Sunday, 11 September 2016

Nigeria, development and religion

The report that the Federal Government would be deepening its partnership with the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to fund critical projects in health, water and the infrastructure sector has been expectedly but unnecessarily unsettling given the volatile and complex nature of Nigeria’s warped federation and sensitivity to issues of religion.

This development assistance, which began in Saudi Arabia in February this year when President Muhammadu Buhari was on pilgrimage and official visit to Saudi Arabia, is part of the mounting concerns over perceived but unfounded state support for a drive for a dominant Islamic foothold in the country.

President Muhammadu Buhari had in February this year welcomed an offer by the Islamic Development Bank (IDB) to organise a financing roundtable in Abuja to mobilise more funds for investment and development of infrastructure in Nigeria.The economic diplomatic move in February came to fruition recently when the president of IDB visited President Buhari in Abuja where the loan support instrument from the IDB was consolidated.

While receiving Dr. Ali Madani, the retiring President of the IDB Group at the State House President Buhari commended the bank for supporting several developmental projects across the country, acknowledging that the bank had funded several people-oriented projects in Osun, Kaduna, Jigawa, Niger, Katsina, Kano and Ebonyi states, demonstrating its “soft spot and robust support” for Nigeria.
President Buhari who also appreciated the IDB Group and other countries for extending their assistance to Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in the Northeast told the visiting IDB chief that Nigeria would meet all its obligations to the development institution within the shortest time possible.

The outgoing bank chief also assured Buhari that the IDB would work with its traditional partners such as the Saudi Fund, the Kuwait Fund, Arab Bank for Development in Africa and the Abu Dhabi Fund, to increase the quantum of funding available to Nigeria.Welcoming the offer, Buhari restated his government’s determination to revamp and diversify the Nigerian economy rapidly. He welcomed the plan by the IDB to fast-track the take-off of the bilingual education programme, aimed at integrating the Almajiri system of education into western education in Nigeria.

The IDB has already provided $98 million for the bilingual education programme in Adamawa, Gombe, Kaduna, Kano, Kwara, Nasarawa, Niger, Osun and Yobe states.The bank plans to support similar projects in other states of Nigeria.

In the first instance, no matter the diplomatic niceties, there is no free lunch from banks, local or foreign. Many of the so-called development support are loans, after all, no matter the conditions.

So, as Nigeria looks to IDB for infrastructure upgrades too, citizens who heaved a sigh of relief in 2006 when Nigeria exited the Paris Club’s debt burden at a very huge cost are bound to be very worried. After agreeing to help finance a $150m overhaul of the Lekki seaport in Lagos State, the Islamic Development Bank is quickly becoming Nigeria’s top financier for infrastructural development.

The IDB has expanded its interests in Nigeria after agreeing to invest $150m in the Lekki seaport project. The $1.55bn undertaking, which has been scheduled for completion soon will be Nigeria’s first deep-water port.

The bank formally entered the country at the beginning of 2012, after injecting $470m into various projects and trade finance operations throughout Nigeria. By 2015, the IDB must have pumped more than a billion dollars into the Nigerian economy.

It’s worth noting that Nigeria’s ever-improving infrastructure is becoming heavily reliant on FDI from banks like the IDB. At present, the government’s total external debt is sitting at $6.67bn, which is around three percent of GDP. This is why Nigerians are becoming increasingly wary of taking on more foreign loans lest the country slip back into such heavy indebtedness as crippled its economy throughout the late 1990s.

Spoken of in hushed tones but equally worrisome is a growing suspicion in some parts of the country that for the Muhammadu Buhari administration, Islamization of Nigeria has become a fundamental objective. And the relationship with the IDB is often cited as one reason. This should not be. But such is the level of distrust in the country that even good money cannot be sourced for development without meaning being read to it.

There is therefore a sense in which the pronouncement by the influential Sultan of Sokoto, generally accepted as the supreme authority on Islam in Nigeria, that “nobody can turn Nigeria into an Islamic state” was not only a direct response to the widespread perception of possible Islamization of the country but also a timely one. The perception of the president’s pattern of appointing more Muslims into top positions in the country and the attitude of Nigeria’s security and intelligence agencies to the criminal activities of herdsmen who daily strike in many parts of the country without hindrance have also smacked of official complicity. This, of course, is a dangerous perception in a fragile federation such as this.

What is more, Nigeria’s membership of, even as an observer, the Organization of Islamic Countries (OIC) has always been controversial in the polity. Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution as amended clearly provides that Nigeria is a secular state as it prohibits state religion thus:

“The Government of the Federation or of a State shall not adopt any religion as State Religion”. This must be seen by all Nigerians to be so. Nigerian leaders should therefore be careful about religious affiliations of any hue, no matter the mobility of intentions for, even a little carelessness can trigger such suspicions as can lead to unnecessary conflagration.

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