By Jonathan Ishaku
There was an uplifting news item a couple of weeks ago in Plateau State; quite a refreshing change from the constant stream of bad news about killings and skyrocketing prices of foodstuffs.
It was the cheering news that the state government has at last found a financier to partner in the rebuilding of the burnt Jos Main Market which for the past 20 years lay in ruins at the city centre.
Although it could hardly compensate for lost lives or deepening economic gloom families face these days, it was a reassuring news item, nevertheless, given the vast potentials the market has in revitalizing the economy of the state as well as the vast opportunities it holds for individual commercial activities.
The burnt Jos Main Market held a special place in the soul of Plateau State and its people. It was initially conceived, like most iconic projects in the state, by the former Governor of the defunct Benue Plateau State, Mr. Joseph D. Gomwalk, in 1975. Gomwalk was toppled in the coup of the same year, so the project went through many hands.
But like it is often said, if Gomwalk was the Moses of Plateau State, Chief Solomon D. Lar was the Joshua, an allusion to the Biblical characters God used in the liberation of the Jews from Egypt and final arrival in the Promised Land!
Indeed, Chief Lar was instrumental to the completion of the market as he injected a massive part of the socalled Midland Bank foreign loan he had procured into it.
By the time he, too, was overthrown in the General Muhammadu Buhari coup of January 1984, the magnificent edifice was almost completed. It was the military Governor Navy Commodore Samuel B. Atukum’s special honour to invite Gen. Buhari, then Head of State, to Plateau State to commission the market in 1985.
By the time it was commissioned, the market stood out as the biggest indoor market in West Africa.
But there was more to it than sheer size; it was aesthetically resplendent, a sheer architectural splendor!
Almost immediately, it became a tourism delight in its own right, attracting a daily retinue of tourists from near and far who visited the market to just behold the architectural masterpiece.
No students’ educational visit to Jos was complete without including the market in the itinerary.
The market had the capacity to accommodate at least 3,500 traders in the lock-up shops while the open space at the base of the main structure could accommodate at least another 2,000 traders.
The complex also had provision for banks, restaurants, police station, fire service station, car parks and even accommodation for some important market staff.
The market was well patronized by traders from all over Nigeria. It was a veritable internally generated revenue (IGR) spinner for the government.
However, all these went up in flames one night in February 2002. It was described as mysterious fire but public perception was that it was an act of arson by unknown hoodlums.
The government of Chief Joshua Dariye set up a commission of inquiry but the report was never released.
For the past 20 years, successive governments had promised to rebuild the edifice but they all failed to so.
In fact, during the brief administration of Chief Michael Botmang, the beautiful yellow metal frames adorning the complex were removed and allegedly sold by a top aide!
In 2009, Governor Jonah D. Jang promised to demolish the entire structure and build a modern international shopping mall in its place.
But aside demolishing the imposing sculpture of the baby-carrying woman with load on her head popularly called “Mama Tapgun” (named after Governor Fidelis Tapgun who made the addition), this promise, too, was not fulfilled.
However, Governor Simon Lalong back in February 2015, even before he contested the election, told a newspaper in an interview that “one of the first things he would do was to rebuild the market either through build-operate-and transfer model or public-private partnership.” Yet it remained an unfulfilled promise during his first tenure in government even after the fanfare of demolishing a section of the market preparatory to the commencement of constructing the market.
The political opposition made heavy weather of this during his reelection electioneering campaigns, widely circulating the Lalong demolition video as evidence of failed promises.
As the years flew by, with the second tenure inching to an end, the video was also a subject of political jest at watering-holes
So it was pleasant news, indeed, when the Lalong government announced arrangements for the commencement of the project with Jaiz Bank Plc in a public-private partnership (PPP).
It said under the agreement signed by the partners, the bank will fully finance the N9.4bn project at zero per cent interest. Jaiz Bank is Nigeria’s first non-interest bank operating under Islamic banking principles.
Although it was founded in 2003, the bank began operation as a national bank in Nigeria only in January 2012.
Naturally, owing to the sentiments religion packs in this country, already voices have started shouting “Islamization!” since the announcement was made.
I respect our defenders of constitutional secularism but this can hardly be a threat in any way. The cynicism, however, is borne out of public ignorance about the operation of the Islamic banking principles of non-interest, a concept which other Western mainstream banks such as HSBC, Citibank, Barlays Bank, Standard Chartered, etc, have since incorporated non-interest banking products into their operations.
Proponents of this system say that it is an alternative banking based on the principle of non-interest, sharing of risks and rewards, equity, fairness and justice. In short, it is an ethical financial system without recourse to Islamic propaganda or proselytism.
The major point of departure with the traditional capitalist banking system as practiced in Nigeria is the rejection of usury (riba).
In truth, this principle is shared by both Christianity and Judaism. The Bible is emphatically against usury (Exodus 22:25-27, Deuteronomy 23:19 Ezekiel 18:8) as practiced by the mainstream banks which have virtually strangulated Nigerians or rendered them enslaved through exorbitant interest charges.
Christianity is very much in tune with non-interest banking principles. In fact, Jesus’ only recorded expression of anger was the chasing out of usurers who had converted the temple, God’s house, into their place of operation (John 2:15).
If Jaiz Bank will rebuild the burnt Jos Main Market and thus resuscitate the economy of Plateau State, so be it. Governor Lalong should be saluted for keeping his word to rebuild the market. Although, it may be coming late in the life of his administration, and I am sure there is a convincing reason for that, the most important thing is that the process is now under way.
His choice of a partner for the PPP is also a sound one. Within the short period of its operation in Nigeria, Jaiz Bank has established a reputation of reliability.
The first Islamic bank anywhere in the world to break even within the first three years of its operation, the bank has also just within 10 years of operation been able to move its asset base from N12 billion to N278 billion and, finally, to earn an overall Fitch rating of B- just under a decade.
Besides, Jaiz Bank Plc has a tract record in such project financing. A few examples will suffice: in a tripartite partnership between the Kano State government and private investors, the bank is constructing a multi-million world-class drug-only wholesale market, the first of its type in Nigeria, at the Kano Economic City; in Niger State, in partnership with the government, the bank is developing 3 hectares in the Minna City Centre to provide for a shopping complex, modern underground parks, modern filling station, warehouses, corner shops, restaurants and a recreational a centre at a total cost of N3.5 billion; Kaduna State also engaged it in its market development and currently Enugu State government is reported in talks with it for a similar project! The above performance profile and experience in the sector are good assurances of the bank’s capacity to handle the Jos market project.
My only advice, as I initially expressed on the social media, is that the memorandum of understanding (MoU) should be doubly scrutinized to guarantee equity, fairness and justice to the people of Plateau State as well as ensure hitch-free implementation of the partnership.
Ishaku, a veteran journalist, is the spokesman of the Plateau Elders Forum (PEF).