FEATURE ARTICLE

Oseloka J. Ezeanokwasa, LL.M., JCL. B.Phil., B.L.Tuesday, October 9, 2007
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THE ISLAMIC DEVELOPMENT BANK (IDB) LOAN AND THE SECULARITY OF NIGERIA

1. Introduction

ne clear disposition of President Yara'Adua is that of steering the government away from involvement in religious matters as is evidenced in his stoppage of the government sponsorship of pilgrimages directly and indirectly. Directly government had fully sponsored both Christians and Moslems on pilgrimages. And indirectly, a principle had been run by which preferential exchange rate was given to pilgrims of these two religions.


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Federal government's reason for the withdrawal is alluded to respect for the spirit of section 10 of the constitution which forbids the government of either the federation or any state from adopting any religion as state religion. Also in stopping this practice, regard is also had for the social objective of the country rooted in freedom, equality and justice, and which particularly states in section 17(2) (a) of the constitution that "every citizen shall have equality of rights, obligations and opportunities before the law." In addition the federal government deferred to the constitutional provisions which accord every Nigerian the right to freedom from discrimination on account of ethnicity, origin, sex, religion or political opinion (See S. 42, 1999 Constitution). Moreover, the federal government wants to free itself from the temptation of playing politics with religion. These reasons form the ingredients and import of the principle of secularity of a state, by which religion is taken to be a personal and private matter particularly in a multi-religious society like Nigeria. This is why the declaration of Sharia in 12 northern states of Nigeria has been widely held to be unconstitutional. From this foreground, the indication by the Honourable Minister of Finance, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, that Nigeria would borrow money from the Islamic Development Bank (IDB), raises some basic constitutional issues, viz, Nigeria's membership of the Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC), which is the parent body of the IDB, the membership of which is the precondition for being a member of the IDB, and whose goals and aspirations the IDB pursues as a financial institution. Thus, the membership of the IDB returns us to the vexed issue of the constitutionality of Nigeria's membership of the OIC. Consequently, an understanding of what the OIC is and stands for offers a necessary background for understanding the IDB and the constitutional issues involved in borrowing money from it.

2. The Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC)

It was the military head of state, Ibrahim Babangida, who unilaterally enrolled Nigeria into the OIC in 1986 without the approval of the Supreme Military Council, the highest legislative and executive body of the day, and this witnessed widespread condemnation for reasons that are identical with those for which the Yara Adua government has withdrawn from sponsoring pilgrimages. The OIC, as the name and its charter indicate, is a body the membership of which is determined by Islamic faith, and the goals, objectives and activities of which are geared to pursuing and defending Islamic interests. This fact is born out clearly from the history of the body. The official website of the organization states that:

"The Organisation was established in Rabat, Kingdom of Morocco, on 12 Rajab 1389H (25 September 1969) when the first meeting of the leaders of the Islamic world was held in this city in the wake of the criminal arson perpetrated on 21 August 1969 by Zionist elements against Al-Aqsa Mosque, in occupied Jerusalem. It was indeed in order to defend the honour, dignity and faith of the Muslims, to face this bitter challenge launched in the holy city of Al-Quds so dear to them and against the Mosque of Al-Aqsa, the first Qibla and third holiest Shrine of Islam, that the leaders of the Muslim world, at their Summit in Rabat, seized that event - which brought about unanimous worldwide condemnation and reprobation - to think together of their common cause and muster the force required to overcome their differences, unit and lay the foundations of this large grouping of States, that is, the Organisation of the Islamic Conference which they entrusted, in absolute priority, with liberating Jerusalem and Al-Aqsa from Zionist occupation." (Emphasis mine). If these were historical desires, the charter of the body translates these resolutions into active goals to be pursued. The preamble of the charter states that the members, "convinced that their common (Islamic) belief constitutes a strong factor for rapprochement and solidarity among Islamic people, resolved to preserve Islamic spiritual, ethical, social and economic values, which will remain one of the important factors of achieving progress for mankind;" (Emphasis mine).

