Abuja: Nigeria plans to license at least two Islamic financial institutions this year.

It will get help from Malaysia to expand its Sharia-compliant industry in a nation where 70 per cent of people have no access to regular banking services.

Central Bank of Nigeria Governor Lamido Sanusi said in a March 4 interview in London three non-Islamic banks had expressed interest in opening Sharia-compliant "windows."

Nigeria signed an agreement with Malaysia's central bank to cooperate in Islamic financial services, which included boosting micro-lending, said Engku Rabiah Adawiah Engku Ali, a Sharia scholar at the monetary authority in Kuala Lumpur.

Growing industry

The West African country, the continent's top oil producer and home to about 77 million Muslims, is joining Egypt, Thailand and Turkey in seeking to expand the growing Islamic finance industry.

The country aims to diversify the economy by developing financial services. Gross domestic product growth may accelerate to 7.98 per cent this year from 7.85 per cent in 2010, driven by non-oil industries, Fin-ance Minister Olusegun Aganga said on February 11.

There is "clearly" demand for Sharia-complaint financing in Nigeria, said Daniel Broby, chief investment officer at London-based Silk Invest Ltd, which manages $130 million in frontier markets. "Though it really hasn't developed into real money on the table yet."