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‘Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution creates controversies’

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Ms Ummahani Amin, Managing Partner of Metropolitan Law Firm

Ms Ummahani Amin, Managing Partner of Metropolitan Law Firm, in this interview with Assistant Editor, Law, and Foreign Affairs, JOSEPH ONYEKWERE, spoke on the Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA), insecurity and Child Rights’ Act. She also talked about Islamic personal law, finance, and sharia. Her verdict is that Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution generates controversy, saying that the government of the federation or of a state shall not adopt any religion as state religion when federating states have the autonomy to make laws for orderliness and good governance of their people.

What, in your view, needs to be done to improve the criminal justice system as well as the current national security challenges such as kidnapping, banditry, and armed robbery?  
All key organs involved in the administration of the criminal justice system should be revivified, that is, by the law enforcement agencies, judiciary, and the prisons. Most emphasis is on law enforcement agencies, given that they are responsible for combating and confronting insecurity. Personnel of law enforcement agencies, which are primarily the Nigerian Police Force, are greatly outnumbered with most catering to VIP citizens. Hence, the huge gap in crime detection, investigation and general policing in the country. Asides the size factor, security personnel are not equipped with the necessary crime-fighting tools. The judiciary also plays a critical role in the area of prosecution – in ensuring that perpetrators are dealt with according to law serving as a deterrent to other criminals. 

The Administration of Criminal Justice Act (ACJA) 2015 seems to incorporate both the penal and criminal codes as being practiced between Northern and Southern Nigeria previously. Why is it still a challenge for some states to domesticate the law, especially up North? 
The ACJA is commendable legislation that promotes efficient management of criminal justice institutions and transcending the criminal justice system from the archaic punitive nature by securing the rights of citizens. Critical stakeholders continue to press for the domestication of the Act in states. I believe that states are faced with implementation challenges. Domestication requires extensive research for modification of the Act to suit their local environment to ensure uniformity of the criminal justice system in Northern and Southern states. 

What are your views about the Child Rights Act and feminism? 
The provisions enshrined in the Child Rights Act are to provide and protect the rights of a Nigerian child. However, a large number of Nigerian children remains marginalised with no access to basic healthcare and education, which are central to the well-being and development of every child. On the other hand, feminism is an important movement that challenges the marginalisation of women based on their gender. It is necessary to shape our views today to guarantee the onward inclusion of women. Both are potentially powerful tools to tackle barriers to social inclusion.

How can the challenge of girl-child education be tackled in the North in the light of the raging insurgency and the campaign against western education by terrorists? 
The underlying problem remains insecurity in Nigeria, particularly in the North. News about kidnapped schoolgirls made headlines more than once. This will discourage the enthusiasm of parents to send their girls to school due to fear of being kidnapped. The initial solution is to tackle insecurity in the North. 

Do you consider it proper and legal for some states in the North to establish sharia system of governance, when Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution says no state should adopt state religion?
Section 10 of the 1999 Constitution generates controversies as to whether Nigeria, as a whole, is a religious country or secular state. I presume the intention is to achieve a balance of religious tolerance and prevent any particular religion from dominating another. Also, given the operational federal system of government, states are allowed a degree of autonomy. However, I believe that sharia law should only be applicable to individuals subject to it. 

Alternative dispute resolution mechanism such as arbitration and conciliation is gaining momentum worldwide. What is the place of arbitration in Islamic law practice? 
Arbitration is recognised by Islamic Law as a method for the settlement of disputes and is referred to as Tahkim. The validity of arbitration is also recognised by the four sources of Sharia – the Quran, Sunna, Idjma, and Qiyas. 
 
In Islamic banking law, interest is forbidden. How do the banks grow their profits in such circumstances?
Islamic banking law prohibits interest but allows for profit-making. Islamic banks offer various products that mostly leverage on equity participation systems to make them earn money. That is, if a bank loans money to a business, the business does not pay back with interest but will give the bank a share in its profits. There are also products like Murabaha – cost-plus financing, where an individual can access finance with no ambiguity on the cost and profit margin of the subject of the finance.
How did you delve into training and conferencing as a lawyer? 
 