The aims of the Organisation under the Charter are summarized under three headings:

1. Strengthen

  1. Islamic solidarity among Member States;

  2. Cooperation in the political, economic, social cultural and scientific fields:

  3. The struggle of all Muslim people to safeguard their dignity, independence and national rights.

2. Coordinate action to:

  1. Safeguard the (Islamic) Holy Places;

  2. Support the struggle of the Palestinian people and assist them in recovering their rights and liberating their occupied territories

3. Work to:

  1. Eliminate racial discrimination and all forms of colonialism;

  2. Create a favorable atmosphere for the promotion of cooperation and understanding between Member States and other countries." (Emphasis mine).

All these facts undeniably and unmistakably show that the OIC is an Islamic religious body, whose aims and goals are fundamentally Islamic. Some basic constitutional questions a sincere Nigerian would ask is: is Nigeria an Islamic country? Is the mission of the OIC shared by all Nigerians irrespective of religions? Should all Nigerians irrespective of religions, with their common funds and resources, be forced into the business of preserving the Islamic spiritual, ethical, social and economic values, which is implied in the membership of the OIC? The very reasons for President Yara Adua's abolition of government sponsorship of pilgrimages answer these questions in the negative. Often people have argued that an Islamic state within the intents of the OIC is that of a country with a significant Islamic presence. Even this interpretation does not justify Nigeria's membership of the body. Certainly, Moslems have an inalienable right to associate amongst themselves for their common interest and to belong to any international organization of Moslems. But it is completely a different thing translating their right to religious association to the necessity for Nigeria as a country to be a member of their associations. Obviously, to promote the religious interests of Moslems or those of any other religion to the status of the interests of the whole country would be breaching the secularity of the country and so unconstitutional. Nigeria is home to people of many religions, and so no single religion is equal to Nigeria. This is a fact acknowledged in the concept of the secularity of the nation. And this is the point President Yara Adua is stressing in abolishing the government sponsorship of pilgrimages and insisting that religion should be separated from politics. What Nigeria has witnessed all the years she has been enrolled in the OIC is the propagation, sponsorship and defence of strictly Islamic agenda not only within the country but also internationally with the common resources of all Nigerians contrary to the provisions of the constitution. This is like a governor running the affairs of his family with state funds and facilities. While other Nigerians tax themselves to support their religious associations and interests, Moslems have theirs via the OIC and IDB supported with the facilities and resources that belong to everyone.

3. Distinguishing the OIC from other international associations Nigeria is a member of, and other nations Nigeria has diplomatic relations with.

The OIC must be distinguished from other international associations or bodies Nigeria is a member of, like the United Nations (UN), the World Bank, the African Union, (AU), and the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). Unlike the OIC they are not religious bodies. They are secular associations without the objective of propagating, sponsoring or defending any religious belief. Because no religious confession determines the operations of these associations, jobs in these international associations are open to the citizens of the member states irrespective of religious orientation. The news now is that Dr. Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala, the former Nigerian Minister of Finance and Foreign Affairs, is made a Managing Director of the World Bank. Another Nigeria, Ibrahim Gambari is a U.N. envoy. These Nigerians benefited from these international bodies Nigeria is a member of not by religious considerations. But this is not the case with the OIC, and its specialized institutions and organs whose jobs are primarily open only to Moslems. The religious neutrality of the international bodies like the UN, World Bank, AU and ECOWAS extends to their specialized institutions and organs.

Equally, a demarcation line has to be drawn between the OIC and countries which Nigeria has diplomatic relations with. The OIC is not a country, but an association of Moslems and Islamic countries. Diplomatic relations between nations is regulated by the Vienna Convention on Diplomatic Relations, which is a multi-lateral treaty stipulated by nations on the basis of equality, sovereignty and independence and not on the ground of religion. And diplomatic relations never implies a rapprochement for a joint action in propagating the religious beliefs of any one group of people. Thus no one can reasonably raise an issue on the fact that Nigeria has diplomatic relations with a country of people with a religion not practised in Nigeria. At this juncture one recalls a point often canvassed in Nigeria in connection with the issue of Nigeria's membership of the OIC. It is remarked in some quarters that Nigeria's membership of the OIC is comparable to the diplomatic relations Nigeria has with the Vatican, the headquarters of the universal Catholic Church. This comparison cannot stand because they two subjects are, in this regard, incomparable. The Vatican is an independent sovereign nation and a subject of international law like other independent sovereign nations of the world. The Pope is the Head of State of the Vatican with all the rights and privileges of that status under international law.

