Is TraderMoni Glorification Of Poverty?

1

The hip word now is “TraderMoni”… the current focus is the politicians’ manna – the masses. And the latest initiative seems to be giving opposition parties special headaches as TraderMoni sweeps across the nation since its launch in June, 2018 somewhere in Benin, Edo State. This is how the chief trader, Nigeria’s Vice President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo gleefully announced it then: “…The whole idea is that we want to ensure that we give whatever support, whether it is cash, advice or even registration, to all of our small and medium enterprises. In the next few weeks, we are starting a micro-credit scheme which we call TraderMoni. It is a different scheme from MarketMoni. The TraderMoni is for the smaller traders, those who are doing small, little things, where in many cases, their inventory isn’t more than N5000 – N10,000. We want to give those types of people some credit as well, and once they pay back, we will give them some more money as well….”

  At some major markets and densely populated estates across the country, giddy traders and others have embraced the “awoof” sweepstakes with expected hi-fives to the Federal Government for “remembering” the poor amongst us. Many critics have however accused the initiators of TraderMoni of “weaponising” the so-called social intervention blitzkrieg conveniently timed to “explode” less than a year to crucial national elections. Some others raise high brows at the seeming lackadaisical gatekeeping procedures involved in doling out the “largesse”.

  However, either by deliberate obfuscation or famed official aloofness, there appears a sense of incredulity on the side of those on the sidelines, even as the majority of the intended targets are unaware, or not well informed. 

  I was particularly disturbed by this lacuna: Can the TraderMoni concept not be institutionalized as massive nationwide cobwebs of cooperatives and clusters of commercial hubs where millions of interested traders can buy comparatively cheap goods (produced with a system swelled by major and mid-level producers, manufacturers, farmers, breeders, etc – activating a massive chain of productivity, employment, financing, and sundry value chains; reaching out and touching transportation, agriculture, technology, communications, logistics, etc)? And most significantly, ensuring and enabling food security that quenches our consumption needs.

 Perhaps, I was needlessly apprehensive, so I decided to seek the views of technocrats in public finance, strategy, policy enunciation and implementation… people who know how to crunch the numbers, and not be swayed by undulating political rigmarole. Before then, let us understand the government’s intervention beyond sophistry: what is TraderMoni really all about? With the advertised target of two million people and at N10,000 each, in the first instance, for traumatized Nigerian traders, that is a cool N20b, at the very least! That is aside the huge investments on larger scaled concepts like FarmerMoni and MarketMoni.

  An online source (basedonnews.com) explains to befuddled readers:  “The Executive Director, BoI, Toyin Adeniji, at the unveiling of ‘Trader Moni’ at Ojuwoye Market in Mushin, Lagos, said the bank will not relent until every Nigerian who is willing, has access to loan irrespective of their (sic) status or level of education… The goal of the scheme was to take financial inclusion down to the grassroots where pure water, bread, food sellers and Okada rider(s), among others, can access loan to expand their businesses without any form of security….” 

  Now, how does that work out? “The ‘Trader Moni’ initiative is a mobile phone driven technology. After your details have been captured by the agent and sent to BoI system for validation, within 48 hours you will get cash notification in your mobile wallet account. You can either transfer the cash to your bank account or cash it out at any mobile money agent… Stages involved in cashing out Trader Moni… For a starter (sic), you can access N10,000 and pay back N10,250 to qualify for N15,000. Once you payback N15,375 you will qualify for N20,000 loan and when you pay back N21,000, you will get N50,000. All loan categories have payback duration of six months.”

 Now, with a clearer understanding of how the traders are being encouraged, it is time to hear from the experts on the finer dimensions of this prodigious romance between the State and her poor hardworking folks. My first call was to maverick financial analyst, a big player in financial information infrastructure, and founding CEO of Proshare Nigeria Ltd, Olufemi Awoyemi, FCA. His response, usually lucid and unapologetic, took the discussions few decibels higher: 

“Over the years, the assessment of the value, the impact and the usefulness of these schemes, has been the critical issue. It’s not that it’s not working, but it’s like a drop in the ocean… Why? Because the gaps in the challenges confronting us in Nigeria are too wide and massive, such that no matter what they are doing, it will seem inadequate.

“The perception that’s most crucial in any social intervention programme is that it must be sustainable and effective, over a long term. So, where was the first assessment ever published on the impact of social interventions by the Nigerian government? I haven’t accessed one, but I do believe other agencies outside Nigeria have done it. 

“Like I told you earlier, this thing (social intervention) has a history with us, so let us not pretend! What’s happening is that the modern welfare state…is just a recent innovation. You can capture your people for the purposes of taxation…and for the people who are not working, the best thing for the economy is to make sure they’re gainfully employed. That means they reduce the pressure on you, the government, to provide everything for them…you reduce crime, everything. But, just give them something.

 “So, if you take it that way, you give somebody TraderMoni of N10,000, it is important to do the profile of that person. Otherwise, you run the risk of glorifying poverty. Because the money you’re giving is even below the national minimum wage (in a month)… so it’s a one-off gift…that means that they’re even far below the minimum level of human existence, in your country. 

“Let me be clear: the TraderMoni you’re giving is below the monthly minimum wage (N18,000), and you’re giving them N10,000 per annum, if not one-off… That means you’re sustaining a culture of poverty – rather than addressing the problem which you’re raising.

  “In America’s welfarist capitalism…they give the people credit to buy things, pay for rents, etc…but you must work to pay back. That means welfare was tied to productivity. There’s no linkage to productivity in this particular scheme.

 “At the end of the day, the whole objective of everybody is productivity… because if the country is not productive, the number of the poor will be increasing. 

If you look at it closely, there’s no linkage between the people you’re giving money to, and their ability to pay tax. So, they are not able to refund the cost of the scheme. You’re not a bank, you’re a sovereign entity…the people you give money to, it’s for them to earn, and begin to contribute to the tax basket.