Abia billionaire, Prof Greg Ibe, faults CBN loan claim, says apex bank not helping Igbos

A recent claim by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) not only has no basis in fact but was also an unwarranted attempt at blaming a victimised region of the country for its predicament.

This is according to billionaire investor, inventor and philanthropist Professor Greg Ibe.

CBN Acting Director, Corporate Communications, Osita Nwanusiobi, who spoke at a fair organised for farmers and bank officials in Enugu, said the bank had done well with her intervention programmes in the agricultural sector but that the South-East zone of the country was not capitalising on the interventions as it should.

“We noticed that there seems to be a little bit of lethargy by people from the South-East in embracing these interventions and that is why we are coming out so aggressively to talk to them,” Nwanusiobi, as quoted by the Guardian, said on May 4.

Ibe, however, took the CBN to task for suggesting that Nigerians living in the south-eastern part of the country were not really interested in applying for government loans.

“This is blatant storytelling,” Ibe said in a chat with newsmen in Abia on Sunday.

“Even the CBN governor (Godwin Emefiele), who is an Igbo man, has not succeeded in helping anybody within the south-eastern part of Nigeria.

“My reasons are obvious. We in Songhai have applied for loans to be able to develop the Songhai initiatives in our university and nobody gave us any loan. We have gone through the Bank of Industry (BoI). We have applied via the Bank of Agriculture. We have gone round and round and, finally, all his pronouncements on the money kept for everything you apply for via the banks ends in Waterloo.”

The professor is the chancellor of Gregory University, Uturu, a private ‘techpreneurship’-driven academic institution set up to prepare Nigerian youth for the future. He also leads the Songhai agricultural initiative geared towards unleashing the crop-production capability of Africa and Nigeria. Ibe recently launched a one-billion-dollar fund to boost COVID research and put Nigeria on the global map of cutting-egde healthcare innovations, the kind that transcends the manufacturing of hand sanitisers and distribution of basic personal protective equipment (PPE).

If anyone knows a lot about how research and business ventures need big money to scale and benefit the populace, it is Ibe. And he said the CBN needs to quit playing to the gallery and start making the moves Nigeria needs if it really wants to lift people out of poverty and boost GDP.

“Going back to the Bank of Agriculture that they said is partnering with the CBN in this regard, they said people from the South-East are not putting in applications for loans. Is the CBN talking about NISA? NISA used to be N50 million. But when businessmen from the South-East began shifting attention to the initiative, they slashed the loan amount to between N5 and N10 million, is it not? It used to be between N50 and N100 million,” Ibe said.

“By the time our people, youth and students I taught entrepreneurship across the South-East started applying, the authorities decreased the figures to N5 million. N5 million can start up something but it should not be the kind of money for what we are looking at because this money is not meant to grow food for an individual’s family. We are talking about commercial scale. For all those who have applied, I want to know how many they have granted loans. They should publish the figures for the South-East.

“Also, let them tell the Nigerian public the number of South-Easterners who have applied, and those they declined to give these loans from this region. We can present documentation.

“Trying to blame South-Easterners who are more business-oriented, who are more inclined to go into agriculture to make sure that we feed our people, will not work. We are ready for the loans but who is giving them to us?

“When I got the news, I sent the same to some of the bankers who have denied us loans and they said, in their words, we shouldn’t mind the CBN that they were playing to the gallery. They’re doing this to give Nigerians the impression that we are the cause of our own injustice, real or perceived, that we are the reason we are not benefiting from the loans.

“But, no, it is not so.

“The CBN knows that the cash in Nigeria, that belongs to people from the South-East, is found in Kano, Lagos, Onitsha, Aba and Port Harcourt. Port Harcourt is the corporate level. Some 30 to 40 per cent, if not more, of the cash is found in Lagos. And then the major money is in Aba and Onitsha. Kano also has about 20 or 30 per cent.

“So, you can imagine the kind of money at the disposal of South-Easterners and then you now stand to tell our people who don’t have bureau de changes (BDCs) that they cannot export goods. They cannot send more than $10,000. They cannot even transfer money to get their goods from China.

“And these are people that have chains of businesses scattered all over Nigeria being fed from one source, the main importer who is their boss. The prices of goods will skyrocket because they now have to find money to get their brothers abroad to remit funds to their producers. The authorities have essentially blocked these business people.

“At a time, the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS) placed embargo on all the businessmen in Onitsha and everywhere in Nigeria.

“So, I started questioning and fighting that policy. I offered that it would be better to encourage and bring all these businesses into the tax net than trying to force those already invested in limited liability companies to break away with weaker individual accounts.

“The government is hurting itself. The government is not encouraging everyone to contribute to Nigeria’s GDP and overall economic wellbeing.

“This issue has to stop. They should stop telling these stories because I am a living example of many of the people from the South-East that the CBN is not helping.

“If the federal government and the CBN really want to turn the economy around and create an enabling environment for GDP health, let them invest the money in the South-East. Do it one digit and make it open to our people and you’ll see that we will create more money for this country.”

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