That most Nigerians are going through one of the most depressing periods of their lives is to put the situation mildly. Indeed, there are perhaps only few people in our country today not affected by the economy and the seeming hopelessness that pervades the land. What compounds the problem is that there is no sign in the horizon that the challenge will go away quickly given the choices being made (or perhaps more appropriately, not being made) by those elected to preside over our affairs.
To be honest, this is not the kind of piece I planned to write today. I had wanted to write something to lighten the mood as we enter the festive season. But I feel too depressed by the pervading air of despondency around me to pretend that all is well. Last week, I received the mail below from a young reader in Yobe State who pleaded with me to intervene on an issue involving the Bank of Industry. Since the writer, Musa Sule Damagun, made his case and that of his colleagues so brilliantly, I will just reproduce his mail before I make my comments.
While it is targeted at a specific issue, we can use the experience to look at the state of the national economy today and the growing frustration by our teeming army of young Nigerians: “Early this year, I applied for the federal government Youths Entrepreneurship Scheme (YES) programme under the Bank of industry along with 75,000 other Nigerians in which we submitted business ideas. At the end of the first process, about 3000 applicants were selected and I was one of them. The initial advertisement was that the FG was going to finance the best business ideas through a loan of N5 million to be disbursed by BOI. The conditions were that apart from being a Nigerian, one has to be ready to deposit his/her certificate with the BOI as collateral.
“So immediately after the selection, we were enrolled into an online business training conducted by a Kenyan firm, Africa Management Initiative. That intensive training required many of us in the northeast to relocate to bigger cities where we could access the internet since Boko Haram has vandalized communication facilities in many of our towns. During the online training, we took over 20 courses, wrote exams and submitted assignments for each. Then after the online training, we were again called to attend in-class training for five days in our state capitals. In all these, we had to take care of our transportation and accommodation expenses. The explanation initially was that after the training, we were just going to apply for the loan and deposit our certificates.
“However, the BOI staff at the training began to bring up different stringent conditions to accessing the loan. Every business idea you have, regardless of what you submitted
during your first application, must be about producing something e.g bread, milk, oil etc. You must bring a guarantor who must have a net worth equal to the amount you are asking for. You must have a business structure in which you are already producing something and attach account statement to show your cash flow. And BOI has to visit and assess this business structure before it approves your application. You have to take care of your pre-operating expenses like business registration, rent, logo design as well as registration with regulatory bodies like NAFDAC and SON.
“Finally, even after meeting all the above conditions, BOI will not give you the money in cash. They can only give you your working capital while they will buy the equipment you need. So you have to find suppliers of the kind of equipment you need and ask them to give you quotation and then you send to BOI.
“Given the following stringent conditions, it has become very difficult, if not impossible, for those of us from the North, and perhaps many people also from the south, to access the loan. I know for a fact that of the 24 of us who were successful from Yobe State, none has met the conditions yet. Also, of the 50 that participated in the first badge from Kano State, none got the loan after being subjected to a rigorous process yet we have brilliant ideas and are confident our ideas are bankable. The challenge is in meeting the BOI requirements. We therefore want you to intervene on this issue. I am sure if you do, someone will take notice and do something.”
In a country where many unscrupulous people walk in and out of banks to collect billions of Naira without collateral, it is rather unfortunate that needless impediments are being put on the way of enterprising young men and women who are seeking to create wealth and possibly become employers of labour. I therefore hope that the authorities at the BOI will look into this issue; otherwise, we would be forced to dismiss their YES programme as no better than another 419!
However, we can easily locate the problem in the manner President Muhammadu Buhari is running his administration. With no substantive chief executive and without a board, there is little the BOI can do and that tells the story of many of the critical public institutions where there are no new initiatives or fresh ideas because the president cannot constitute their statutory boards more than a year and a half after assuming office.
The case of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) which also has no board is the most pathetic. We are now told by the Finance Minister, Mrs Kemi Adeosun that Nigeria’s apex bank “has been directed to eliminate the foreign exchange black market because it is damaging the economy”. Beyond the shame of running monetary policy from the Ministry of Finance or Aso Rock, where all manner of directives are being dished out, this is a silly proposition that we all know cannot work.
