BY EMEKA EJERE

With much of the underlying evidence pointing to the fact that the governments in the land would simply be unable to pick all the bills emanating from the Days of Rage that have accompanied the poor handling of the #EndSARS protests, attention is shifting over to where else help could come from.

And a first indication of such help was signaled when Access Bank Plc at the weekend gave Nigerians something to cheer: it announced a N50 billion interest-free loans and grants support for the rebuilding of small businesses and communities affected by the #EndSARS unrest, with a chunk of the facility targeted at youth empowerment.

The move by the bank is seen by analysts as kick-starting a project that will see other commercial banks and business players rolling out similar schemes in a bid to support the youths contribute their quota in the nation’s economic growth and development.

There have been concerns that the unrest and attacks by hoodlums in Nigeria, especially in Lagos State during the crisis would worsen the county’s economic outlook, which was not inspiring following the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Protests against police brutality had erupted in major cities across Nigeria, with demands evolving beyond ending police excesses to calls for good governance across the board.

But events took a dramatic turn hours after Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu, imposed a 24-hour curfew across Lagos State, when suspected soldiers opened fire on defiant but armless protesters at Lekki Toll Gate, killing and injuring yet to be identified numbers.

The reprisal attacks that followed the next day grew bigger than the disturbances that prompted the curfew, with Lagos experiencing a near state of anarchy, with spillover in other parts of the country. In the process, suspected hoodlums engaged in the looting and destruction spree that has thrown many businesses and communities into huge losses while threatening millions of jobs across the country.

Announcing the scheme through its official LinkedIn page, Access Bank said the move was to support businesses following the crippling COVID-19 lockdown as well as the looting and arson that trailed the #ENDSARS protests.

“Now more than ever, we remain committed to our purpose of impacting lives positively” the bank said.

”In light of the recent occurrences, we will be supporting Nigerian businesses with N50billion interest-free loans and grants. Watch this space for more information.”

The support by Access Bank is expected to help business owners and entrepreneurs alleviate and stimulate economic activities, as well as produce many positive multiplier effects on the economy.

“As a way of supporting SMEs and the working class of the country following the recent damage of properties and livelihoods experienced across the nation, @myaccessbank has rolled out interest-free loans of up to N50bn.

“The fund is expected to serve as a kick-start to these affected communities, people and businesses. #AccessCares #All4One,” the bank added.

Support by businesses for public engagements has been growing in recent times. It will be recalled that, as part of its further response to deal with the global economic challenge occasioned by COVID-19, Heritage Bank Plc had last month reiterated commitment to deepen its support to young entrepreneurs in Nigeria to grow their businesses either as start-ups or prospective business owners. This, the bank said, is in line with its culture as timeless wealth partners, which would impact positively on the nation’s socio-economic development.

Ifie Sekibo, managing director/chief executive officer of the bank, stated that Heritage Bank was mindful of the devastating impact of the pandemic to the nation’s economic system, hence as an institution at the forefront of investing in human capital development for critical economy recovery, “we will up our game to empower Nigerian youths who are one of the bedrock of any vibrant economy.”.

He disclosed that one of the channels churned out in partnering the youths to leverage their talents and contribute their quota to the growth of the economy, was the use of financial inclusion strategy which would be adopted to boost entrepreneurship development, as this is critical to Heritage Bank’s mission to create, preserve and transfer wealth across generations.

He further explained that Heritage Bank’s various entrepreneur schemes in the support for business had always focused on dependable job-creating sectors, such as agricultural value chain (fish farming, poultry, snail farming), cottage industry, mining and solid minerals, creative industry (tourism, arts and crafts), and Information and Communications Technology (ICT).

Sekibo restated that the aim of Heritage Bank being at the forefront of youth empowerment is to emancipate the latent entrepreneurial spirit in the teeming youths to unleash their support to the growth of the economy.

“At Heritage, nothing else is more fulfilling than to groom-to-empower young aspiring start-up entrepreneurs, as we mentor them to grow and become large corporates enlisted on the Nigerian Stock Exchange,” he said.

Reacting to the planned intervention of Access Bank, former president, Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Mr. Okechukwu Unegbu described the N50 billion interest-free loans by the bank as a good gesture that shows that the bank really wants the country to go where it should be.

He said, though the facility is a drop in the ocean, it is a big drop, adding that now that the bank has started it, other banks will follow suit.

Unegbu, who urged Access Bank to deploy a chunk of the facility to youth education, pointed out that it was commendable for the bank to make the move despite suffering a huge loss in the unrest.

He said, “By doing this, the bank has shown that it wants Nigeria to go back to where it should be.

“And I know that the bank suffered a big loss in the crisis. So, for them to still go ahead and do these shows a commitment to economic development.

“I really want them to channel a reasonable part of the facility to education, which is a critical aspect of youth empowerment.

“When you look at what happened during the protest and the unrest that followed, you see that there are reasonable youths and unreasonable youth.

The unreasonable youths are those without education and these are those politicians use as instruments of chaos and those who easily loot and destroy other people’s businesses.

“When these kinds of people are educated, there’re greater chances that they will have something doing. Rather than join in destroying other people’s assets, they will try to protect their own.”

On his part, an economist and former banker, Mr. Victor Ochiegbu, described the move by the banks as a step in the right direction, especially at a time, he said, governments at all levels have failed in their responsibilities.

He said, “Empowering the youths is critical to economic development because of their energy and creativity that they can bring to bear to make a serious difference.

“When these young people are made to bring their youthful minds and energy into job creation and so on, the multiplier effect cannot be overemphasized.”