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|Tradermoni Is Not Vote Buying - Uzoma Nwagba Part 2 by hadassah701: 1:36pm On Jan 08, 2019|
The GEEP programme has a strict governance structure which emanates from the Federal Government through the office of the Vice President. The money is placed in the Bank of Industry (BOI) which has been asked to execute the program. There are signed agreements between the Federal Government and BOI on how the funds will be used, and how the usage must be reported. In the process of our data capture, we also go the full length to ensure that we are compliant with the data points required, and that there are no “ghost” beneficiaries. The project works with a number of private-sector partners whose job it is to enumerate candidates for the loans. We use the private sector to greatly minimize any political interpretation or undertone. After the verification, disbursement and repayment management is done by BOI. Every beneficiary is essentially a loan obligor to BOI.
The Federal Government made an explicit decision to run the program through BOI and to ensure direct engagement with every single beneficiary. This is the reason we have over 4,000 agents wake up every morning and go to the field to have a personal interaction with the traders, capture their information, and sync the data back to the BOI so we can verify and make payments. So we end up with a system where we can tell you everybody who has benefited from the project, their exact location, their picture with the trade, the specific loan amount, when they are scheduled to pay back, how much paid so far, and so on. We also went through several series of scrutiny from the National Assembly before the program budget was approved – and our reporting of the programme has also been held to the highest of standards.
There have been rumors in the news about the GEEP initiatives, especially TraderMoni, being a Vote-Buying scheme of the federal government; how do you respond to that?
First the GEEP program started in 2016, so this is our third year of operation. Our first loan registration was in May 2016. Since then we have been running the GEEP program nonstop across the country. Also we must note that it is the direct field learnings while implementing MarketMoni that led to the introduction of the TraderMoni which started as a mobile-based loan product and kicked off in September 2017. The point is that GEEP program did not start in election season. Very far from it. As at November 2017, over a year ago, even before the country cared who was running for office or not, we had disbursed over 300,000 loans.
Moreover, for those who still push the vote-buying narrative, I always ask: is GEEP (either MarketMoni, FarmerMoni, or TraderMoni) a wrong programme? In other words, is it impacting millions of Nigerians or not? If it is, then why would there be a wrong time to do the right thing? If a pepper seller sees credit she needs, shouldn’t she access it while it is available?
Think about this even more deeply, the vote-buying narrative could even be another patronizing expression of our middle-class privilege and we must always check this. As a middle-class entrepreneur, or business mogul, you can walk into BOI today to borrow funds to grow your business. You walk out with your dignity intact, and possibly with a loan. Sometimes these loans run into tens of millions of Naira, and billons of Naira. Yet, nobody accuses you of being vote-bought, even when you are borrowing the money of a government institution or project. On what basis therefore do we assume that those at the bottom of the pyramid are also not intelligent economic actors who can make rational decisions to better their lives? These are human beings with goals, aspirations, and dignity like you and I. They are not genetically predisposed to bad decisions, or so vulnerable that they would just be bought. Nothing could be further from the truth. If they have a better life, our job is done.
Since I resumed this job three years ago, until now, I have never set my eyes on a Permanent Voters Card (PVC) of any beneficiary. Not one. I would know. There is no such. As a matter of fact, some of the states with our largest beneficiaries are not even states that politically align with the party in power. As long as you are a Nigerian petty trader, you are eligible!
Still on rumors, some TraderMoni beneficiaries have complained of getting less than the N10,000 promised; and reports have suggested the deducted sums were taken out by Iya-Lojas and other value chain players. How is the GEEP team responding to this?
We are aware of those instances and are taking the necessary actions. With a programme of this scale, targeting a segment of the population that is highly uneducated, we know that some people would try to exploit the process and take advantage of unsuspecting beneficiaries. We have even seen instances of people who do not work for the programme, walking into a market with mobile phone tablets and posing as TraderMoni agents. They charge N200 per person who comes to have their data and picture “captured,” whereas this is all just a show.
This is one of those issues where our first reaction has to been to over-communicate, to make it clear to the public and our beneficiaries that TraderMoni is FREE! We do this above the line (mass media), but also below the line (individually to each candidate via SMS and automated voice call in local languages). They should never pay to get registered, and certainly never pay to access the funds from their mobile wallet. We also prosecute and make a public show of any of our agents who engage in any fraudulent activity, and we will be doing much more of this – including blocking their BVNs. As we continue to do more and more of these, we know that, at a point, the public would become our own police. They will report, apprehend, and even prosecute anyone caught in sharp practices. This is already happening.
We have a responsibility to stay ahead of the fraud by not only dealing decisively with it but by also spreading information. If there is one thing I would like to get out of this interview, it is that the readers should report ANY suspected exploitation of Nigerians trying to access this loan. Sometimes it is the market leaders who need to be reported.
