LEGAL IDEAS FORUM

COVID-19 INTERVENTION FUND: WHERE IS THE SHARE OF THE FAITHFULS? BY AHMAD ABUBAKAR DUBAGARI

INTRODUCTION 
The Nigerian Central Bank declares its intention to and in fact start to release intervention funds to cushion the negative effect of Covid-19 on households and small scale businesses. Item 8 of the CBN guideline provided that the loan is given on interest and that, “Interest rate under the intervention shall be 5% p.a. (all inclusive) up to 28th February 2021 and thereafter, the interest on the facility shall revert to 9% p.a. (all inclusive) as from 1st March 2021.” 
The first question I asked my self after reading this is, faithfuls businesses are also negatively effected by this Covid-19, where is their share?Are they not entitled to take the loan? The interest rate provision may prevent many faithfuls from benefitting from  this loan.
The Judaism, Christianity and Islam has condemned and prohibited transactions on interest. The biblical Exodus provided that “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, you shall not deal with them as a creditor; you shall not exact interest from them” (Ex 22:25). The book of Deuteronomy also provided that “Take thou no interest of him or increase; but fear thy God; that thy brother may live with thee. Thou shalt not give him thy money upon interest, nor give him thy victuals for increase. (23: 20-21) These verses applicable to Jews and Christian. 
In Islam, giving and taking interest was forbidden in many provisions of the Qur’an and Sunnah. The Qur’an call upon the believers to avoid usury and interest where it says “O you who keep faith, do not devour usury [riba], doubling and redoubling it. Fear God, so that you may flourish [tuflihuna]” (Qur’an 3:130).” 
In the last days of the holy prophet Muhammad (PBUH), he warned his people about devouring interest, so also did the last verses of the Qur’an in Surah al-Baqarah where it says
“Those who devour usury will not stand except as stand one whom the Evil one by his touch Hath driven to madness. That is because they say: “Trade is like usury,” but Allah hath permitted trade and forbidden usury. Those who after receiving direction from their Lord, desist, shall be pardoned for the past; their case is for Allah (to judge); but those who repeat (The offence) are companions of the Fire: They will abide therein (for ever).. God annihilates usury and makes charity grow…”(Q 2: 275-276)  
Qur’an has also condemned Jews for ignoring the prohibition of Usury. It says “”…We have forbidden to them certain good things that were permitted to them…. for their taking riba, though they were forbidden, and that they devoured people’s wealth in falsehood, and We have prepared for the unbelievers among them a grievous chastisement” (Al-Nisa 4:161) furthermore, in Ezekiel 18: 13, the holy Bible prescribed death penalty upon every Christian participates in interest transaction. Although there may be many interpretation to the biblical verses on the prohibition of the Interest, the Qur’anic verses on the prohibition are crystalline clear as sun in the noon that, Interest is haram (Non-permissible).
A cursory look to the above provisions of the holy texts one can conclude that, God wanted to create a conducive  economic atmosphere and foster a good sense of brotherhood and compassion in economic activities as well as protecting humanity from unjust exploitation of wealth. Taking interest for money lent is to sell what does not exist, or sell something twice, the property and its use. Evidently, this leads to inequality which is at variance with justice. The leading scholastic theologian of the Roman Catholic Church, Saint Thomas Aquinas (1225-1274) has analogized this unholy act. “where a man to sell both the wine and its use separately, he would be selling the same thing twice over, that is, would be selling what doesn’t exist, and will clearly be sinning by unjust action.”
In other sense charging interest is one of the greatest machinery of exploitation. Simply to give a loan to the debtor to enter  into a business and invest the money, takes risks, and regardless the success of the venture or business, even in bankruptcy, the debtor still has to pay back with interest. Sometimes a person have to even pay double of the loan he collected. Former President Olusegun Obasanjo has narrated to us the Nigerian experience on exploitation in charging Interest. “what Nigeria borrowed as at 1985 (i.e., from IMF) was $5 billion, Nigeria has paid about $16 billion as at 1998, yet we have been told that we still owe $28 billion.” The Injustice occasion in charging interest rate is manifest to all right thinking and prudent person. Consequently, it’s not only spiritual leaders that remain hostile against it, but also philosophers such as Aristotle and Plato.
