It has become necessary to cry to His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo concerning the lingering deceit of the Bank of Industry against the enterprising youths of our great country. Even the blind can see the passion with which His Excellency is trying to steer the Nigerian economy from a monolithic, import-dependent, unemployment-drowned economy to a diversified, export-driven and creatively-productive one. The strides he has taken to launch different intervention and social support programs to encourage entrepreneurship, harness the youths potentials and grow the SME segment of the economy is plausible. However, it is sad that the Bank of Industry (BOI) is stopping at nothing to bring his lofty vision to naught.
Recall that in March 2016, the Bank of Industry launched a program to support and empower annually, at least 5,000 young entrepreneurs with soft loans, through a program tagged Youth Entrepreneurship Support Programme (YES-P). The idea seemed noble since it has been identified in several studies that lack of funding constitutes over 80% of problems faced by young entrepreneurs in Nigeria. Well, it may interest His Excellency to know that the BOI program was all deceit, decoy and a stunt to garner cheap publicity through the media. We have seen on various media, the management of BOI claiming that the YES-P program has been a complete success, while in reality, only a minute subset of the total final application has been attended to. The rest are cunningly dishonored, ignored or tactically delayed to discourage the participants. Whenever participants of the BOI programme try to voice out their grievances and expose the BOI; the bank quickly use tax payers money to run media adverts to cast dirt on the image or eligibility of participants. Their tactics is to claim that participants submitted fake academic certificates, inflated the cost in their invoices or that ideas or businesses they presented do not meet their minimum Risk Acceptance Criteria (RAC) therefore are not fund-able. Permit a little digression on these claims.
IN THE BEGINNING
Among the over 80,000 young entrepreneurs who applied to be supported with soft loans via the programme, about 5,000 were selected by BOI as having viable/fund-able ideas or businesses. These 5,000 selected entrepreneurs were subjected to over 3 months online and in-class intensive training and later certified as eligible. It is appalling however, that after the training, only 1,350 entrepreneurs (just 27% of the trained/qualified participants and 1.8% of the total participants) were able to submit the final application, the rest could not meet the cut-throat, extra-strict criteria set by the BOI to deliberately discourage participants from sending in final request for the loan. Besides changing the rules several times half way to discourage participants, they have since disqualified a lot more people out of the measly 1.8% selected/trained participants with the excuse that their idea is no longer fund-able.
The question is, why disqualify ideas which have been initially picked as laudable after adding months of training to further enrich them? Why would ideas like fish production, food processing, bread baking, renewable/alternative energy production or online selling be called non-viable and termed to be businesses not reaching the BOI minimum Risk Acceptance Criteria (RAC)? Why would they disqualify a university graduate whom same BOI claim to have spent 600 million naira of tax payers money to train on the basis of lack of experience? How much experience did Mark Zuckerburg or Bill Gates have before building the revolutionary billion dollar unicorns we all know today? Even those of us who have started our businesses over 3 years ago are still disqualified for not having experience on same business; it is clear that these are diversionary tactics.
BOI TREATING PARTICIPANTS WITH DISREGARD AND DISTRUST
The Bank of Industry have been treating participants of YES-P as thieves and opportunists for the past one year, They have been insulted by BOI officials, ignored for several months with no information on the way forward. Participants get threatened with disqualification for daring to ask questions, disqualified after several months and no real explanation is given. They claim Nigerian youths are not to be trusted.
The question is how much trust did arms-carrying militant groups build before being doused with billions of naira in amnesty payouts? Do youths have to be taken for granted because they are civil? Do youths have to become militarized and violent or join armed struggles before they can be given a chance in this country? Must we sacrifice the future of this country at the altar of the ego of a few opportune officials?
ENDLESS EXCUSES AND SHIFTING OF DEADLINES TO FRUSTRATE PARTICIPANTS
For over one year, the Bank of Industry has subjected YES-P participants to one new criterion after another; they give excuses weekly and change their own deadlines several times. Some participants have even been issued fake Offer Letters in some states so they can buy time and forestall angry protests from irate participants of YES-P. It has become obvious that they only intend to fund a very small percentage of the participants and use that to deceive the public that the program is a success. The BOI has been severally quoted in the media to have improved the economy by supporting thousands of youths through the YES-P initiative; meanwhile only less than 100 participants have received funding. The rest are being disqualified with flimsy reasons every passing day.
SOME EXAMPLES OF CRITERIA SET BY THE BANK OF INDUSTRY FOR A SUPPOSED INTERVENTION PROGRAM
- Each participant was mandated to submit 2 guarantors worth double the requested loan amount (someone seeking 5 million naira must get 2 guarantors worth 10 million naira), the guarantors must present their bank account statements, declaration of financial net worth, certificate of occupancy for landed properties with building in it. Any landed property without building is unacceptable, they are to submit their letter of employment, letter of last promotion, pay slips etc.
- Participants are to pay a processing fee of 1% of approved loan amount and legal fees in cash before disbursement is approved.
SUMMARY OF OUR COMPLAINTS
- The bank of industry rules are too strict, they are meant to deliberately discourage participants from applying for the loan.
- Applications are rejected without explanations whereas BOI could have called in such participants whose business plan do not meet BOI standard and guide them to ensure they get an opportunity to pursue their dreams.
- BOI is more interested in claiming success in the media than achieving real success in the programme
- There is unnecessary delay in disbursement of the loan
- Some branch of BOI are issuing fake, invalid offer letters to participants to deceive the public
- The BOI are thinking too narrow in the box and not giving young entrepreneurs room for innovation in an age of tech explosion.
IN THE LIGHT OF THE ABOVE, WE HEREBY PLEAD WITH YOUR EXCELLENCY THE ACTING PRESIDENT OF THE FEDERAL REPUBLIC OF NIGERIA TO:
- Set up a monitoring committee for the programme headed by the Federal Ministry of Finance or Trade and Industry.
- Invite the EFCC to investigate the spending habits of the BOI and ensure that there is fairness and due process in the use of funds.
- Invite representatives of BOI YES-P participants to defend themselves in the face of the many lies peddled against them by the BOI.
- Prevail on the BOI to disburse funds to participants whose certificate has been verified and reduce the time it takes to verify certificates to at most, 14 days.
- Prevail on BOI to soften the criteria and become more flexible with guarantor issues in line with the new Collateral Registry Act.
- Prevail on the BOI to immediately drop the 2 million naira funding barrier placed on startups, they should give equal chance to all participants to access the 5 million naira loan because all businesses are unique and require varying amounts of fund to run; besides most businesses need more funds than can be expressly estimated.
- Prevail on the BOI to re-visit the business plans of the participants who have been rejected and provide guide to them so that their knowledge can be updated where it is lacking. Every trained participant with genuine academic certificate should be given the loan.
- Prevail on the BOI to correct the calculation of amortization to reflect decreasing rate of interest on the loan
- Those who were unable to put in final application for the loan should be given another 3 months to meet up the criteria and submit their application.
- Prevail on BOI to immediately immediately soften other loan criteria to incorporate the tenets of a true intervention program and give room for participants to get the loan.
In the mean time, we have appealed to the teeming population of the YES-P participants to wait for the intervention of His Excellency, before they proceed on the next course of action. We thrust that Mr. President (Ag) will do the needful as a father with listening ears.
Long Live the Federal Republic of Nigeria!
Bank of Industrys Youth Enterprise Support Program Participants (BOI YES-P)