Even when joyful, it is always advisable to keep one’s eyes open. The recent inclusion of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) Governor, Lamido Sanusi, on the celebrated list of the 100 most influential people in world has filled many of us with pride and joy but a closer look at the achievements of his administration has also shown us that there is a missing trophy in the collection of the CBN Governor. He is still yet to win the Prize for being the people’s banker. For those of us that strongly believe that the real economy is clearly the most important part of any economy and that the SMEs are by far the most productive and useful segment in developing an emerging economy, we cannot but insist and indeed state categorically that the CBN still has a lot to do in solving the most basic and crippling problems facing those genuinely trying to operate in the Nigerian economy.
Let us be as clear as possible, lest we are ingenuously misunderstood or mischievously misquoted. Lamido Sanusi deserves all the accolades he has received so far and many of his interventions were necessary. When asked in the City of London in October 2010 to give some comments I described Sanusi as the man who came to the CBN with the unambiguous mission of sanitising the banking industry and who in the process of doing so gave many some valuable lessons on bravery, honour, integrity and self dignity. Contrast that with those many public officials that say “yes but…” or the ones that say “I know but this is Nigeria…”.
One serious omission in the CBN’s achievement list is an action targeted towards and felt by those millions of people and businesses that actively produce, buy and sell the goods and services we use in our everyday lives. They are the ones that operate in the real economy and as we say in the classroom, using the old Sesame street song, these are “the people in your neighbourhood”. Most of them have never entered the office of a bank MD. They don’t own shares in the stock exchange, they don’t buy those magazines you and I use to judge a how a good a hotel is; but they are the ones that make food get to our tables, they treat us when we are sick, teach our children, build our houses, and even groom our appearance. They are the real people, Mr Governor, and you need to be their banker. The CBN needs to come out with clear and cogent plans for them.
Their needs are quite basic and out there for all to see, obviously the CBN cannot meet all these needs but to be their banker and win their prize the CBN Governor can take some steps that will deal with the banking related challenges that has for too long crippled and continue to cripple these business.
A major problem those operating in the real economy face has to do with access to finance. The process is just too cumbersome in Nigeria, the demand and conditions to be met are simply too onerous for most businesses particularly start-ups. The interest rates on financial products such as loans and overdrafts makes effective growth and straightforward business practically impossible for those people and organisations that want to be prudent and honourable in Nigeria.
While banking, even those who are lucky enough not to need any kind of loan or those that are so unlucky that they cannot get any facility will all have to deal with unpleasant levels of cost of transactions for merely using their bank to pay and receive payments. Someone needs to seriously speak to Nigerian banks about their COT and the best person I suspect is the CBN.
One of the most intriguing disconnect I have picked upon in Nigeria is the disparity between the people and its institutions. The chapter on technology is quite a long one in such compendium and the banking industry is not at all exempt from it. For a country where even road hawkers have one or even more mobile phones it is hard to understand why there are no cogent attempts to make telephone banking a popular feature. Then there is that is even the bigger need to make electronic payments, wire transfers and other kind of bank transfers readily available to people and business in the country. It is a sad sight to see people withdraw cash from one bank and then risk robbery, spend time and even dare those bad roads to go make a deposit in another bank.
Before and beyond all these is of course the problem of the foreign exchange rate, the value of the dollar, British Pounds Sterling and other foreign currencies against the Naira is simply a sad fact as we read. For a country that imports most of the things it uses, including petrol, something needs to be quickly and continuously in place to manage the value of the Naira.