The Nigerian Supreme Council for Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), on Thursday, alleged that, for decades, Nigerian Muslims have been grossly marginalized in the country’s financial sector and other growth triggering financial interventions of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) due to, largely, the interest element that is usually involved in such schemes.

It said that, for Muslims, who constitute over half of the country’s population, the question of avoiding interest is non-negotiable, and the majority of Muslims would opt to live in poverty rather than devour interest and face the wrath of their Creator.

NSCIA President General, Alhaji Muhammad Sa’ad Abubakar, in a statement released in Abuja, said that many Muslims in Nigeria have missed opportunities in CBN’s Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), Agri-Business, Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS), Creative Industry Financing Initiative, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund, Real Sector Support Facility (RSSF) and Credit Support for the Healthcare Sector.

The statement which was signed by the Deputy Secretary-General, NSCIA, Prof. Salisu Shehu, noted that, “in the absence of non-interest finance, the result has been a high rate of financial exclusion among Muslims, as high as over 60 percent in some Muslim communities. This has led to worsening incidence of abject poverty.”

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He said the implication was that without non-interest alternatives, the CBN can hardly attain its goal of 80 percent financial inclusion earlier targeted for 2020, nor can any meaningful poverty alleviation and economic empowerment programme be actualized in the foreseeable future.

NSCIA, however, commended the CBN for the recent release of guidelines for the non-interest version of all its intervention programmes, particularly the Anchor Borrowers Programme (ABP), Agri-Business, Small and Medium Enterprises Investment Scheme (AGSMEIS), Creative Industry Financing Initiative, Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise Development Fund, Real Sector Support Facility (RSSF) and Credit Support for the Healthcare Sector.

It described it as a bold step that would herald inclusive growth, and a proactive mechanism for averting a looming economic recession threatening the global economy as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

NSCIA however suggested that, given the indispensability of financial literacy to achieving financial inclusion and economic recovery and growth, the CBN should use all relevant agencies and avenues, including the networks of the National Orientation Agency (NOA), radio and television programmes, among others, to educate the public on the importance of these interventions, and the procedures for accessing them.

It directed all State Councils to, after studying the details of the guidelines, organize trainings for Imams, ‘Ulama’, leaders of Islamic organizations, trade unions and farmers associations, as well as other key stakeholders, on the value and procedures of accessing these important interventions.

It also asked all State Councils of Islamic Affairs, as well as all other Islamic organisations to design and implement sensitization and mobilization programmes for farmers, businessmen, and other eligible citizens, while Imams and the ‘Ulama’ should use their sermons, lectures, lessons, radio and television programmes to educate the Muslim community on the imperative of utilizing the interventions.