Without access to credit for everyone, Nigeria can’t hit the growth it wants

Credit changes lives. Access to credit boosts education, entrepreneurship, and economic growth. To unlock Nigeria’s potential, the government must protect lenders and borrowers alike.

Let’s start with a story about Bimpe and Uche. Bimpe, a graduate of Sociology from the University of Lagos, is working an underpaying job with no growth prospects. With a salary of N100,000 and more mouths to feed than she could afford, Bimpe was miserable. She couldn’t continue living that way and she decided to start a business. The thing is, Bimpe is a very talented seamstress with a flair for sassy African fashion you see on Instagram, and you go like “whoa!” She could easily earn a lot focusing on couture full time, but she needs about N800,000 to start. She barely had N5,000 at the end of the month after all necessary expenses. Where would she get N800,000 from?!

She tried to save aggressively but life kept getting in the way and it was nearly impossible. She had nowhere to turn to get a loan that size either. Her numerous but failed efforts to gather the funds she needed made her burnout and less focused at work. She lost her job and had to resort to petty trading, barely making ends meet. 

Uche’s story is a little different. Uche didn’t have the opportunity of attending university like Bimpe. However, he did have the opportunity of an apprenticeship with his uncle who owns a logistics business and all Uche wanted was to start his own logistics company after his ‘freedom’. After a couple of years Uche was finally free and then his eyes cleared when he realized he was so focused on learning how to grow his own business that he forgot the ‘seed’ he needs to grow his business isn’t the kind you find easily.

Well, Uche’s seed came in the form of a loan from his cooperative and he bought his first two dispatch bikes for his logistics business. Within 10 years, Uche’s business grew exponentially and he’s now a big man with many delivery bikes, buses and even trucks for nationwide delivery. 

Credit saves.

A loan saved Uche. And most likely many others who could only afford to build good lives through the thousands of jobs Uche created through his business. Now imagine if a million Uches got loans like that and built a million successful businesses. Imagine if some other Uches didn’t even have to wait and could get loans to go to school and get good jobs. Enough with the daydreaming, back to reality: Bimpe. Bimpe whose promising life was completely derailed because she couldn’t access a loan or any line of credit. 

The fact remains credit completely transforms anything it touches and it’s essential to grow any economy. Without credit, growth is limited; stifled even. Every N1 injected into the economy has the potential to create 10x value. This phenomenon is known as the ‘multiplier effect’. 

What is the multiplier effect?

I won’t bore you with the technical jargons; let’s leave that for the economists. For the purpose of my crusade for credit, the gist of it is that for every injection (investments, capital expenditure, etc) into the economy, there’s an amplified ripple effect on the value and income generated within that economy. 

Think about this: you’re on your way back home after a long day at work and hunger pangs are flogging you worse than your primary school teacher! A woman selling roasted plantain by the roadside comes to your rescue (not all heroes wear capes, some tie wrapper) and you pay for the goods. You have not only put money in the hands of the roasted plantain seller, you have also put money in the hands of her plantain supplier, who in turn puts money in the hands of the farmer and even the delivery truck driver and offloaders. The list goes on. Everyone makes money. That’s what the multiplier effect is.

So should Nigeria miss out on this potential for prosperity because people don’t have money right away? That’s absurd. 

Give them money to build their dreams! 

Let’s pump credit into education and reap prosperity for everyone

Only about 1% of Nigerians are in the universities. I’m sure if we were to conduct a study to find out the relationship between the level of education of Nigerians and the poverty rate, we’d discover they are married with three children. 

There are a few barriers to getting a quality tertiary education in Nigeria but the highest barrier of all is simply that people can’t afford it so they don’t bother. They focus on providing for themselves and their families instead. The sad truth is that this deprives them, and even their generations to come, of the chance to ever make it out of poverty. The poverty trap didn’t come here to play with anybody. 

There’s no denying that the student loan scheme in the US comes with its own wahala. Student loans in the US allow people who would never even have dreamed of a university education to attend some of the best schools in the world. The US’ global leadership is directly correlated to the quality of its education. Go figure!

Nigeria has now followed suit and introduced the Student Loan (Access to Higher Education) Act, 2023. Whether this is practical and sustainable remains to be seen but the idea is definitely welcome. With this, Nigerians can access quality education previously out of reach for so many. This could be pivotal to the quality of life for the beneficiaries’ generations to come.

With these loans, students get access to a good education; if they are focused and graduate with a good grade, they greatly increase their chances of landing a good paying job and living a productive and prosperous life. And guess what? The ability to earn the income they do over their lifetime can be directly traced to their access to credit. 

