualified hands, core professionals and ancillary staff is stiff. Islamic banks and financial institutions are now resulting in poaching of staff. Today, half of the pioneering Staff of JAIZ bank are lost to other Islamic banks. The most unfortunate development in the sector is the employment of Christians as staff, especially at the new offices for those opening for operations. 

In our opinion, Islamic financing should be the hub for our growth, but non-Muslims are the ones benefitting from its operations. They form the bulk component of the customers’ base and tap into their non-interest funds to grow their businesses. In recent times, non-Muslims are the best customers of the banks, dominate key areas of the operations of what ought to have been the exclusives of Muslims. Therefore, we may ask; where the Muslims are?

The answer to this question is that Muslims are missing in action because, like many Islamic enterprises, we lack the technical know-how and the human capacity to deliver cutting-edge performance, especially for a financial module like Islamic banking. Similarly, we lack foresight in the management of our collective businesses. The unfolding scenario is fearful, and the future is bleak.

The narrative can change through a concerted effort by stakeholders and the Ummah searching for thoroughly competent young Muslims from universities, polytechnics and allied financial institutions to train for higher responsibilities in the Islamic banking sector of the country. Islamic groups and individuals should set up outsourcing companies for the search. In addition, universities teaching Arabic and Islamic studies should be encouraged to undertake courses in Islamic banking principles as a core curriculum, and graduates trained towards possible employment in the sector. The time for action is now, a further delay could cause derailment to the practice of the principles of Islamic banking.

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