This is an interview with the head of Anglican Church communion in Nigeria Primate Nicholas Okoh
There has been controversy on non-interest banking otherwise known as Islamic banking and it appears religious leaders of the Christian faith have taken a position against it. Why?
The Church I represent, the Anglican Church, held a meeting in Owerri and the standing committee said it was not right to do it the way the Governor of the Central Bank was going about it.
We had a meeting of Bishops in Delta state at Ibru Center and we also said the same thing.
We are with CAN as a body and I was present in the press conference where the position of CAN was made known.
What we are saying is that the Governor of the Central Bank should make provision for general non-interest banking not just Islamic banking. And that means that like the Ministry of Education, you give general guidelines for those who want to establish to schools. If I now want to run my own after meeting the general guidelines requirements according to Christian or Islamic bias I can do so.
That is why today Christians have schools and Islamic denominations like Ahmadiyya and Ansarudeen have schools running according to their own principles.
This same thing we want the Governor of the Central Bank to do not concentrating on Islamic Banking to the detriment of others. What he has done is to say that he would provide guidelines for other forms of non-interest banking later. Why not now? Why are we using state facilities to give favour to one religion? That is not right.
Again the issue he raised about establishing council of experts or an advisory body on Islamic banking in the Central bank makes the Central Bank an Islamic Institution. It is unfair to the rest of Nigeria. We are not quarrelling with Islam. We have nothing against Islam or Moslems. We are saying the Governor of Central Bank have not handled things properly.
But immediately some people would react and say what has been provided is general guidelines for non-interest banking.
If you read the guide line they said specifically that this is for Islamic banking and that later there would be other guide lines for other forms of non-interest banking it is unfortunate.
And Muslims would say why don’t Christians go and create your own banking.
Non-interest banking is not just Islamic banking. Islamic banking is one of the forms of non-interest banking. There are others. There are people who are prepared to start their own but attention has not been given to that. The Governors attention has been consumed by his emphasis on Islamic banking. That is what is bringing all these grammar.
But does the Christian faith allow anything like non-interest banking?
Yes because it has Biblical justification. Nothing is wrong with it.
However, I should say something more about this issue. What we have now is more than Islamic banking, people see that Islamic banking is not standing alone. It is part and parcel of an on-going process.
First, in a kind of unacceptable way we were smuggled into OIC. The OIC generated a lot of controversy that polarized the country and they are still there. More than that during the regime of president of President Olusegun Obasanjo, suddenly Islamic Sharia became an issue and that is without regard that we said this country must not accept a particular religion. Twelve states or so all of a sudden became Islamic states. And then the same people took Nigeria to D8-what they call the Developing 8. And of all of them only Nigeria is a non Muslim state.
We see that this Islamic banking is another further step in the same direction coupled with what Boko Haram is demanding, we say there is cause for worry.
I was going to come to Boko Haram. Many people have said the agenda is islamization of Nigeria. How can that be possible in this age and why is there any fear about that? Many people would say we should just ignore it. It is not possible?
We cannot ignore it because you can see systematic movement. There is a systematic move one after the other in the same direction to gain advantage over and above others. What prevent people from making a declaration that Nigeria is a now an Islamic state and then we start quarrelling, fighting and harming ourselves.
So we think that Institutions of national standing like the Central Bank should not just think of banking for the sake of banking, it is part of institutions for national cohesion. And if it is introducing anything that would throw Nigerians into dichotomy, then it is not achieving its purpose.
But even the Deputy Governor, Tunde Lemo, said that this issue predated Sanusi
This is not the form that it was thought originally. If you read the issue, it is about non-interest banking not just Islamic banking. So he is taking advantage that we are not bankers and so on, hence telling people what he wants them to hear.
But sir, it is also a cause of worry that the OIC and D8 thing happened and CAN never addressed all these in the past.
The country is not governed by CAN. There are certain institutions that ought to monitor our constitution. Because by the time we are entering all these things which compromise our multi-ethnic environment, we are setting up traps for ourselves.