The power to run diplomatic relations (ius legatus) is one these rights and privileges. This is the context of the diplomatic relations with the Vatican. Thus, the Pope like any other head of state has the right and privilege to send out legates. The OIC is not a country. Instead, it is an association of moslem people and countries. Again, diplomatic relations are not run on the basis of religious belief as is the cases with the OIC where Islamic faith is the grundnorm. Consequently, the diplomatic relations with the Vatican does not mean an invitation to Nigeria to bring resources and funds for the running of the goals and objectives of the Vatican as the membership of the OIC implies on Nigeria. This is why over 176 countries of the world including Moslem countries maintain diplomatic relations with the Vatican as a sovereign independent nation. Nigeria has diplomatic relations with Islamic kingdoms like Saudi Arabia. Nobody should raise any issue with that because it is a sovereign independent nation. The OIC is an Islamic religious association like the associations of people of other religions. There is the Lambeth Conference of the world Anglican Communion, and there is also the SECAM (Symposium of the Episcopal Conferences of Africa and Madagascar) which unites the Roman Catholics of Africa and Madagascar. Nigerians of these religions, obviously aware of the secularity of the nation, have not asked that the Nigerian government enrolls Nigerians in them. These Nigerians relate with their fellow believers and support their associations in their personal capacities and not with the resources and offices of the government of the nation.

4. The Islamic Development Bank (IDB)

Among the specialized institutions and organs of the OIC is the IDB. Others are:

  • Islamic Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (ISESCO)

  • Islamic States Broadcasting Organization (ISBO), and

  • International Islamic News Agency (IINA).

The purpose of the IDB is stated as "to foster the economic development and social progress of Member States and Muslim Communities individually as well as collectively in accordance with the principles of the Shariah." (Emphasis mine)The practice of the sharia in 12 northern states of Nigeria, though unconstitutionally, makes it clear to every Nigerian what it means that something is done according to the principles of Sharia. Non-moslems are regarded as non citizens of Nigeria with their religious rights denied and civil rights subjected to the dictates of sharia. Nigeria was enrolled in this bank by President Olusegun Matthew Obasanjo in 2005 with the purchase of 0.03 percent of the overall capital of the bank. One could very easily not border about Nigeria's membership of the IDB in the thinking that after all a non moslem can enter into business or financial transaction with a moslem or a company owned by a moslem. But the issue is deeper than that. The basic condition for membership of the bank is that the prospective shareholder country should be a member of the Organization of the Islamic Conference, pay its contribution to the capital of the Bank and be willing to accept such terms and conditions as may be decided upon by the IDB Board of Governors. (Emphasis mine) This is like telling somebody that before he does business with you, he should first convert to your religion. This precondition takes the membership of the IDB away from the ordinary and common-place sphere of business or financial transactions. It distinguishes the IDB from other international financial institutions like the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and World Bank, which do not as, a precondition, require a prospective member to enroll in a given religious association. Besides, such international institutions are secular. This precondition, therefore defines the IDB as an exclusive Moslem outfit with exclusive Moslem agenda, an institution that is not open to non-moslems. A question here is; why did Nigeria enroll in it. Or what was in the mind of the person who enrolled Nigeria in it. One could say that Obasanjo was only fulfilling one of the duties imposed by the membership of the OIC in order for the OIC to achieve its objectives. But this excuse is utterly lame because as the President he was not bound to take any step that would jeopardize the secularity of the nation. Actually he was duty-bound to stop any such. The membership of the IDB is a further step in the efforts to Islamize Nigeria and a travesty of the secularity of the nation. Why should the money of all Nigerians irrespective of religions be banked according to Islamic law which is only for Moslems whereas there are international financial institutions operating on secular banking laws universally acceptable? Unfortunately, it is very surprising that some people deny the religious nature of the IDB. One Mr. Musa Sillah who led a 13 man delegation to the office of Governor Peter Obi of Anambra inviting him to partner with the IDB had declared that "the bank had nothing to do with religion and politics, but was concerned with rural development and poverty reduction." (See Guardian Newspaper, Online, Friday, 4 August 2006). Against fact there should be no argument.

