BY EMEKA EJERE
The governor of Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mr. Godwin Emefiele, is not relenting in his drive to engender Nigeria’s economic growth through legacy projects.
His disclosure last week that the apex bank would set up an International Financial Centre (IFC) to be operational in the second quarter of 2022, and that the regulator under his watch is committed to opening up the economy for growth.
This is even as the infrastructure company (InfraCorp) being created by the CBN, African Finance Corporation (AFC) and the Nigerian Sovereign Investment Authority (NSIA) to raise N15 trillion is set to take off in February with N1.5 trillion investment in three infrastructure projects across the country.
An IFC is a centre operating from a physical location that facilitates international activity and operates under a regulatory framework that meets international norms. IFCs provide financial services to international clients as well as support services such as law, accountancy and technology.
The centre has to be attractive to businesses not operating in the jurisdiction and meet a number of inter-related requirements, mainly relating to stability and resources.
Emefiele, who was delivering a keynote address at the 56th Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria (CIBN) annual dinner in Lagos, explained that the facility is expected to serve as a hub for attracting domestic and external capital which is much-needed to strengthen the Nigerian economy post-COVID-19.
“The International Finance Centre when fully operational in the second quarter of 2022 will help to position Nigeria as a key destination for investment in Africa,” Emefiele added.
The CBN governor noted that a key challenge to supporting growth in key sectors of the economy was access to large pools of cheap investment capital.
According to him, most of over $100 trillion being held by institutional investors in Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) countries are invested in low-yielding assets relative to high-yielding opportunities in Nigeria.
“Leveraging the strength of the private sector will be critical in mobilising funds that are needed toward building a more resilient and stronger economy”, he said.
“We intend to strengthen collaborations with the private sector to support investments in critical sectors such as infrastructure, and ICT, in addition to ongoing efforts to build a stronger agriculture and manufacturing base in Nigeria.
“As a result, all efforts in 2022 must be made to ensure that we maintain our focus on improving access to finance and credit for households and businesses, mobilising investment to boost domestic productivity, enabling faster growth of non-oil exports, and supporting employment generating activities.”
A policy analyst, Tayo Fakiyesi, noted that the role of a financial system is to promote economic wellbeing through financial intermediation, acting as conduits of savings into investment, and the provision of financial infrastructure for effecting financial transactions.
According to him, in promoting the effective performance of this role by the financial system, the governments, regulatory authorities, as well as regulations in place are very pivotal.
He said, “The role of government must be enabling with minimum and only necessary controls.
“Such government involvement in the financial system must be reduced to the minimum, except where the private interests of financial market participants do not align with the public interests as well as for reasons of competitive fairness or commercial viability.”
The partnership that gave birth to InfraCorp, which is expected to raise over N15 trillion to support investment in critical infrastructure in Nigeria, arose from the recognition of the role improved infrastructure could play in the development of the Nigerian economy.
It is a manifestation of the emphasis on the need to leverage private sector capital in funding the over N35 trillion deficit, which is the estimated amount required to build an efficient infrastructure ecosystem in Nigeria.
According to the World Development Indicators (2019), 56.2 per cent of Nigerians have access to electricity while electric power consumption stood at 144.52 kWh per capita as of 2018.
While the infrastructure deficit in Nigeria is estimated to be about 1.2 per cent of gross domestic product (GDP), it is projected that the federal government needs to commit about $100 billion annually to address the nation’s infrastructural deficit.
Emefiele believes that with the decline in revenues due to federal and state governments because of the drop in crude oil prices, alternative ways of funding infrastructure were critical to the sustained growth of the economy.
Giving an update on the project last week, Emefiele said: “So far, N1 trillion has been provided as seed funds by the promoters to support the operations of InfraCorp. We recently appointed four fund managers, and a Management Team has been selected to run and manage InfraCorp.
“Over the next two months, InfraCorp will kick off its operations by targeting strategic infrastructure projects that would help catalyse further growth of our economy.
InfraCorp is expected to set the standard template that will help in enabling greater private sector funding for public infrastructure projects in Nigeria.”
The CBN boss is of the view that a vibrant infrastructure financing would unlock the potential in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) to create massive jobs and reduce poverty. He also thinks the sector is in earnest need of credit to be relevant to the growth of the economy.
Speaking at the 2021 Finance Correspondents Association of Nigeria (FICAN) Annual Conference and 30th anniversary in September in Lagos, Emefiele noted that an average rate of five to seven per cent is required to boost productivity and sustainable business growth.
To achieve this, he said, more resources needed to be freed to build critical infrastructure to bridge the wide deficit, stressing that poor infrastructure financing was a constraint on the growth of the economy.
According to the World Bank, the MSME sector represents an estimated 90 per cent of businesses and employs over 50 per cent of the world’s labour force. Formal MSMEs have been identified to contribute about 40 per cent of GDP in emerging economies, of which Nigeria is one.
“Lack of access to quality infrastructure has been a limiting factor to MSMEs in developing countries delivering on their potential for growth and creating employment”, Emefiele had said.
Beyond infrastructure, access to finance remains one of the biggest threats to MSME development in both developed and developing economies alike, with serious implications for productivity, economic development and job creation.
“Access to credit has been identified as a critical enabler for the growth and development of MSMEs, as the overall credit gap for MSMEs in developing countries is estimated to be $5.2 trillion, representing 19 per cent of these countries’ cumulative GDP.
“Of this, the unmet financing demand from MSMEs in sub-Saharan Africa is about $331 billion, representing 18 per cent of the potential demand for credit by MSMEs in the region.”
Findings show that as at the end of December 2020, the CBN had committed N4.2 trillion in intervention funds disbursed to various sectors such as agriculture, particularly the Anchore Borrowing programme to boost rice production as well as other six cash and food products; manufacturing and SMEs, entertainment, and power.
At the heat of the Covid-19 pandemic, he mobilized the private sector and raised almost N18 billion, which was deployed in building isolation centres in Lagos and Abuja, the two epicenters and providing relief package for the people under the aegis of CACOVID.
With an intervention fund for almost every sector of the economy, the CBN has disbursed N4.23 trillion on 23 major intervention programmes across three million projects. .
A breakdown of the sectorial disbursement show agriculture received N1.47 trillion; power got N1.06 trillion, while N1.15 trillion went to SMEs across manufacturing, trade and transportation.
With these two initiatives, it is evident that Emefiele has his eyes on the future and legacy that will characterise his tenure.