ABUJA - The Nigerian government is facing growing calls for adopting a system for Zakah to help tackle abject poverty and the widening gap between the rich and the poor in Africa's most populous country.
Zakah is a sacred religious duty and a veritable fiscal instrument for enhancing socio-economic development, Dr Abdul-Hakeem Mobolaji, a lecturer at the Islamic Foundation University in Nigeria's south-western state of Osun, told OnIslam.net.
However, it is the most neglected pillar among Muslims in Nigeria.
It is a social insurance scheme which equals none in the world; it is a blessing and growth enhancing, he said.
Estimates show that poverty is rising in Nigeria, Africa's second largest economy, despite economic growth.
Data show that 60.9 percent of Nigeria's 130 million population live in absolute poverty in 2010, up from only 54.7 percent in 2004.
This has prompted calls for the Nigerian government to adopt a Zakah system to help address growing poverty in the country.
At different times, we have urged governments to look at this model because it has the potential of helping us to tackle the question of poverty and mass empowerment which in turn help fight crimes, Mallam Abdullahi Shuaib, coordinator of Lagos-based Zakah and Sodaqoh Foundation, told OnIslam.net.
He said creating a Zakah institution would help use generated resources to build better social infrastructure and alleviate poverty as well as taking care of the aged, the orphans and widows and other less privileged.
We are not saying this (Zakah) should be imposed on the Christian population. Rather, this should be binding on anyone who claims to be a Muslim and falls within the list of Zakah payers.
He said the government could generate millions of naira (local Nigerian currency) from the Zakah system.
Imagine if government evolves and gives legal backing to a body of Zakah experts to collect Zakah from, say, 30million out of the over 70million Muslim population. Imagine the several hundreds of millions of naira that will be generated, he said.
If this is judiciously spent as recommended, can you imagine how many people that will be lifted out of poverty? And if this scheme continues, those who benefited from Zakah will in no time, insha Allah, be payer of Zakah. If this is done, definitely, it will stop the rising poverty and crime associated with joblessness and hunger.
Few states in the Muslim North have Zakah board, as Kano, which has a functioning Zakah board.
Zakah, the third pillar of Islam, is obligatory upon every (capable) Muslim.
According to Islamic Shari`ah, a capable Muslim pays 2.5 percent mandatory payment and spend it to help the poor and the needy.
But experts believe that a Zakah system could face major challenges in a multi-religious country like Nigeria.
In a multi-religious state, it could face a number of challenges that require resoluteness and cooperation among Muslims to tackle, Dr. Mobolaji said.
He listed the weak state support, poor management and fund leakage, lack of proper accounting framework and lack of trained personnel as among challenges facing an effective Zakah institution in Nigeria.
Dr. Mobolaji called on the government to set up an accurate data bank of Muslims, poor or rich, to run an effective Zakah board.
He also pressed for increasing awareness of Nigerians on dimensions of poverty and MDGs on faith-based economic model (FEM) and its potency, flexibility, acceptability among Muslims and developing Zakah institutions among Muslim communities in Nigeria s to allow for better coordination, collection and disbursement of Zakah to beneficiaries.
He further called for developing Islamic economic institutions such Islamic banks and interest-free micro-finance institution for promoting all the poverty reduction strategies under the Business System Model (BSM) and promotion of environment of mutual trust and solidarity which is an essential prerequisite for the realisation of the ultimate targets of MDGs.
I call for more enlightenment among Muslims, lobby groups to win the sympathy and support of government and even our Christian neighbours, proliferation of Zakah institutions, funding researches in Islamic economics, institution to train Zakah workers, collaboration with international Zakah organisations like the IDB, Sudan etc, cooperation among different Zakah institutions, he said.
Nigeria, one of the world's most religiously committed nations, is divided between a Muslim north and a Christian south.
Muslims and Christians, who constitute 55 and 40 percent of Nigeria's 140 million population respectively, have lived in peace for the most part.But ethnic and religious tensions have bubbled for years, fuelled by decades of resentment between indigenous groups, mostly Christian or animist, who are vying for control of fertile farmlands with migrants and settlers from the Hausa-speaking Muslim north.