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Islamic scholars reject graft, chart path to fiscal governance

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Oloyede

Oloyede

OVER the years, public finance administration in Nigeria by both elected and appointed officials have established a pattern of corruption and unaccountability, thereby entrenching looting of public treasury as an unwritten norm.

The consequences include absence of development and an unconscious institution of financial crime as habit rather than exception, with its attendant offshoots in violent crime due to dissatisfaction with the system, disillusionment, underdevelopment and unemployment, civil unrest and militancy, apprehension and many other forms of agitation.

But the campaign against impunity on public finance management in the country took a different dimension recently when civil society organisations convened another session for further deliberations on the retrogressive trend, with its guests and stakeholders mainly the Islamic clerics.

The ugly trend has become worrisome as the nation, and by implication its leadership, has a predominant population of adherents of the word’s two dominant religions, Christianity and Islam. It would be interesting, therefore, to know if these religions have codes of conduct and ethics that promote this lifestyle which is otherwise considered abhorrent and aberrant worldwide and for which Nigeria has become infamous and isolated.

To this end, the Centre for Social Justice (CSJ), in an ongoing series, held an interactive workshop for Muslims on “Linking Good Public Finance Management with Islamic Teachings” in Abuja, while in attendance were representatives from different Islamic bodies and groups, including Islamic Leadership Academy, Women Inter-faith Council, Amina Islamic Foundation, Al-Bayan Islamic Research Foundation, Centre for Human Rights in Islam, Network for the Propagation of Islamic Knowledge, Ansar-ud-Deen Youth Association of Nigeria and Daiwah Volunteer Group, among others.

The CSJ workshop on Fiscal Governance and Islam, backed by the Open Society Initiative for West Africa (OSIWA) to build the capacity of scholars in public finance management, emphasised the link between good fiscal governance and the teachings of the Qur’an and Hadiths, and ways of spreading the message of fiscal governance in Islam.

The Lead Director of CSJ, Eze Onyekpere, Chairman Media Committee, the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Alhaji Femi Abbas, and the author of “Islam and Fiscal Governance Manual,” Mallam Umar Rufai, in a joint communique at the end of the workshop, identified series of strategies against the menace, urging the incoming government to brace for a fight against corruption, as a foil against the prevailing underdevelopment woes.

The incoming administration should review and implement the recommendations of the Oronsanye Committee on the restructuring of federal Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and parastatals, while retaining such agencies like the Fiscal Responsibility Commission.

Formal and informal income of political office holders should be reviewed to bring them in conformity with societal standards, while government should reduce the cost of bureaucracy in the National Assembly, the Presidency and MDAs; reduce overseas trips and medical tourism.

Equally, it should improve fiscal transparency – publish budgets, income and expenditure of government, and set up the National Council on Public Procurement; reduce the number of aircraft in the presidential fleet, and reconsider the public funding of pilgrimages.

Other tasks include fighting the myth of corruption by tackling impunity in public and private life through re-linking crime and punishment, increase revenue base, insurgency, pursue industrialisation and create employment.

Onyekpere

Onyekpere

Onyekpere, while addressing the over 40 participants that comprised Islamic scholars and clerics from different Muslim groups across the country, said the way public finance is managed has grave implications for the entire citizenry, reiterating that if well managed, the people would get better assurance for the future, become less apprehensive over survival and success, health and prosperity, and even the worship of God.

Noting that the laws of the land are in tandem with both Christian and Islamic laws, he therefore reached out to Islamic faithfuls to help caution public figures in their membership and also serve as whistle blowers when they go contrary to expectations, since they enjoy a good measure of influence over the people.

Warning against complacency, he stated that one may decide not to be interested (in what is happening in government) but cannot decide not to be affected, adding that everyone is a leader in his or her own right, therefore must endeavor to be active participants in governance. He attributed the nation’s worsening corruption and leadership problems to the failure of religious leaders to address issues on practical basis.

Speaking on “Timeliness and Planning in Budget,” Onyekpere explained that the Medium Term Expenditure (MTE) framework is meant to retrospectively analyse the implementation of projects in the past number of years and by its findings, make adjustments and projections for the future.

However, he regretted that budget mismanagement is the reason Nigeria is not developing because the doctrine of checks and balances, which ought to be practiced by the three arms of government, has given way to the doctrine of “take I take” and “watch my back and I watch yours.” Against the background, he noted, public officers are constrained to remain silent while budgets, even at state and council levels, are made increasingly dubious with recurring items under different titles.

Stating that the fear of God was getting increasingly eroded in public life generally, he urged Muslim leaders to go back to their mosques and societies and emphasise this fear.

To guarantee the comfort of citizens, a guest lecture, Prof. Abdu-Raheem A. Musa, urged Nigerians, especially Muslims, to imbibe probity, “for every favour must be accounted for on the last day.” He regretted that Nigerian leaders rejoice at being elected or appointed to office because they only get there to steal and embezzle, not to work or account for their stewardship.

