S/East Civil Societies Alleges Corruption In SMEs Funding

Yemisi Izuora

A cross section of leaders of civil society and Community Based

Organisations (CBOs) in the five South East states have called for

transparency and openness in the disbursement of funds to Small and

Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through

the state governments.

The participants said transparency in the scheme will ensure government

cronies do not use the opportunity to convert investment funds for

private use.

They also want the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) and

the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission

(ICPC) to probe previous distribution of the funds to SMEs for greater

accountability.

These were part of the resolution contained in the communique issued in

Enugu on Monday after a day-long event with the theme Corruption Trends

in the Management of Financial and Non-Financial Supports Designed for

Small Businesses:  Exploring the Effects of Corruption on SMEs as an

Impediment to Economic Growth in the South Eastern States organized by

the Human and Environmental Development Agenda (HEDA Resource Centre).

The Chairman of the event was the former Dean, Department of Law,

University of Nigeria, Nsukka, Prof Chukwunoso Okafor while Mr Celestine

Okeke gave the keynote address.

Billions of Naira are distributed to state governments every year by the

CBN many of which are believed to end up in the pockets of corrupt

people or marred by political influences peddled by government officials

who use such funds for electoral patronage thereby defeating the

designed objective of economic growth.

The SMEs sector is the largest employer of labour in Nigeria

representing 80 percent of available jobs while accounting for 50

percent of Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). The participants said

stemming corruption in the SMEs sector will impact on sustainable

development in the region known for a long history of enterprise. Prof

Okafor said the future of economic development of the South East is

hinged in the SMEs citing Asia and China as places where the SMEs have

transformed the economy from the backwaters.

Speaking at the programme held in Enugu on Monday, the EFCC South East

Zonal Coordinator, Assistant Commissioner of Police (ACP), Usman Imam,

said the SMEs are critical to Nigeria’s economic rebirth adding that

transparency and openness in the distribution and use of such funds are

necessary for Nigeria’s economic revival and industrial growth.

Imam said Nigerians must rise up against corruption or allow the country

to slip into the cesspool. The EFCC official said “We are investigating

CBN disbursement to SMEs and see if there are complaints of fraud. There

is threat of collapse to everything unless we fight corruption.

Corruption reflects the level of moral degeneration in Nigeria. Ours is

a society of almost total collapse of value system. We have to kill

corruption and should not allow it to kill us.”

He said in 2019 alone, the EFCC in the South East secured 90 convictions

in corruption related cases. He said “It’s so sad to discover that most

of the convicts are undergraduates, graduates or corps members. Youths

who are expected to lead this country are carrying criminality on their

shoulders.”

He added “Early October, I was in Kigali, Rwanda that just came out of

its genocide strong. The genocide happened in 1994. Each day they make

it happen as if the genocide happened yesterday so that you don’t

forget. We had a civil war, but unless you read them in books, there is

no memory. In Kigali, you see the picture of the victims in hundreds of

thousands. They have learnt to be discipline. We have to fix this

country. We should not allow it to collapse in our eyes. If you travel

by road, there are grave concerns about security, bad roads all due to

corruption. Kaduna and Abuja used to be safe, but now nobody is safe.

The current efforts of the EFCC should be supported by all Nigerians.”

HEDA Chairman, Mr Olanrewaju Suraju, said dealing with corruption in the

SMEs sector will broaden the scope of greater opportunities for job

seekers while providing the needed impetus for industrial transformation

of the country.

In his presentation, Okeke said for a productive SMEs regime, the

governments need to provide infrastructure, training and skill

acquisition for beneficiaries.

The participants said corruption in the SMEs scheme reflects the general

malaise of moral decline in the society adding that to solve the problem

requires the efforts of the family which is one of the most important

social units in any society.

“SMEs have the responsibility to be accountable for sustainable growth

and development, therefore civil society groups and anti-corruption

institutions should monitor and evaluate the SMEs. That the

anti-corruption agencies should beam the searchlight of transparency on

the SMEs focusing on the processes involved in securing the funds to

promote a more impactful delivery mechanism in trade and investment of

public funds” participants noted in the communiqué.

The delegates said the SMEs do not only need financial support but also

need other non-financial services like training and skill acquisition,

urging that relevant agencies are advised to invest meaningfully to

ensure the capacity building of beneficiaries. They recommended

investing the 5 to 10 percent charged by the CBN on every fund given to

the SMEs for training and capacity building rather than the shrewd

utilization of such charges without accountability.

Participants urged Nigerians to push for legislative remedies,

transparency and stronger regulatory fixes with suggestions that a

platform should be created or existing network strengthened which will

also involve the SMEs operators with specific focus on ensuring

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