Right of the Faithfulls to Access Non-Interest Banking and Economic Facilities
It is fundamental and cardinal principle of our existence in Nigeria that the country should be a secular state. What secular state simply means is that Nigerian Government shouldn’t adopt a particular religion as its religion- the official religion as did the Egyptian constitution for instance. Instead, the government should guarantee freedom of religion to everybody, to follow and practice each religion he deems fit. By the social contract, the government owes each of its citizen duty to protect his right to freedom of religion and prevent anybody or authority from infringing such a right. Section 38 of the 1999 Constitution of the Federal Republic of Nigeria (as amended) provided that “(1) Every person shall be entitled to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, including freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom (either alone or in community with others, and in public or in private) to manifest and propagate his religion or belief in worship, teaching, practice and observance.”
The above provision is to the effect that every should be allowed to manifest his religion in practice and observance including in practicing and observing it economic activities.  Therefore, it’s fundamental  right of both Muslim and Christian to be given opportunity to practice non-interest activities including taking loans from the apex bank to develop their ventures. 
Additionally, section 16 (1) (b) of the Constitution clearly mandated the government to  “control the national economy in such manner as to secure the maximum welfare, freedom and happiness of every citizen on the basis of social justice and equality of status and opportunity;” and subsection (d) provided that “without prejudice to the right of any person to participate in areas of the economy within the major sector of the economy, protect the right of every citizen to engage in any economic activities outside the major sectors of the economy.” 
The effects of these provisions is to protect the right of every person, whether faithful or not, to engage in any economic activity in line with policy and directions of the state. Where a person’s faith deny him from participating in some activities, the state owes a duty to check any possible means to enable him participate. Especially in this situation where at least 45% of the Nigerian Population are hostile to participate in interest transactions. 
Subsection (2) of section 16  further provided that: “The State shall direct its policy towards ensuring:  (a) the promotion of a planned and balanced economic development;  (b) that the material resources of the nation are harnessed and distributed as best as possible to serve the common good; 
(c) that the economic system is not operated in such a manner as to permit the concentration of wealth or the means of production and exchange in the hands of few individuals or of a group; and 
(d) that suitable and adequate shelter, suitable and adequate food, reasonable national minimum living wage, old age care and pensions, and unemployment, sick benefits and welfare of the disabled are provided for all citizens.”
The effects of all this provisions is to make sure that economy has served common good of all the citizens in the country, without discrimination base on sex, religion or tribe. Fortunately, all the heavenly religion has condemned interest transactions, and interest transactions is just a capitalist idea and therefore, can be amended to reflect our values and social structure.
Fortunately, taking this into cognizance, the CBN and our Legislators have tried to dualize our economy, to give room for both Conventional and Islamic Banking to take place. For Instance, section  23(1) of the Banks and Other Financial Institutions Act (BOFIA) states as follows:
“Every bank shall display at its offices it lending and deposit interest rates and shall render to the bank information on such rates as may be specified from time to time to the Bank provided that the provisions of this sub-section shall not apply to profit and loss sharing banks”
The profit and Lost Banks in this provision clearly refers non-interest banks. The CBN as a custodian of the Nigerian Banks was empowered to issue guidelines for  the non-interest banks and in fact, to even create CBN Sharia Council whom saddled with responsibility of advising the Bank on activities of non-interest banks. Nigerian Security and Exchange Commission also allows some Shari’a Compliant Products to be traded on Nigerian Capital Market. 
Furthermore, the system of non-interest economy is in practice across the world, including some of the most economically strong countries, such as United Kingdom, United State of America, China, Australia, Germany to mention a few. In fact, UK is known to be the hub of non-interest banking. Therefore, it’s high time for the CBN to start giving loan base on the non-interest mode of transaction to ensure inclusion of each and every citizen wishes to participate in the economy.
Acknowledgment
The Qur’anic verses translation was copied from various sources. 
ABOUT THE AUTHOR 
AHMAD ABUBAKAR DUBAGARI, IS AN ISLAMIC FINANCE ENTHUSIASTS, WRITER AND POET, AUTHOR, WITH STRONG INTEREST IN CAPITAL MARKETS, TELECOMMUNICATIONS, PROPERTY AND ISLAMIC COMMERCIAL LAWS. HE WRITES FROM AHMADU BELLO UNIVERSITY FACULTY OF LAW. HE HAS MANY PAPERS TO HIS CREDIT. HE COULD BE REACHED THROUGH HIS E-MAIL [email protected] OR HIS PHONE 0814 651 5644
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