One of the objectives I had when starting my practice as a lawyer was also to go into areas that are not quite common and one of them is Islamic finance. I felt there are a huge gap and a lot of opportunities in that space but Nigeria wasn’t prepared then. So, we started Islamic finance training, consultancy and then advocacy as part of our CSR in 2019. Our resource was excellent and so our trainings were rated A+ in partnership with IFISA of South Africa and IFCUK. So, we focused on the training for four years and we thought it was ripe to start a conference too to meet up with the demands for Islamic finance in the ecosystem.

What is your interest in Islamic finance and how did you begin to drive conversations around this?
During my masters’ programme in business and commercial law, one of the courses was Islamic contemporary issues and Islamic finance was one of the topics. That spurred my interest, coupled with the fact that I come from a family that does not have a culture other than Islam. Islam is against interest and usury. So, I grew up knowing that you cannot take an interest. It is forbidden. My mother has never seen the four walls of a bank. So, that in itself pushed me into Islamic finance to contribute my quota towards financial inclusion.

Nigeria is a secular state and Islamic finance is a financial system that is based on adherence to Sharia or Islamic law. Why do you think citizens, in general, would benefit from services, products, and instruments that are based on compliance to sharia or Islamic law?
Yes, Nigeria is a secular state, but Islamic finance is Abrahamic Finance as all the three main religions – Islam, Christianity, and Judaism – have a common objection to certain activities such as usury, pornography, alcohol, etc, which they all term as what is harmful to the society. All the religions also promote equity, fairness, and justice. Even though it is globally recognised as Islamic finance, its principles cut across the three main religions in Nigeria.

Likewise, there are countries with minority Muslim population such as the UK with five percent as Muslims, Luxembourg, South Africa, Hong Kong all with less than two percent Muslim population but with many non-interest financial institutions or instruments being patronized by both Muslims and non-Muslims. Non-interest financial institutions in Nigeria are open to all, irrespective of region or religion just like both Muslims and non-Muslims invested in the Sukuk issued by the federal government. 

How can legal practitioners across Nigeria leverage on the development of Islamic Finance in terms of practice? 
The role of a legal practitioner is very key in Islamic finance transactions because they are all basically contracts that join financiers with finances. Islamic finance is a new sector, which is fast developing in Nigeria at a neck-breaking speed, compared to other jurisdictions. As in any mutual relationship, some aspects may go wrong and result in disputes. Without skills from legal practitioners and judges, the adjudication of dispute will be difficult, biased or wrongly handled.  I can humbly say Islamic finance transactions cannot go on without lawyers. So, this conference is very key for lawyers and that’s why we have high-ranking legal practitioners involved.

Do you really believe that the lack of non-interest financial services impedes Nigeria’s economic growth? How progressive do you think the Nigerian economy would be with non-interest financial services?
Lack of non-interest financial services has affected the economic and social activities of some regions (especially Northern States) in the country. Many refused to associate or transact financial transactions via interest-based financial institutions, which also limit their potential. EFiNA conducted a survey and found the reason why many people decided to be financially excluded was due to a lack of non-interest financial services. They decided to forego any benefit interest-based financial services can offer in order to maintain their religious values. The Nigerian economy will experience tremendous growth if non-interest finance is embraced without bringing in sectionalism.   
 

 
Indeed, we have seen Islamic finance provide alternatives for growth in infrastructural development in Nigeria, with the issuing of an N100 billion seven-year Sukuk by the Federal Government in 2017. In your opinion, how much of such interventions (by way of Islamic financial services or instruments) are we likely to see in the nearest future?
The two Sukuks issued by FGN for the total sum of N200 billion and that of Osun State for N11.4 billion is the tip of the iceberg. Many issuances are expected due to demand in the market. In February 2019, PENCOM has released revised investment guidelines for Pension Fund Administrator (PFAs).

In those guidelines, each PFA is mandated to operate a multi-fund portfolio, which includes non-interest funds as Fund 6. Interested contributors are expected to write to their PFAs to migrate their pension to non-interest funds. Based on some surveys conducted by ICICE, 10 percent of the total assets under management (AuM) are expected to be transferred to non-interest funds. Meaning, PFAs alone will require over N1 trillion worth of non-interest financial instruments. 
This is coupled with non-interested financial institutions (NIFIs) and conventional bond investors demand. In a few years to come, non-interest finance assets under management will be in the range of N2 trillion to N5 trillion depending on macroeconomic policies.