You were in this country when the OIC issue was raging as fire, you can’t say that CAN didn’t say anything. You were in this country when the 12 states declared themselves Islamic and what Nigerians did and said and nobody cared to listen. And then the issue of D8.
It was already actualized before we realized what was going on. And now again this one. Why are we doing things in a way that call for suspicion? And the speed in which it is being pursued is enough to highlight the suspicion that should surround it. It is not as simple as people are looking at it.
Let me tell you. In the future, in the hands of a Muslim president, a Muslim finance minister and a Muslim CBN Governor, three lined up that way, these same facility that we are talking about now would become an instrument of coercion.
In what way sir?
Yes. Any bank that does not follow it would be penalized. Bankers would lose confidence in themselves and furthermore, they said that banks, even commercial banks, could have a window for Islamic bank
I see a contradiction in this. On one hand Islamic banking is supposed not to be applied to alcohol, pork and other things like that. But here is a commercial bank that has made its money from all these and you are asking it to open a window for Islamic banking for you.
There is a lot that is not yet explained.
On the issue of Boko Haram. How do you think we can deal with it? Is it just a social problem like what is currently happening in London?
For me there is a parallel being drawn by people which is not true. The parallel between Boko Haram and the Niger Delta militants. They are not the same.
The Niger Delta militants are people who have been cheated over the years. The International community is championing the issue of the Niger Delta. Theirs is an established case of cheating, oppression and marginalization. On the issue of the Niger Delta, Ken Saro Wiwa died and others like that. Isaac Adaka Boro and others long time ago canvassed against the marginalization of the Niger Delta. This is not a get up and start fighting people.
To talk of Boko Haram, before talking about the method to adopt, what are their grievances? Who has documented their grievances?
When have they presented before the national debate their needs? To say these are our needs and problems and then the country has not attended to them? At what time?
Now if their needs means that they are against western education, is the country going to negotiate so that we can lower our educational standards or we amend the constitution since they say they believe in the Sharia system and not the Federal Constitution of Nigeria?
Are we to adopt Sharia so that the country would know peace?
These are problems that we need to understand before we can know the way and method to follow them.
So they should organize themselves properly. Have a recognized leadership and present an issue to the nation. To say this is our need – these are the ways the country has wronged us. So we need these things to be attended to. Until that is done anybody trying to solve the problem of Boko Haram is throwing stone into the bush. He doesn’t know what he is doing.
The government has set up a committee to dialogue with them.
“On what basis? Is it on the basis of changing the constitution to Sharia? Or to close down our universities and secondary schools? Before I can answer that let them present to us their grievances. If they have no grievances then they are terrorists and should be so treated.
It is becoming increasingly difficult to draw people to the church genuinely. So everything the church seems to offer these days is not about salvation but prosperity and miracles. Does that worry you?
Yes and No. Yes because what is being presented as prosperity gospel if not properly defined can mislead innocent people. More so in a society that already has its values devalued, we could have a moral failure in society. Whether you talk about political parties, the church or the people there is a moral failure. The people are now uncomfortable with the kind of affluence that is canvassed in the name of God. Many people commit crimes now to acquire wealth so that people do not say God has not blessed them. My approach is to say that prosperity gospel is a half truth. In the sense that God is the owner of all wealth as Psalm 24 tells us. The oil wealth Nigeria has is God’s. In every sense God is rich because everything belongs to him. But the scriptures also say that we will always have the poor with us. So it looks like a mirage trying to organize the world without a poor man. We must realize that money is not gospel or faith. In fact, Jesus warned that the life of a person does not consist in the abundance of his possessions. So while talking about God being rich and that His children too should be rich it must be properly presented to avoid confusing the innocent because if it is wrongly presented it can lead people astray.
But having said that, I want to also say that poverty is a disease. Poverty is not a blessing. But what the Christian church teaches is legitimate labor and hard work the purpose of which is to earn income so we can give to others who do not have. The essence of Christian labor is to provide for yourself and to have surplus to give to those who do not have.
