60 percent of the 220 billion naira of the Micro,Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF) launched by CBN on August 15,2013 was earmarked for women.But did women entrepreneurs access this fund as claimed by the Apex Bank? This,120edgenews.com investigates and tells us more.
By Victoria Onehi
Apparently worried by the lack of access to finance from formal channels by millions of Nigeria’s women business owners, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) on August 15, 2013, launched the N220 billion Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Fund (MSMEDF) to provide them funds at affordable interest rates to boost their productivity and by implication, contributions to the nation’s economic growth.
Specifically, the apex bank earmarked 60% of the fund for women who engage in business across the agricultural value chain, services industry, cottage industries, artisans, trade and commerce and any income generating business.
The gesture by the CBN was commended by millions of women in agribusiness who, over the years, had been groaning due to funding challenges as their dreams to add value to their homes through productive engagements could not be realised.
One of these is Mrs. Vera Ndanusa , a woman entrepreneur who applied for the loan. But then, she, like several thousand others, could not access the loan.
She recounted her experience thus: ‘’I applied for this loan alongside some women some years ago and I did not get it. We applied through a Microfinance bank in Minna, Niger state but they never got back to us.”
Ndanusa is not alone, Hadiza Salimi another woman entrepreneur in Bauchi, had a similar experience. ‘’ I needed to expand my poultry business. So, when I heard CBN was giving out loan at a low-interest rate through the Microfinance bank and some commercial banks, I applied and I did not get the loan.”
On her part, the President of Jam’iyyar Matan Arewa (JMA) in Kaduna, Rabi Musa Saulawa, said they were not aware of this facility by CBN so did not apply.
Saulawa said ‘’ I and the women in my association did not know about this CBN loan. If we knew about it, we would have applied. Many women in our association want money to expand their businesses but no fund. I have been doing business for many years but it has been on small scale. I would love to expand it if I can get this fund.”
But then, it has not been total tales of woes as some women got the loans.
For instance, the Director- General of the Quintessential Business Women Association (QBWA), Mrs. Judith Tanko, said that her association participated in MSMEDF loan from CBN and disbursed N2.4 billion to 5,000 cooperatives in 14 states of Nigeria.
Recounting her group’s success story as it relates to the MSMEDF, Mrs. Tanko, enthused: ‘’QBWA model for Cooperatives is 20 persons per Cooperative. The women registered in Cooperatives , got trained by QBWA, located a Microfinance Bank (MFB) of their choice in their state and submitted an application from the MFB to partner with QBWA.
“They submitted all required documents to QBWA to be sent to CBN for approval. But the procedures are much. CBN rules were not easy, this made the whole process stressful but at the end some of the women got the loan.
‘’QBWA disbursed the loan in 2014/2015 to the following states. They are Akwa Ibom, Adamawa, Kaduna, Niger, Anambra, Benue, Cross River, Taraba, Imo, Kwara, Osun , Rivers,Delta and Edo. Some states later got through some Micro-Finance Banks in their states, so we now have a total of 16 states, but its still N2.4 billion”, she added.
Tanko said the loan was disbursed through Apex Microfinance Bank in Kwara, Gufax in Akwa Ibom state, Nakowa MFB in Kaduna, Metropolitan MFB, Banghe MFB in Adamawa state, Taraba Microfinance in Taraba state and many more across the states.
According to her, at the end of the day, the feedback her association got was that 85% of the women paid back what they got which is a welcomed development for all the stakeholders.
Challenges faced working with Microfinance Banks
Speaking on some of the challenges women entreprenuers contended with in accessing their loans through MFBs, Tanko lamented that some of the MFBs were not sincere in disbursing the loan.
She recalled: ‘’The Microfinance banks were supposed to disburse to 5000 women across all the Cooperatives.But some of them played some games. The women were supposed to be the beneficiaries of that fund but some of the Microfinance banks started using the money for their own customers, so it became a problem. We had two states that had a problem.
“In Gombe state, the Gombe Microfinance bank got the money from CBN in the name of the women. Instead of disbursing to the women in which they applied in their names, it now decided to share the money 50/50 instead giving it all to the women who are the beneficiaries.
‘’The women wrote to us that the money should be withdrawn and taken back to CBN because of what the Microfinance banks were doing. The two states were Plateau and Gombe state”, the QWBA Director General added.
Similarly, Tanko said QWBA applied for a cooperative group to be able to get N10 million and some others to get N5 million so that at least a woman should get N500,000 each but that this was not achieved but most of the women ended up getting 50, 000 and some 25,000.
According to her, the feedback the association is getting from the women is that the money was not enough to do what they wanted to do in their Business Plan.
Tanko claimed that information confirmed that the money the MFBs were receiving from CBN under the MSMEDF was much but the MFBs did not do justice in disbursing the money to the women.
CBN insists disbursements remain on course
Despite these challenges women are facing to access this Fund, the Deputy Governor, Financial Systems Stability Directorate of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Mrs Aishah Ahmad, recently disclosed that more than 60 percent of the MSMEDF had been disbursed to women as promised by the apex bank
Ahmad confirmed the disbursement to the women entrepreneurs at the WIMBIZ International Women’s Day celebration (IWD) 2022, which was marked simultaneously in Abuja, Lagos and Port Harcourt with the theme ‘Break the Bias’.
