By Abdulfatah Babatunde
Lagos – Some academic and religious scholars have advised states and Federal Government to institutionalise payment of Zakat by wealthy Muslims as effective weapon in the fight against poverty.
They made the call at the 2017 Zakat Distribution ceremony organised by the Zakat and Sadaqat Foundation (ZSF) in Lagos.
The News Agency of Nigeria (NAN) reports that the ZSF is a poverty alleviation arm of The Muslim Congress (TMC), a faith-based organisation.
Zakat is the payment made annually under Islamic laws on certain kinds of property and the proceeds are used for charitable purposes.
Zakat is one of the five pillars of Islam.
NAN also reports that the foundation distributed cash and materials totalling N108.28 million to 494 beneficiaries at the ceremony in Lagos State.
It had distributed Zakat to beneficiaries in Delta, Ondo, Ado-Ekiti, Osun, Ogun, Oyo, Adamawa, Borno and Yobe earlier in the year.
Speaking at the occasion in Lagos, a religious scholar, Dr AbdulHakeem Abdul-Lateef, called on relevant organisations to sponsor bills in states’ House of Assembly and National Assembly to institutionalise payment of Zakat.
Abdul-Lateef, who is the Lagos State Commissioner for Home Affairs, said that Zakat was meant to help the needy, regardless of religion.
He, therefore, expressed the belief that members of the public must understand the need to push private member bill to support the institution of zakat.
“As important as zakat is, the redistribution of wealth is what can save the economy; we are not poor, it is just that we have refused to redistribute wealth.
“So, members of the civil society organisations and leaders, as well as citizens generally, can call for the institution of zakat to help the poor.
“Zakat is meant to help the needy, regardless of the religious inclination.
“So, I believe that members of the public must understand what it means to push a private member bill.
“Even members of the House of Assembly can do it; the whole essence is to complement the efforts of government.
“Government, every day is talking about public-private partnership, the whole essence is that government cannot do it alone.
“There are so many well-meaning Nigerians whose wealth, if the zakat is paid, will assist in mitigating the hardship faced by so many people,’’ the commissioner said.
Prof. Lai Olurode, a don and Chairman of the occasion, said there was nothing wrong if the Federal Government could institutionalise zakat and Sadaqat as means of alleviating poverty among Nigerians.
“There is nothing wrong if you institutionalise zakat and Sadaqat.
“It will then make it mandatory for wealthy Muslims to pay zakat just as we are talking about the partnership to complement government’s efforts.
“But, because of religious illiteracy and religious prejudices, Nigerians don’t think deeply that zakat is a strong economic tool that can be used to stem poverty.
“Even in Christian dominated countries, they are buying into Sukuk, they are buying into Islamic banking, but in Nigeria, they make it unnecessarily emotional and make it appear as if it is an attempt to Islamise the country,’’ Olurode said.
The Professor of Sociology, who is also the Chairman, University of Lagos Muslim Community, said poverty does not draw boundary between people in terms of their religion.
“It does not draw a boundary in terms of their ethnicity; it does not draw a boundary in terms of their nationality, poverty is poverty, whether you are a Muslim or a Christian, you are going to be.
“So, whatever anybody can do to move people away from poverty should be done regardless of the institution.
So, it doesn’t really matter where the money is coming from, whether it is from Muslims, from zakat or whatever source.
“What is important is that you want to touch humanity, you want to touch a life, you want to give hope to people.
“In Nigeria today, not less than 70 per cent of Nigerians are surviving on less than two dollars a day.
“So, whatever you can do to partner with government to move people out of poverty, it should be done regardless of the religious inclination or thinking,’’ Olurode said.
Mr Sulaiman Olagunju, the Executive Director of ZSF, said that as at October, the foundation had mobilised Zakat totalling N191 million in 2017.
According to Olagunju, the figure is an increase of N71, 907,592 over Zakat of N119, 196,760 last year.
O the Zakat distributed in 2017, the director said N45.2 million was given for economic empowerment purposes.
“Beneficiaries with health-related challenges were assisted with N31.06 million, education assistance to students gulped N11.17 million, while N11.49 million was spent on welfare support.
NAN reports that items distributed at the occasion included tricycles, motorcycles, photocopier machines, pepper-grinding machine, sewing machines, deep freezer, Braille machine and books for blind students, among others.