There’s a lot of advocacy around Islamic finance and the need to enhance and aid financial inclusion among the Muslim population. With a significant portion of Nigeria’s population (Muslims and Non-Muslims) recorded as unbanked, what sort of succour does Sharia-compliant financial products and instruments provide for all?
It is globally accepted that non-interest finance promotes financial inclusion due to religious values held by many Muslims as well as some financing contracts in non-interest, which promote joint venture and partnership. Non-interest instruments support productive economic activities. It has the ability to provide finance to anyone that has or holds religious or cultural objection to non-interest and non-alignment of risk that is intrinsic to most conventional transactions.

Where do you see Islamic finance in Nigeria in another 10 years?
Malaysia, which is considered the global hub for Islamic finance, started with a single Islamic bank for 10 years before the second bank. Nigeria started the Islamic bank in 2011 with one standalone and two windows. Within eight years of operations, the industry is boasting of two standalone banks, one window bank, four Takaful operators, five Islamic funds, three Sukuk issuance, one Islamic equity index and regulatory guidelines from all regulators and self-regulatory organizations. With all these historical trends, in 10 years’ time, Nigerian Islamic finance will attract cross-border transactions and will be managing assets of about N10 trillion or more.

You will be having the fourth of the African International Conference on Islamic Finance (AICIF). What role do you play there?
I am the conference chair of the AICIF. We have team members who were carefully selected as the conference planning committee members. Together we drive AICIF.

Do you think the previous conversations and engagements have had a direct impact on policy changes with regards to Islamic finance?
The Metropolitan Skills has been organizing the African International Conference (AICIF) since 2013. The forthcoming AICIF will be the 4th and as usual, the invited speakers and panelists are highly experienced in the finance industry. Many of the speakers are from different jurisdictions where Islamic finance progresses. With their wealth of experience to be shared at the conference, the regulatory agencies can be influenced to make policies that will propel the industry to exponential growth and development.
  
We also have a mix this year from the conventional space and highly experienced legal professionals. This year’s conference is significantly more advanced than the previous three because we have made it more innovative with the introduction of the deal room where there will be matchmaking of the right project with the right capital. The IsDB will be leading this session. We also have the fintech showcase, which will also showcase sharia-compliant products with a price tag for the most innovative.

What informed the theme of this year’s conference?
The infrastructural deficit in Africa coupled with a high number of financially excluded influenced our choice of the 4th AICIF theme of Infrastructure financing, sustainability and the future of African Markets. Africa needs to be aware of alternative finance instruments that are capable of attracting funds from both conventional and Shariah-compliant investors as well as improving the socio-economic status of the populace. 

What is the structure of the 2019 conference programme by way of activities, sessions plenary, breakouts, social events, etc.?
For this year, there will be 10 different sessions for two days. For this year, we will have two keynote speeches one by his Highness, the Emir of Kano Mahammad Sanusi II whom I tagged the godfather of Islamic finance in Nigeria and the second keynote will be by Mr. Qussama Kaissi, the CEO of Islamic Corporation for the Insurance of Investment and Export Credit (ICIEC) of IsDB. This year, we will also have Hajara Adeola, the CEO of Lotus Capital, a renowned Islamic finance expert in conversation with the Emir of Kano on the pertinent issues for opportunities and challenges for the growth of Islamic finance.  As I mentioned earlier, we will also have the deal structuring session and the Fintech showcase.  

How did you select the speakers and discussants? 
We have been very careful in the selection of our speakers. We have both local and international speakers that we head hunted due to their experience, reputation, and competence in a particular area of specialization in Islamic finance. We have speakers from all the financial regulatory agencies with guidelines on Islamic finance. We have speakers from International lending agencies and the private sector as well.

What should participants expect that would be different from the past AICIF?
The forthcoming AICIF is packed with practical experiences from experts from major Islamic finance hubs from around the globe. It will also give an avenue for networking, especially at the award ceremony where many awardees will be recognized and appreciated for their respective contributions to the industry.

What informed your choice of choosing Lagos as the location for the programme?
All the last three conferences were done in Abuja. Many participants came from Lagos. Being the center of financial transactions and activities, we felt it will be better to bring the conference to the doorstep of Lagos financial institutions. It is part of our experience that whenever we organize Islamic finance training in Lagos, the attendance far out-numbered participants in our Abuja training.


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