Abdu-Raheem, who is of the Department of Religious Studies, Ekiti State University, Ado-Ekiti, emphasised that “Islam is not just a religion but a complete way of life,” noting that mismanagement is at the root of the country’s rot and equally fuelling impunity and care-free culture among citizens.

Urging the incoming government to avoid the present administration’s mistakes on corruption, he stressed transparency as a matter of religious consciousness, stating that by such practice, one gains God’s approval and reward, while defaulting in it guarantees punishment now and hereafter.

Exploring A Manual on Amanah (Trust) in Fiscal Governance: An Overview From the Qur’an and Hadith, a publication by the CSJ, written by Umar Rafa’i and Danjuma Abdullahi, Abdu-Raheem stressed that the appointment or election of unworthy and unqualified persons, through nepotism, negatively affects productivity and growth, as well as fiscal prudence.

He warned that people chosen to lead should not see themselves as leaders, who are in office to be served and to live in opulence, but to serve by making sure that the led are best taken care of based on available resources. Islamic teachings on corruption and lack of transparency in management of public funds, he said, are objective, rather than subjective, and equally support the nation’s constitutional provisions.

Likewise, as Allah’s representative, man, according to Qur’an 2:20, is expected to perform his duties in accordance with his status, having been principally assigned to safeguard the world. And on the day of reckoning, every human being will be held accountable for his or her conduct.

He urged Muslims to show justice in all things as representatives of Allah, and “carry out their dealings on earth in that light to protect what He has put in place.”

Similarly, for effective and prudent fiscal governance, citizens’ participation is essential. Abdu-Raheem noted that because many Nigerians today lack the fear of God, “they exult in ill-gotten wealth and grow arrogant,” whereas Qur’an 2:188 admonishes adherents, “And eat up not one another’s property unjustly (in any illegal way, like stealing, robbing, deceiving), nor give bribery to the rulers (judges before presenting your cases) that you may knowingly eat up a part of the property of others sinfully.”

Efforts at fiscal governance and prudent management of resources equally include imams, who have been enjoined to engage in means of livelihood so as not to be at the mercy of the faithful under their watch, just as they should cease to see themselves as sectional leaders. They should admonish the faithful that God gives wealth to those He chooses, according to His design, and people will give account of their lives before their creator.

On his part, Dr. Suleiman M. Hussein noted that risk is always embedded in benefits and brings about efficiency through efforts to get the most from minimum labour. The Business Administration lecturer at the Ahmadu Bello University, Zaria, said that due diligence is essentially about minimising cost – which includes risks, by probing into “every aspect of knowledge relevant in one’s transaction with another that could affect the transaction in view, and how to go about it to minimise cost and maximise target benefits.

Speaking on “Mainstreaming Due Diligence and Public Accountability into Muslim-based Non-Governmental Organisations’ Advocacy Interventions,” Hussein explained that the nature of business entity determines the kind, shape and method of due diligence but that in all, information is ultimate to reduce risk and avoid being manipulated.

According to him, Islam encourages NGOs, as long as their operations are in tandem with its teachings, and their hidden motive is to gain reward from God. Such motive must be there from inception, and the activities of such bodies will be conducted in line with Islamic principles in relation to the best interest of the public.

Hussein noted further that Islam is entrepreneurial and always encourages people not to depend on others. Likewise, an entrepreneurial NGO looks for opportunities and gaps to fill; and even though it is not for profit, it can break even. To do this, he said, “think about opportunities wherever you are and believe that you can do it. Always think about ways and opportunities to make additional income, because the world is all about economic power.”

He discouraged the mindset that ardent Muslims should not be entrepreneurial, as “Islam abhors idleness but is not capitalist,” while the early champions of the faith made progress in the cause of discipleship because they were entrepreneurial and wealthy.

According to him, the capital that a Muslim possesses is a trust (amanah) and investing it without due diligence is sinful. Therefore, one should be prayerful and diligent before undertaking a venture, ensuring that written agreement is reached first with partners and every aspect clearly defined.

And for Muslim leaders to effectively propagate the faith and its ideals, especially on regenerating and renewing national consciousness on accountability, justice, fairness and righteousness, the Chairman of Media Committee, the Nigerian Supreme Council of Islamic Affairs (NSCIA), Mallam Femi Abbas, has advocated a sustainable friendship with the conventional mass media.

Speaking on “Using the Media as an Effective Voice Amplifier in Public Accountability and Anti-Corruption Messaging,” Abbas noted that “information leads to education, education leads to knowledge, and knowledge leads to development.” To this end, Muslims and Muslim groups should cultivate a culture of friendship with the mass media and practitioners because the mass media could make or unmake individuals and institutions, even governments.

 

 

 

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