In developing countries, there is a consistent challenge of ensuring that more and more persons, especially those in the rural areas and the poor, have access to financial services. Therefore, the term ‘financial inclusion’ is a constant recourse when the plight of the rural poor is discussed. Their access to micro-credit schemes, electronic banking, community banks, and several other financial support services they need to spring them up from their state of poverty to a better standard of living.
Since June 3, 2014 when former President Goodluck Jonathan appointed Godwin Emefiele, a former Managing Director of Zenith Bank Plc, to the position of Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria, there has been a considerable effort to facilitate the inclusion of the rural popular and the poor (also in urban centres) in the country’s financial schemes.
Implemented under the Financial Services System (FSS2020), which is meant to boost banking services in the county to a significant and inclusive level by Year 2020, the CBN has enhance financial literacy, microfinance scheme, non-interest banking, e-banking products, electronic payment system, the government’s cashless policy, consumer protection schemes, and the like. The most visible of the schemes under financial inclusion is the digital banking platform. Between 2014 and now, there has been a considerable increase in the number of Nigerians who are engaged in online banking. In spite of the increased population, electronic banking, the use of Automatic Teller Machine (ATM), Point of Sale (POS) facility, mobile agents and mobile banking has taken more and more persons from the banking hall, as they can now carry out their transactions from the comfort of their offices and sitting rooms.
The microfinance scheme of the CBN has also enhanced rural prosperity and by implication rural banking across the country. For instance, the Anchor Borrowers Scheme (ABS), one of the successful agricultural support policies of government has boosted the economies of several states in the North-West, North-East and South-East.
The objectives of ABS, according to the CBN is provide farm input in cash and kinds to farmers to boost production, stabilize input supplies to agro processors and ultimately to enhance the country’s negative balance of payment of food items. Before the introduction of the scheme, Nigeria was a net importer of rice, in spite of the fact that the country grows rice, and should be a rice exporting country. This scheme was has been a great success to the point that President Muhammadu Buhari used it as an evidence of the success of his administration in the last four years during the campaign for the recent general elections.
The CBN’s investment in the scheme in the form of micro credit which thousands of farmers have benefitted from, is explained by Isaac Okoroafor, the CBN’s spokesman thus, “Out of the N55bn that we have spent on the Anchor Borrowers’ Programme, about 80 per cent has gone into rice production; and if you work out that maths, you will see that the multiplier effect of that money has been so great. It also goes to underscore the effectiveness and efficiency that the CBN has put into this programme. We have about 250,000, who have also cultivated close to 300,000
hectares of farmland, and you can see the impact on the street.”
In the last five years, more than ever before, financial literacy has improved in Nigeria. Financial literacy is defined as “the possession of knowledge and skills by individuals to manage financial resources effectively to enhance their economic well-being.” In order to achieve this objective, the CBN has been involved in campaigns from one part of the country to another, meeting interest groups, stakeholders and women on how they could grow their money, using available tools. They have also visited secondary schools and many tertiary institutions to introduce them to banking options available, the need for them to save from the little income they earn and the various products available from which they could benefit.
Perhaps, worth mentioning is the revival in the insurance industry. Though it has great potentials of boosting the country’s economy, the insurance industry has suffered so much lull in the recent decades, particularly as a result of the economic stability. However, in the last three years, the industry has been encouraged to educate Nigerians on the importance of insuring their property, as a way of ensuring the security of their assets. Stakeholders in the sector have devised several approaches, including the use of legacy and social media, to encourage Nigerians to buy insurance policies. More than ever before, the financial literacy strategy of the CBN has been successful in the last three years.
Another successful financial inclusion policy in the last four years is the non-interest banking. From its baby steps during the era of former CBN Governor Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, the non-interest banking, otherwise known as Islamic Banking model has gained significance in the country. Operating under the Shariah financial principle that forbids usury or interest on financial loans, the scheme allows banks to participate in the business transaction for which loans are issued by the non-interest bank, and the profit generated from such transactions are shared between the bank and the business owner.
An evidence of its success is the movement of Jaiz Bank Plc from the fringe to the mainstream in the banking sector of Nigeria. Many Nigerians patronize the non-banking scheme, as other traditional banks have introduced non-interest banking products. This strategy has boosted the interest of many Muslims, who hitherto abhorred the interest-charging banking products, into the country’s financial scheme, instead of keeping their money at home in order to avoid the haram of conventional banking.
The impact of the non-interest banking policy under the financial inclusion strategy of the CBN s is evident in the Sukuk bond that the Federal Government has subscribed to in recent years. For instance, in 2018, the Federal Government earmarked N100 bn Sukuk bond for the execution of 28 major projects across the country. Since 2017 when the Federal Government began to source funds under Sukuk bond, there has been a growing interest among Nigerians on this non-interest financial scheme. The bond was over-subscribed by 5.7 per cent in the first instance in 2017. The interest has continued to grow in recent times.
Though Nigeria has arrived in the Promised Land, the implementation of the country’s Financial Services Strategy (FSS2020) under CBN governor Emefiele has been impressive. The last five years had been very turbulent, considering the economic crises that attended to drop in oil prices, disruption of oil production in the Niger Delta, shortage of foreign exchange and the attendant crisis, the economy slumping into depression, disruption of economic activities in Boko Haram infested communities in the North-East, North-West, and the massive destruction and disruption of farming activities by militant Fulani herdsmen who laid waste many farmland and killed thousands of farmers in many agrarian communities. To some extent, the economy has begun to stabilize. It is therefore, imperative to sustain the winning team and formula at the CBN.
Emefiele will complete his tenure as CBN governor in June this year. How time flies. He has achieved a lot in terms of financial inclusion in spite of the chaotic economic atmosphere. It will, therefore, be in the interest of deepening the financial and monetary policy achievements for President Muhammadu Buhari to grant him tenure to enable him consolidate of many of the achievements by the CBN in the last five years.
Idakwo contributed this piece from Kano.