***Call On EFCC, ICPC For Probe
Leaders of civil society and Community Based Organisations (CBOs) in the South East states have called for transparency in the disbursement of funds to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) through the state governments.
They said transparency will ensure government cronies do not use the opportunity to convert investment funds for private use and want anti graft agencies 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, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (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 transparency in the SMEs sector.