So riches are from God and they are meant for His children. But we should not deceive ourselves that everybody who has wealth is righteous or approved by God. Or that if you go to church that in six months you must ride a Mercedes Benz. That kind of preaching is misleading. At the same time poverty is not a blessing.
That leads to the issue of mode of worship in churches. The Pentecostal churches are said to be more attractive to youth than the Anglican Church so they are taking away younger people.
Well, our church cannot imitate the Pentecostals. The Pentecostals imitate us. We have been in existence for over 500 years. How can we go and start learning from people who are only 30 or so years old. Many of them are breakaways from the Anglican Church and some of their leaders are not even properly ordained. It is true times are changing and we respond and adapt to the changes as much as is biblically acceptable. We do not do things that are not Biblically acceptable.
Maybe you are not adapting fast enough and that is why the younger generation find Pentecostals more attractive
It is not about being attractive. Many people are being deceived. New things are usually attractive. New things provide alternative to what was. But the novelty soon wears out. Some people who have left for new churches did so only because of titles. When they give them titles there they remain there. With the young people, those who have faith cannot leave the church because it is their father’s house. It is for better or worse. In any case the places where they run to have more problems than the Anglican Church. In the Anglican Church there is democracy.
You can challenge the Bishop. You can ask questions. But in the Pentecostal churches the overseers are like a god
Could this have anything to do with the doctrine?
Some make their doctrine cheap. There a churches that have no rules on second marriage, adultery, divorce and so on. So some people prefer such churches because they don’t bother them on these issues.
You said poverty is a disease but is it not a function of the dysfunction in governance?
Yes it is, sadly.
Which leads one to the present government and how it came about. Many people who voted for President Goodluck Jonathan in the last election are beginning to get disillusioned that nothing appears to be happening in government. He promised transformation. We cannot see any sign of that?
I am one of those who have been praying for change in Nigeria. We need transformation. And that is why many thought that a young man like President Jonathan was a good candidate. I prayed and continue to pray for him that he would not fail Nigerian. But I believe anything that will succeed needs to be well planned. If you rush into any project it is not likely to last. I believe that he is in the feasibility study phase. Maybe if he spends the first six months to one year planning, since he is not asking for a second term, he can concentrate in the remaining time serving the people and providing development. That is unlike the person who is coming for second term and starts preparing for that even in his first term. The president has said he would not ask for second term so he would concentrate on governance in the remaining period.
Nigerians are used to leaders who make promises but don’t keep them.
I do not want to be a cynic here. I want to believe he will do what he said he would do. As for getting disillusioned I think it is too early. Let us give him the benefit of doubt that he is still trying to put his house in order. The cabinet he put in place is still new. What will transform the system will be the president’s ability to pilot the people he has appointed to help him realize his vision. If he is able to get them to do what he wants them to do he will achieve his aims of transformation.
But it is too early to get disillusioned. Nigerians should give him some time. They should be patient. He has inherited a lot of old problems. Epileptic power supply, for example. Nigerians have no patience in this area. He must quickly tackle that if he is serious about growing the economy or achieving the goals of Vision 2020. I know that Nigerians have invested a lot of trust in President Jonathan so he cannot afford to fail.
The Anglican Church frowns at homosexuality but it is something that continues to be accepted in many quarters and many countries.
Homosexuality is rebellion against God and rebellion is sin. The fact that many people accept it does not make it right. Our attitude towards homosexual is that we would help them to reintegrate by leading them to repentance, helping them to cure the devil that is in their lives.
Some of them got into it for money. There is usually heavy financial inducement. In some cases it is a cult of power
Some of them ask that we try to understand and study their problem and that it is a condition. That they were created like that?
They were not created like that. That is a lie against God. God cannot create a man with a male organ and make him have sexual inclination towards another man. It is an old sin. It has been there since the bible days. If God wanted Adam to have another man as mate and companion. God created another human being, a woman, who is physically and physiologically different from Adam to be his mate