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Winning hearts with Social Investment Programmes

It’s not for nothing that the opposition is crying foul over the government’s social investment programmes. But rather than convincing the public that the programmes are an indirect way of buying votes, they have succeeded in raising awareness about the steady progress these programmes have made since they were first introduced close to three years ago now. From a political point of view, the claim can be made that the presidency is looking to win over the hearts of the poorest Nigerians and is even hoping to benefit from it on Election Day. This view gains currency when the role of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo is put into consideration. Of course there is no better publicity for the Farmers Moni, Marketmoni and Tradermoni, all under the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme and other social interventions than the hands-on approach by the office of the Vice President. The argument has always been that politicians in Nigeria do not campaign based on issues and the substance of government policies. The reality however is that even the media have no interest in dissecting government policies and assessing their impact on the economy and the people of Nigeria. They are however interested where the president goes, what he says about who and how he reacts to provocations by opponents. This is what makes the presence of the Vice President in market places so significant. Wherever he goes, the media follow. And if government policies cannot be the independently analyzed by the media. Osinbajo himself has to take them to ground zero to witness and verify first hand how the policy initiatives are changing lives.

But that is from the political point of view. It is natural for the presidency to want to take credit for policy successes and thus, pushing developmental issues into the political realm. To appreciate some of these programmes however, they have to be looked at through the eyes of the Bank of Industry which is driving through these initiatives. The mandate of the bank is providing financial assistance for the establishment of large, medium and small projects as well as the expansion, diversification and modernization of existing enterprises and rehabilitation of existing ones.

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At first glance, it is a peculiar programme for the Bank of Industry to be engaged in considering that it is a development bank and its primary focus is the development of large, medium and small scale industrial projects. But the Nigerian economy is unique and has a large portion of its population that is not only poor and vulnerable but are totally incapacitated and incapable of contributing to any meaningful production of goods or services. So this focus on micro businesses is tailor made for Nigeria and not only aims to increase commercial activities within the lower rungs of society but also make them productive and build a more skilled workforce in the long run. But most importantly, these programmes increase the financial inclusion for the poor. With the N-Power, the assistance comes with skills training and technical advice on building and running a business. This also fills a policy gap that has been missing in the country for the past decades and has also hampered their development into sustainable medium scale enterprises.

The BoI and partnering organizations have targets and set goals with these programmes. The Conditional Cash Transfers which is in conjunction with the World Bank seek the encourage asset acquisition among the poor, increase poor households’ consumption, improve their health and educational outcomes. The three categories of the Government Enteprise and Empowerment Programme, namely the FarmersMoni, Marketmoni and Tradermoni offers financial loans from N300,00 to farmers, N50,000 to market women and as low as N5,000 to petty traders. Now what impact can this really have on the economy and how can it serve as a catalyst for industrial scale production? While not many countries have gone down this path to spur economic growth and increase production, there is one example of how a society can create its own economic models to meet its needs.

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Grameen Bank was founded in 1976 to provide financial services to the rural poor in Bangladesh. It started off as a research project by Prof. Muhammad Junus. The goal wasn’t simply to offer banking services. The bank was designed to reduce rural poverty, loaning out as little as $27, which is roughly the N10,000 given out by Tradermoni. The success of the bank was phenomenal and by 2008, it had grown and loaned out $7.6 billion. Naturally, that was where the World Bank scheme of Conditional Cash Transfers originated from. But the Bank of Industry and the Federal Government through the Office of the Vice President are building and expanding the social programmes in ways that better fit into business and commercial structures in the country. And in 2016 and 2017, N1 trillion had been budgeted for these programmes. Though less than a quarter of this figure has actually been released, the allocation still speaks on the priority the government has placed in reducing incidences of poverty among the citizens through social investments.

By embarking on these intervention programmes, the Bank of Industry is laying the groundwork for an industrial revolution in the country, and if by chance, it gives political leaders, the presidency in particular a campaign tool, then it has added to the promotion of the country’s political stability which is just as crucial to industrial growth. That opposition parties feel the government is indirectly buying the votes of Nigerians is more sign that they are winning hearts and have made a success of this policy initiative. The idea of social interventions and a social safety net for the most vulnerable in society is new to this country. But judging from the responses and impact on the lives of many Nigerians, it is here to stay.

Ahmed wrote from Abuja


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