One of the goals of the GEEP program is to promote financial inclusion; how does the program achieve this?
It’s quite simple. Financial inclusion is about getting people to use financial services as a habit. By so doing they are building documented histories and track records that will allow them access more financial services: take more loans, buy pension or insurance, save towards their goals and other financial services. However, this requires significant behavioral change, even on the part of the people who would be obvious beneficiaries. They need to stop putting money under their beds. They need to learn to pool resources and increase their purchasing power. They need to open mobile wallets and bank accounts, and use them. They need to have a radical shift in their mindset, and build trust in the financial system to enable them raise their profile. You cannot wish financial inclusion into existence at all. It is a very difficult effort that combines behavioral science with finance, technology, education, while make it all so simple that a grandma can rely on it. GEEP removes the first critical barrier, which is the barrier of engagement. We give you a strong reason to want to try. You can only get our loans by opening a bank account or operating a mobile wallet. You can only repay via the bank or vouchers, no cash. You can only access the next one on your mobile phone. We combine this with increasing investment in communication and education. You cannot achieve financial inclusion via marketing campaigns or market storms, asking people to open bank accounts. You have to give them a strong incentive to do so, and to continue to operate the account. GEEP has been able to achieve this. I call it the convening power of capital.
We are quite pleased with the results so far. Over half of our 1.5 million beneficiaries are first-time operators of bank accounts or mobile wallets. And we see them use those tools even after the loans, and this encourages us. We are committed to targeting everybody who is not financially included. We admit it is going to be a long journey to bring the over 23 million Nigerians and micro-enterprises that are financially excluded or under-included. However, we are also conscious it is an ecosystem so we don’t need to interact with everybody; if it works well for different cohorts of people, it will become contagious.
Tell us about your background and how the GEEP journey started for you.
My background has been in finance and technology, although my first degree was in Electrical Engineering, from Howard University in Washington DC. I started my career working at Goldman Sachs in New York, and then proceeded to Microsoft in Redmond Washington, leading technological projects and operations in the mobile division of the company. I proceeded from there to do an MBA at the Harvard Business School. I have always had a passion for driving projects at a national scale, and doing something that will have an impact on people who don’t have the opportunities that I have had. I feel it is the only way I could remotely appreciate the privileges I have been given by God and people who went before me.
In Nigeria, our biggest social challenge is poverty. I am a strong believer that the most effective way to fight poverty is to accelerate enterprise. At some point, this could all be private sector and industry-driven; but until then, we must be deliberate about achieving what you call “fiscal cushions” on the way there, otherwise the country will implode before our very eyes. For a country as large as Nigeria, the government cannot just be a bystander or umpire – at least not at the beginning. It must be an enabler, sometimes an executor. It must take the risks, push the boundaries, catalyze the ecosystems, until the sector is significantly de-risked and private sector is able to own and drive it completely. So, when my mentor and boss, Okechukwu Enelamah, was nominated as a Minister, it only made sense that I follow him and use the opportunity to try and make an impact in this regard. GEEP was the ripest project to achieve this goal, and the execution was under his Ministry. But I must tell you that, having been to some of the most remote parts of this country, almost clocking 30 states, nothing could have prepared me for this experience and given me a true understanding of Nigeria.
At 31yrs, what do you say to people who think you are quite young to be playing a lead role on such a massive project? How has the journey been, and what drives you?
I consider it a rare privilege to be doing work this important. In a geriatric society like ours, age typically takes precedence over capacity or intellect. I remain grateful to the visionaries who have defied the odds and taken a big bet on me. These people include the Vice President himself, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo; the Minister for Trade and Investment, Okechukwu Enelamah; and the Executive Director at BOI, Mrs. Toyin Adeniji with whom I have worked very closely with over the past 2 years. They see what most other people don’t see: that the future of Nigeria’s leadership is in our young, and that there is a growing tribe of us with some of the best of education, experience, and capacity to serve.
I never wake up any day thinking I am too young to manage an operation of this scale, or that we can’t make it truly transformative. As a matter of fact, I think youth and energy are major advantages. I apply myself totally, and demand the same of the team. We bring the best of technology, innovation, new thinking, to something as stereotypically archaic as government. Imagine driving a government project without a single piece of paper or unnecessary intermediaries in the process. I am talking unique identification, everything interconnected by technology and systems, no forms, no godfathers. We hop on flights on short notice, go to the most remote parts of Nigeria and spend days and weeks there. It is a truly immersive experience where youth can only be an advantage, if not even a requirement. And there is strategic thinking, leveraging on one’s networks including more senior mentors and leadership, while still having the nimbleness to go down market and find the most driven of our young and putting them to work.
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