The implications of the membership of the IDB are many and adverse to the secularity of the country. Money belonging to all Nigerians irrespective of religions is now invested subject to sharia law and for the advancement of Islamic course. Job opportunities arising from both the OIC and IDB are open to only Moslems. Beyond these concrete material effects, the undue application of the national government and resources through the OIC and the IDB to the special advantage of Islam and Moslems may not be unconnected to the Moslems-on-Christians persecutions always raging in the northern parts of the country with Moslem majority as it creates the feeling of superiority and penchant for the denial of the religious rights of non-Moslems.

Coming from this background, the indication by the minister of Finance, Dr. Shamsudeen Usman, to the effect that Nigeria would borrow from the IDB should be a matter of grave concern to anybody who cares for the real secularity of Nigeria as intended by the constitution. It is only ironic that last year Nigeria was rejoicing and joyful that financially she is an independent country having broken the yoke of debts owed to secular foreign financial institutions, and this year the same country is jogging in readiness to go and borrow from a foreign religious institution whose most basic condition is that Nigeria's secularity must be breached by Nigeria being a member of the OIC. On the merit of borrowing, I am no economist and so cannot say much. In any case, my point is that the secularity of the nation should not be compromised in any manner or guise. If the experts on economics decide that Nigeria should borrow money, so be it. But the fact is that borrowing from IDB is compromising the secularity of the country and does not respect the legitimate and constitutional sentiments of non- Moslems. It is a tributary to the islamization stream originating from the watershed that is Nigeria's membership of the OIC. Lovers of the secularity of the country should not be deceived by the banner of 'zero interest for 40 years' being bandied by the Minister of Finance as the reason for borrowing from the IDB. Certainly that is not the only condition. There are undeclared conditions to be decided by the Board of Governors of the bank. Why is it that the Nigeria that does not bank according to sharia law at home will go abroad to bank according to the sharia. The fact remains that borrowing from IDB is for the OIC and for Moslems both in short and long terms and a loss for the secularity of the country both in short and long terms. It is a well known maxim in financial matters that when the offer is too good to be real, you better beware!

5. Conclusion: Nigeria Needs Justice and Fairness

Nigeria needs peace, solidarity, and development. These can never be achieved unless there is justice and fairness in the running of the country; a justice characterized by the respect of the religious rights and sensibility of every body, a justice based on the equality of all citizens and their religions, a justice founded on divorcing religion from politics, a justice demonstrated by an impartial application of the law, and a justice demonstrated by not allowing unpunished the perpetrators and abettors of religious violence. As I am writing this article, it is reported that there is yet another religious disturbance in Kano. As has become the norm in the sharia states, Christians were killed, their shops and properties burned, and churches razed. The information given is that there was a cartoon discovered on the internet and was drawn by a 20-year-old Moslem boy from Bangladesh which Moslems felt offended their religion and they descended on Christians. At the backdrop of this yet another crisis in the north, it is reported that the federal government would convene a national religious conference to address the constant religious crisis bedeviling the nation. One step towards stopping religious crisis is maintaining the secularity of the constitution. Actions that violate the secularity of the country are like fodders to the embers of religious crisis. The success of the announced conference would be measured not from the specious calls by government to religions to preach peace or calls on Nigerians to love one another as brothers which Nigerians are now used to hearing, but from the resolve of the government to dismantle the structures that breach the secularity of the country and consequently support and aid religious tensions. President Yara Adua has started with the abolition of government sponsorship of pilgrimages. He should quickly visit the issue of Nigeria's membership of the OIC and IDB, and in the mean time stop borrowing from the IDB. The Attorney-General of the Federation, Mr. Michael Aondoakaa, SAN, the chief law officer of the federation and the Minister of Justice should mount his saddle and direct both the President and the Minister of Finance accordingly as he did in suspending the implementation of the Naira re-denomination proposed by the Federal Economic Team for failure to comply with the relevant law of the land. Thank God the President has dubbed himself the servant leader who would lead according to the rule of law.

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