Similarly, the Minister of State for Industry, Trade and Investment, Ambassador Mariam Katagum, who also spoke at the IWD celebration of 2021, said the MSMEDF was designed to address the unique challenges encountered by women in accessing credit in Nigeria.
The minister said: “Consequently, 60% of the fund has been earmarked for women. These interventions were deliberately focused to increase women’s financial inclusion in Nigeria.”
Similarly, a publication of PAWED Advocacy Coalition sponsored by the Development Research & Projects Centre (DRPC) in January 2022 titled ‘Unlocking the Potentials for Improved Women’s Economic Empowerment in Nigeria: The Budget Pathway’ indicated that in recent years, there had been public declarations of commitment by government to address the huge gender gap in access to funding opportunities.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning Dr. (Mrs.) Zainab Ahmed, noted that “the economic and social empowerment of women and girls is critical to our collective vision of a prosperous and resilient Nigeria.”
According to her, if Nigeria must have a stronger and more inclusive economy, it is crucial that the government takes a long term and strategic approach to ensuring that women are economically empowered.
Curiously, development experts believe that public declarations on women empowerment by governments have not really translated to much gains, including the potential benefits of the MSMEDF to women entrepreneurs, especially those involved in agribusiness.
Speaking on a telephone conversation on the extent of how women have actually benefitted from the MSMEDF in the past years, particularly on the challenges women had been facing in accessing the fund, the Head Corporate Communications of the CBN, Mr Osita Nwanisobi, maintained that 60% allocation to the women subsists.
He further clarified: “Yes, the guidelines say 60% of the fund be reserved for women. 40 % were generic and that subsists, when you say something subsists, we have not wind it down.”
Commenting on how many women have accessed the fund as disclosed by the CBN Deputy Governor, Mrs. Ahmed, that 60% had been accessed by women, Nwanisobi did not give specific percentage or figures during the chat.
However, he maintained that ‘the financing gap for SMEs in Nigeria is N9.6 trillion and the MSMEDF is N220 billion.’’
On what the bank is doing for more women to access the funds, he said the guidelines had been published on the CBN website for anyone who wants to access the loan to study before applying for the loan.
However, our investigations on the MSMEDF disbursements showed that most of the deposit money banks (DMBs), which are supposed to get the money from CBN alongside the MFBs and disburse to beneficiaries, were reluctant to access the fund due to stringent terms and conditions set by the apex bank.
As it were, one of the conditions stipulated by CBN in its guidelines for accessing the MSMEDF states that the loan should be given at 9% interest rate to SMEs and women and the moratorium for payment is one year.
A story published in Daily Trust on why women are not optimising the opportunity availed by the apex bank in accessing the MSMEDF loan indicated Skye Bank was able to access N50m of the loan and disbursed to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs).
Also, Mrs. Tanko, during a chat with our correspondent mentioned that N2 billion each was given to some states for onward disbursement to the SMEs and women but she could not confirm whether or not the states actually disbursed the fund to the target beneficiaries.
Solutions for easy disbursement of the MSMEDF to women
To get out of the disbursement conundrum, some women have suggested ways in which the fund could be disbursed to enable more women access it.
The President of National Association of Women Entrepreneurs (NAWE) Mrs. Vera Ndanusa, believes that changing the methods of disbursement of the Fund by the apex bank would go a long way in addressing the problem associated with its disbursements.
She elaborated: “I think CBN knows that many women are not able to access this money and should change the method and mode of disbursement.
“I think one of the issues is that the MFBs were making the conditions too stringent. Of course, they are Microfinance banks so it pays them more if the money is there with them.
“If the money is there and I believe it should still be there, they should get the real women entrepreneurs, through genuine women associations and reach out to these women and disburse the funds through them” Ndanusa stressed.
Similarly, Director General QBWA, confirmed that the apex bank had recently been sending consultants to them to suggest ways of improving the fund’s disbursement.
She explained: “With the consultants they sent to us, they are trying to see reasons to do what we said. We did not find it easy working with the Microfinance banks and it will not be easy to use all these Commercial banks. They have hidden charges and they don’t agree with what CBN says. They do what they like and the women don’t get the funds.
“We are telling CBN that if they really want to disburse the remaining part of the money to women, we have a Private Financial Institution (PFI) for QWBA members. It is called Quintessential Non-Bank Micro Finance (QNMF) which is registered with CBN.
“If they can disburse the money to this PFI, then we can disburse to the women from there because our women suffered a lot in the hands of Microfinance banks. And now they are suggesting we could use commercial banks which, we know, definitely are not better than microfinance banks.
“We are hoping CBN will accept our suggestion and do as we ask them to do”, Mrs. Tanko added.
“Curiously, development experts believe that public declarations on women empowerment by governments have not really translated to much gains, including the potential benefits of the MSMEDF to women entrepreneurs, especially those involved in agribusiness.”
“I think CBN knows that many women are not able to access this money and should change the method and mode of disbursement.”