In his piece CBN and Sharia Banking (The Guardian 16 June 2011), Lateef Adegbite abjectly misunderstands the meaning of secularism. Nigeria is a secular nation not a multi-religious one. And it is precisely because of its secularism that makes its multi-religious character possible. Think of it this way: no Muslim would want a church to be built on a land they have consecrated to be their holy ground even though the church is also a holy place. And no Christian would want traditional worshippers to practice in their church. The space which made it possible to build churches, mosques, shrines in their respective places without infringing on the other’s holy grounds is the secular space. The more secular a space is, the easier for religions to coexist. A completely multi-religious setting guarantees that one religion is always infringing on the space of the other.

Another instance. On the parade ground in Borno state where I served, the NYSC PRO and the camp commandant were fond of calling a Christian from platoon 1 and a Muslim from platoon 2 to come out and lead prayer. I went to the camp office to confront them over this injustice. ‘What about people of traditional faith?’ I said. They burst out laughing at me. The following day, it was the turn of a Christian from platoon 3 and a Muslim from platoon 4. I walked calmly out and took the microphone. I was not even allowed to finish chanting my Oturupon Meji remix, when soldiers came bringing fiery blows and booted kicks. I was dragged by one leg from the podium, all across the parade ground and straight into the cell for the rest of the day. The following morning, I was ready to do the same thing. However, my tenacity had begun to attract other adherents, Christians and Muslims alike to my ad-hoc faith/cause. The camp administration didn’t want to risk a full-scale religious uprising so they changed the format: instead of calling for a Christian from platoon 5 and Muslim from platoon 6 to lead the prayers, what we had was everyone should ‘bow down silently’ and pray to their respective Gods. Which of course is a victory for secularism: to bow down silently. For how many religions do you want to cater for at once if we want to be truly multi-religious?

All religions claim to have the sole truth. No holy book contains the mandate to respect or honour another religion otherwise that religion wouldn’t have existed in the first place. And so religious tolerance is a secular invention. So is religious liberty. Secularism is not atheism; it is just the condition where piety pertains to private subjective universe not a dominant reference in public space. It is the truce between all the competing or at times flagrantly contradictory claims of each religion on the public space. What Boko Haram and other religious extremists (both violent and peaceful) do is to defile that secular space and then arrogantly install their private opinions.

Granted we currently hate the banks and their greed for causing the world recession and the utter corruption amidst mass sufferings of the people, that doesn’t mean that the banks as a business is not a force for good, a force for economic development and progress. For to ride on the mass animosity towards banks and say you want to create banks that would not charge interests is to say you know how a market woman can sell her products at the same price she brought them. Her business will not last a week. However, we should be open to any banking experiment that claims it can honestly deliver interest free service without recourse to Ponzi scheme perfected so well by Bernard Madoff or rely on ‘investments’ (read: donations)from dubious middle eastern sources.

But the bigger stake is why as Islamic/Sharia bank? Would the proponents of this interest-free generosity to the people deliver the service without insisting on being so religiously painted? The answer is no. It goes to show they have other interests at heart that would violate the secular arena. It is ironical that Lateef Adegbite in defending the Islamic proposal recourse to several provisions in Nigeria’s secular constitution. But when in 2000 northern states adopted sharia in flagrant contravention of that constitution, Adegbite did not rise to defend the integrity of the constitution. When Boko Haram strikes, or any part of Nigeria is inflamed by religious riots, Adegbite is always ready to condemn the violence, and insist on tolerance (which is a secular virtue but in actual fact a religious anomaly) and call Islam a religion of peace. But Adegbite is condemning violence and killings, he is not condemning the philosophy which the violent religious extremists are using violence and killings to implement. That is why when Zamfara adopted sharia and Kaduna followed suit leading to over 2000 dead, Adegbite condemned the violence but there is yet no evidence that he had asked those renegade states to go back to the minimal confines the Nigerian constitution reserved for it hitherto.

Contrary to his insinuations in his article, The Guardian and those who expressed reservations about the sharia-compliant banking are not religious bigots. When states were about to adopt sharia in 2000, they packaged it as an antidote to corruption and guarantor of crime-free existence. It is 11 years, has that happened? What has happened is sorrow, tears, thousands dead and many more maimed for life. When Nigeria hosted the Miss World beauty pageantry in 2002, Adegbite lead the charge that the event would not happen. Reason: it was the holy month of Ramadan. An absurd excuse in a secular country. Sponsored riots then broke out in Abuja and Kaduna that made the pageantry flee to London. 217 rigor mortis corpses of innocents still littered the streets of Kaduna when Adegbite declared: the government should learn to take us seriously. If we say we don’t want a programme we don’t want it. Yes, they don’t want the pageantry because it ‘violates’ the holy month but they didn’t think their murderous spree violates the holy month.

That is the person who is now ascribing religious bigotry to those who legitimately expressed reservations about this creeping Islamisation of the secular space amidst the never ceasing spectres of Islamic violence in the country. Like Pakistan, Adegbite, an indefatigable promoter of religious tolerance is playing both sides of the game. He is using his promotion of tolerance to ask others to comprise with abominations. And yet tolerance is not about tolerating the intolerant. Pakistan and Afghanistan arrived at where they are today because they tolerated the intolerant and compromised with abominations. The governor of Punjab the largest, richest and the most mixed state was gunned down by his own bodyguard in broad day light because he spoke out against the long pervasive influence of Islam in the constitution. When you have such abominations it is easy for the professional and career terrorists to invest in Pakistan building training camps and inviting the disgruntled from all over the world for some action.

India and Pakistan got independent the same day. India operates a secular constitution. Pakistan an Islamic one. India is emerging to be a global superpower while Pakistan is nowhere. All the money and international aid that supposed to go into education, health, agriculture, social development is now going into security because they had long since tolerated the intolerant and compromised with abominations.

No! Nigeria must not be made a safe haven for terrorists. That is why we must continue to insist on an increasing secularism of our consciousness and public space. All 12 states that had upgraded sharia must go back to the status quo ante. Nigeria has no business in the Organization of Islamic Countries. Arabic inscriptions should have no place on our currencies. Government has no business sponsoring anyone to any holy pilgrimage. Any bank that wants to give an interest free banking experience to its customers should do so under a secular umbrella. Adegbite claims falsely that: “USA, Japan, Germany, UK, France have been running Islamic Banks for decades” Even the Saudi Arabian central bank that supposed to be the most sharia-compliant in the world pays and receive interest rates on its currency and bond trades and even fixes interests rates for other Saudi banks. The Alahli, that has several branches in the holiest cities of Mecca and Medina charges 22.8% on its credit cards. In the UK, the average rate is 15.5%. With Nigeria’s proposed sharia banking, the numeral after 6 is more than 7.

Damola Awoyokun, the former Associate Editor of Glendora Review, lives in London.

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