The logic applies too even if the student chooses to start a business after graduating. They create jobs for others, they pay taxes and they have more money for consumption. Those who benefit from the jobs they create also pay taxes and increase their consumption. Rinse. Repeat.

The deal gets even sweeter. Why? Because people with better lives are able to give their children better lives too. The value generated just keeps multiplying. Did I just solve the poverty trap or what??

The simple fact is, no great country has ever emerged without educated minds and the US leads the pack with robust financial support and credit for students. Without Nigerian funding education like our lives depends on it, we wouldn’t get anywhere.

Don’t turn off the money gun just yet: entrepreneurs need loans even more

It just makes sense to give money to people who have the capacity to grow it, doesn’t it?

Say an entrepreneur starts a business with a loan of N5 million. You know what this means for the economy? Jackpot. They create jobs. They purchase materials from suppliers. They pay consumption and corporate taxes. 

It doesn’t stop there. The suppliers are also able to create even more jobs with their increased income and every single one of them has to pay taxes to the government too. This same value chain is created even in small businesses. Remember the roasted plantain seller who saved you in traffic earlier? Take even the Uber drivers who take loans or take advantage of hire purchase options to buy a car and pay it off over some time. They’re big boys now o!

The fact is, everytime you give someone money, you empower them to create value. Cash injections end up becoming a powerful creative force to drive value creation in an economy many times over.

Credit. The gift that just keeps on giving. 

If credit is so great, who’s hoarding it and why?

The value the economy stands to benefit from accessible and affordable credit is apparent so where’s all the good credit? It’s there but lenders aren’t lending. Why? Because no one is  protecting them. We talk so much about borrower protection but if you hear the terrible things borrowers are doing to lenders on a daily basis, you’d quickly offer lenders a box of tissues for their hot tears.

Nigerians take loans and don’t pay back. This discourages lenders and forces them to limit the credit they offer to small ticket loans and high interest rates to account for their risk exposure. The problem here is that these kinds of loans are utterly useless to people who need a substantial cash injection to create significant value. 

The government needs to protect lenders too. They can’t expect to be able to meet the credit needs of over 200 million Nigerians alone. Or do they think they can? 

Nigeria isn’t the guinea pig and this isn’t an experiment. China did it already

If you want to know how effective credit is in transforming economies, just look at China. Their state-owned enterprises (SEOs) received low interest loans and the economic benefit was massive. With these loans, the SEOs were able to ensure economic stability, trigger substantial economic growth, reduce their unemployment rate and commit to undertaking large-scale infrastructure projects.

These loans came with their own challenges too but answer me this: Is China a superpower or no? 

Then that’s that about that.

Let’s even come back home to Nigeria. We’ve had economic miracles borne out of credit as well. Take Dangote and Otedola whom all the kids look up to. Despite hailing from wealth, Dangote took out a loan of N63 billion, inclusive of $75m from IFC, to build the Obajana cement factory. Otedola did the same with a much larger syndicated loan towards Zenon Petroleum and Gas in 2007. Even the telecoms giant, MTN, signed a loan deal for N200 billion just four years ago when it floated its shares on the stock market.

Dear Nigeria, think smart and think fast!

The case is clear for Nigeria.The Government needs to think smart and think fast.

For the Government to take heed and jumpstart the economy, here are a few no-nonsense but simple things they can do immediately:

The government should step in beyond borrower protection and protect lenders as well and encourage them to lend more. Of course, this should be done with recourse to checks that guide lending: ethical interest rates, due process, etc. 

The government can create a set of rules, regulated by the CBN that explicitly protects lenders without bureaucratic red tape: instead of lenders and borrowers dragging each other to court, lenders can report defaulters and get cooperation from defaulters’ banks to settle the loan. They should consider giving lenders access to use the global standing instruction (GSI) and putting it to much better use.

For the suggestion above to work, loans can be registered by lenders with a regulatory body and perhaps be given  a limit to what can be recovered on loans in default e.g lenders can only recover their principal, with no penalties or interest when a loan goes into default. In the same attitude of transparency, an increase in the interest rate must also be communicated to borrowers and the authorities ahead of time before implementation.This process should be seamless and possibly electronic.

In summary, if the government doesn’t use credit to leverage the economy, the exponential growth we so desperately need will never happen. The best time to start was years ago. The next best time is now.


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Author: Adedeji Olowe

Adedeji / a bunch of bananas ate a monkey /

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