Geep Programme: An empowerment scheme wrapped in opaqueness
• Name Beneficiaries, Economist Tasks Govt
The Nigerian Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) is one of the National Social Investment Programme (NSIP) for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) under the Office of Vice President Yemi Osinbajo. In it, non-collateral soft loans are given to traders, artisans and farmers for purposes of enhancing their living standards by expanding their businesses through funding by Bank of Industry (BoI). Under GEEP are three sub-programmes: Tradermoni, MarketMoni and FarmerMoni, where zero collateral loans, ranging from N10, 000 to N300, 000 are given to MSMEs operators, as part of poverty eradication efforts.
TraderMoni was created specifically for petty traders and artisans across the country. With the scheme, a trader can receive interest-free loan from N10, 000 to N100 000 as he pays back. He gets N10, 000 as the first loan. When he pays back the first loan, he immediately qualifies for a second loan of N15, 000. After paying back the second loan, he qualifies for a N20, 000 loan, and then N50, 000, and then N100, 000. The TraderMoni programme is meant to change the level of petty trading by providing continuous loans and making each loan bigger to enable them grow organically.
The Federal Government had a target to disburse two million TraderMoni loans across the 36 states and FCT by the end of 2018. The aim was to enable each state and FCT receive a minimum of 30,000 loans. However, it is not clear if the target was met, as information about the programme remains shrouded in secrecy, just as the programme’s operations.
Unlike TraderMoni, MarketMoni starts with N50, 000 and is designed for medium scale entrepreneurs consisting of market women, artisans, and youth/market associations. A Bank Verification Number (BVN) is required and the loans are deposited in beneficiaries’ bank accounts. Through this scheme, the government claims it has extended interest-free loans to 350,000 Nigerians.
With FarmerMoni, credit starts from N300, 000 and is designed for farmers in farming clusters via farm aggregators. Here also, a BVN is required, as the loans are disbursed to the beneficiaries through their bank accounts. Here, the aggregators regulate the use of funds to ensure inputs such as fertilizers and farming best practices are provided. Some 5,000 farmers are said to have benefitted since the programme kicked off last year.
Noble as the vision may appear, GEEP has, however, drawn criticisms, particularly from economists, with some of them saying it is too shrouded in secrecy. Others have criticised the method of identification and disbursements, with fears expressed on recovery of the loans.
Of the three programmes, the one that has drawn the most ire is Tradermoni, which saw Osinbajo at the peak of political campaigns for the just concluded Presidential election, going from one market to the other across the country, personally handing out loans to traders, prompting opposition parties to describe the scheme as a vote-buying method of the ruling All Prgressives Congress (APC).
An economic expert that raised eyebrow about Tradermoni and its style of operation is Mr. Tope Fasua, Chief Executive of Global Analytics Consulting Limited and Presidential Candidate of the Abundant Nigeria Renewal Party (ANRP) in the just concluded Presidential election.
In his thinking, the operation of GEEP, especially Tradermoni, which was viewed as a political campaign tool is not only shrouded in secrecy because the process of selecting beneficiaries is everything but transparent, he is also concerned that Osinbajo, who is not a professional banker, was personally going to markets to select beneficiaries and doling out the loans.
He said: “I think we should consider where we are as a people and our economy very carefully. Nigeria is an unbuilt country. The country also has the worst poverty and hunger indices in the world. So, why are we throwing money at people, and for doing nothing? Why don’t we create employment and engage people in meaningful work in exchange for the money? We have a filthy, collapsing environment. There is work to do and we have to do the work ourselves. I don’t believe this is the time to go to markets and be giving out free money. The beneficiaries only see it as government largesse from a Vice President, who is trying to be nice. No one can retrieve those monies.
“I doubt if there are records. And if it is indeed intended as a loan, they have destroyed the traditional credit culture among our people who always pay back promptly when they borrow from traditional sources. The VP is not a banker. AMCON is overwhelmed with loans given out by bankers who are qualified to so do, but which were unpaid all the same because our understanding of credit here is faulty. AMCON has over N6trn unresolved debt. Why is the VP the loan officer, the credit appraisal officer, the loan disbursement officer, the risk manager and probably now, the recovery officer? Why don’t we have a transparent process? Does anyone know how much was totally disbursed? Where are the beneficiaries’ names?”
A Development economist, Mr. Odilim Enwegbara, also described Tradermoni as a “fraud,” and has called for an investigation into the scheme.
He believes Tradermoni is the newest form of vote-buying and inducement to vote for APC.
He said: “That was why it was done few months to the 2019 general elections and has since been stopped because the objective was achieved.
“I strongly suggest that a full-blown investigation be conducted to unravel the hidden sources of funding of Tradermoni. The investigations should include the illegal withdrawals of billions of naira from BoI for the so-called Tradermoni without budgeting or legislative authorisation.”
“How the money was distributed, how beneficiaries were selected and what are the loan recovery mechanisms put in place must be made public because we are talking about taxpayers’ money that require maximum accountability. Independent auditors must be commissioned to fully look into the Tradermoni programme.
The criticism by experts not withstanding, the Office of the Vice President has repeatedly denied insinuations that the empowerment programme was a vote buying strategy.
The Senior Special Assistant on Media and Communications, Mr. Laolu Akande said: “The TraderMoni scheme is one of the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP) micro-credit products (MarketMoni and FarmerMoni) and are still very much in operation. We have a target of 30,000 minimum beneficiaries per state. We have achieved this in majority of the 36 states and FCT. What the team has been doing is generating the balance of programme funding and ramping up on the states where we have a shortage.
“Consequently, disbursements have continued to happen in these states. For instance, we have had over 28, 000 disbursements across 10 states after the elections. Our priority is ramping up these numbers in the balance of states before we move to phase two of the programme after detailed reviews and structural enhancements for larger scale.
“Also, the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment is actively involved in the project. It is in fact the over-sighting Ministry of BOI. The Minister’s office executes GEEP via BoI. Hence, the Chief Operating Officer of GEEP, Uzoma Nwagba, is a staff of the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment. The GEEP governance structure includes the office of the Vice President (NSIO), the Ministry of Trade and Investment, and BoI.
“On repayments, GEEP has pioneered innovative solutions to drive repayment compliance. These include working with the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Nigerian Interbank Settlement System (NIBSS. We successfully piloted the concept of BVN as a digital collateral and we saw repayment go up significantly on MarketMoni and FarmerMoni loans.
“For TraderMoni, beneficiaries can pay back at any commercial bank in the country, just like paying NEPA or WAEC bills. All they need to provide the bank teller is their phone number. We also developed and successfully piloted scratch cards as a repayment option for beneficiaries staying kilometres away from the nearest banks in their community. The cards are loaded the same way Telco recharge cards are loaded, thus requiring no new learning curve.”
He insisted that the improved repayment received compliance to the extent that in January, BoI began second level disbursements of N15,000 to beneficiaries in Lagos, Bornu, Ogun and Oyo States, who had successfully paid back the first 10,000 loans.
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