Even if you send soldiers to the streets to be chasing the “currency mallams”, to the extent that Nigerians would still need forex to pay for their medicals, send their children to school abroad etc and the federal government cannot manufacture dollars, the only option would be to seek out the black market operators. And once you declare them illegal, they will quite naturally go underground. At that point, if you need forex from the only source in which it is available to the ordinary citizens, the law of demand and supply will apply and the exchange rates would simply go through the roof!
What worries about this administration is that there is an obsession with dealing with symptoms rather than the disease in virtually all areas of the economy. For instance, taking a cue from Abuja, job creation has been reduced to adding more names to the wasteful public sector payroll at a time of dwindling oil money. “To ensure that nobody goes to sleep with an empty stomach, I shall appoint 6,000 aides, create 3,000 jobs for youths and in January 2017, I will also create 50,000 jobs to make sure nobody in the state is unemployed”, said Cross River Governor Ben Ayade in a statement that must worry people in his state.
However, I believe these are issues we can always deal with another day. While the national atmosphere is really very depressing, some of us still have cause to celebrate this season as I leave the story below for the benefit of my Christian readers, so that we may still remember what Christmas is all about:
We were the only family with children in the restaurant. I sat Erik in a high chair and noticed everyone was quietly seated and talking. Suddenly, Erik squealed with glee and said, “Hi there.” He pounded his fat baby hands on the high chair tray. His eyes were crinkled in laughter and his mouth was bared in a toothless grin as he wriggled and giggled with merriment.
I looked around and saw the source of his merriment. It was a man whose pants were baggy and whose toes poked out of would-be shoes. His shirt was dirty and his hair was uncombed and unwashed. His whiskers were too short to be called a beard, and his nose was so varicose that it looked like a road map. We were too far from him to smell, but I was sure he smelled. His hands waved and flapped on loose wrists. “Hi there, baby; Hi there, big boy; I see ya, buster,” the man said to Erik.
My husband and I exchanged looks, “What do we do?” Erik continued to laugh. Everyone in the restaurant noticed and looked at us and then at the man. The old geezer was creating a nuisance with my beautiful baby.
Our meal came and the man began shouting from across the room, “Do ya patty cake? Do you know peek-a-boo? Hey, look, he knows peek-a-boo.” Nobody thought the old man was cute. He was obviously drunk. My husband and I were embarrassed. We ate in silence but not Erik, who was running through his repertoire for the admiring bum, who in turn, reciprocated with his cute comments.
We finally got through the meal and headed for the door. My husband went to pay the check and told me to meet him in the parking lot. The old man sat poised between me and the door. “Lord, just let me out of here before he speaks to me or Erik,” I prayed. As I drew closer to the man, I turned my back, trying to sidestep him and avoid any air he might be breathing. As I did, Erik leaned over my arm, reaching with both arms in a baby’s “pick-me-up” position.
Before I could stop him, Erik had propelled himself from my arms to the man’s. Suddenly, a very smelly old man and a baby expressed their love and kinship. Erik, in an act of total trust, love, and submission, laid his tiny head upon the man’s ragged shoulder. The man’s eyes closed, and I saw tears hover beneath his lashes. His aged hands full of grime, pain, and hard labour, cradled my baby. No two beings have ever loved so deeply for so short a time. I stood,
awestruck. After a while, he pried Erik from his chest lovingly, as though he were in pain.
I received my baby, and the man said, “God bless you, ma’am; you’ve given me my Christmas gift.” I said nothing more than a muttered thanks. With Erik in my arms, I ran for the car. My husband was wondering why I was crying and holding Erik so tightly and why I was saying, “My God, my God, forgive me.” I had just witnessed Christ’s love shown through the innocence of a tiny child who saw no sin, who made no judgment. The child saw a soul, and his mother saw a suit of clothes. I was a Christian who was blind holding a child who was not…
I wish all my readers merry Christmas!