The Nigerian government recently launched Trader Moni, which provides petty traders and artisans with collateral-free micro loans to help grow their businesses. OLAJIDE FABAMISE and OYINLOLA AWONUGA examine the debate over whether the initiative is for fighting poverty or another political maneuver.

In its bid to reduce the level of poverty in the country, the federal government had set out to reach traders across states in Nigeria, who drive the nation’s informal sector. The tool chosen is the TraderMoni which provides collateral free micro loans to petty traders and artisans in major markets across the country.

The collateral-free micro loans according to the government is to help the traders and artisans who would have found it hard to get funding from banks to grow their businesses. Over 20 million Nigerians that are in petty businesses are in dire need of capital to expand, but are unable to access loans to trade.

Although TraderMoni is not a product of the Bank of Industry (BoI) loan, it is only being administered by the Bank of Industry (BoI).

Specifically, those qualified for the loan are petty traders and artisans. It is interest-free. Beneficiaries pay back the amount taken, starting with a first loan of N10,000 given without BVN or bank account. After the first loan of N10,000, BVN and bank account are required for the next loans of N15,000, N20,000, N50,000 and 100,000.

In paying back, the beneficiaries repay their loans through a commercial bank or a licensed mobile money agent, otherwise the payment will not be recognised by Trader-Moni and the beneficiary is assumed to still owe.

TraderMoni loans are to be repaid through Guaranty Trust Bank, United Bank for Africa, Ecobank, UnionBank, Stanbic, Sterling, Wema, Fidelity, Heritage and Jaiz.

As laudable and people-oriented as the schemes appear, Nigerians are asking for more explanations on their conception, constitutionality, timing and implementation, considering that such schemes in the past were fraught with politics, cronyism, corruption and lack of accountability.

The TraderMoni scheme in particular, came under public scrutiny recently, following the allegation by senate minority leader, Biodun Olujimi, that the federal government is using the funds of the SIP to secure permanent voter cards ahead of the 2019 elections.

The Peoples Democratic Party (PDP) lawmaker said, ‘I Stand with Buhari’ is written on the forms given to recipients of the SIP funds… Right now the funds are being used for political reasons and they are being dispensed and given freely to people who can bring up their PVCs and signed several copies. The issuant are now in charge,” she alleged.

Since Olujimi raised the allegation, which has been denied by the APC senators, many Nigerians have been eagerly looking for the beneficiaries of the scheme, how they were selected and their true status as petty traders and artisans.

Getting accurate data on this would erase doubt, douse tension and confirm the transparency, accountability, motive and genuineness of the scheme and at the same time prove Olujimi wrong or right.

It would equally help in resolving the suit instituted by Hope Democratic Party (HDP) through its presidential candidate , Ambrose Owuru, asking the court to punish INEC for allowing the All Progressives Congress (APC) to indirectly lobby voters with N10, 000 through the TraderMoni scheme.

The party said, “The court should determine whether the disguise of TraderMoni during this period of election is not a plan by the APC and Osinbajo to upstage and disrupt Hope Party’s welfarism and wealth redistribution of N2 million grants to Nigerian families to end poverty.”

It was carnival-like in Ikotun, Igando markets as hoodlums hijack registration.

The arrival of the vice president, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo, who was accompanied by Lagos State governor , Akinwumi Ambode and the APC governorship candidate, Babajide Sanwo-Olu, at Ikotun and Igando markets respectively, elicited shouts of TraderMoni, TraderMoni, baba, baba, Osinbajo, Osinbajo from the cheering crowd made up of petty traders, APC members and street urchins, who thronged the markets to welcome him as he walked into the markets to activate the scheme.

Also in the VP’s entourage was the self-proclaimed ‘Ghetto soldier’ and Galala master, John Asiemo well-known as Daddy Showkey, whose presence added colour to the market tours, as his fans hailed and surged to exchange banters with him. The security operatives had a hectic day controlling the crowd.

Osinbajo acknowledged cheers, and had one-on-one interactions with the traders.

LEADERSHIP learnt that officials of the Government Enterprise and Empowerment Programme (GEEP), who are saddled with the responsibility of capturing the data of beneficiaries of the TraderMoni, had earlier visited the Ikotun and Igando markets to document the data of the beneficiaries with a promise that money would be disbursed to them.

According to those who spoke with LEADERSHIP in Lagos, the loan is real.

A crayfish and dried fish seller in Igando market, who simply identified herself as Mama Esther, was initially skeptical about the loan, as she had thought it would go the same way other government intervention initiatives usually go, as they are often turned into a party affair, where party leaders use it to settle their members. But to her surprise, the disbursement was devoid of the fear she held, as she got an alert of the money paid into her account following the details she submitted.

In her testimonial, Mama Esther said, “At first, I thought it would end up being like other government initiatives that are often turned into a party thing, a reason I didn’t believe or trust the loan initially, because I was told they would demand my voter card (PVC) and APC membership card.”

According to her, there were instances where government brings things to support market women, but the leadership of the market, who are also members of the ruling APC, will hijack them and give them to those they like, thus not making it open for everybody to benefit.

“The people giving the money came to the market .They wrote our names, addresses, phone numbers and the type of business that we do. They told us that we would receive alerts on Saturday, and like they promised, many of us got the alerts. There was nothing like PVC or party membership card. Even though I have my voter card, I don’t belong to any political party,” Mama Esther said.

For elated Raufiat Abanikanda, a soft drink hawker, she was full of praise to the government for the initiative.

“I’m happy about TraderMoni because it will help me to support my business. We face a lot of challenges to get loans, and since we cannot get from the banks, we resort to cooperative societies.

“With this TraderMoni now, I can grow the business. I was told that if I pay back the N10,000, I will be given N20,000 and when I pay the N20,000 I will be able to access N50,000. It is a thing we have been expecting. The government should continue to assist the masses especially we the petty traders,” she added.

Mrs. Clara Edward, a noodle, pasta, tomato paste and seasoning seller, commended the government for coming to the aid of the masses. She, however, said most people who were collecting the money were not petty traders, stressing they were endangering the chances of those who need the loan to support their businesses.

“Most of the people I saw in queue to register for the money are not petty traders. Some don’t have any business they are doing. The majority of them are housewives but because they are told government is sharing money, they felt it is an opportunity to collect their own share of the national cake,” she said.

LEADERSHIP observed that some people, who had earlier registered, were giving out information on registration procedure to those seeking to be registered upon hearing the news of the disbursement that took place and the vice president’s implementation assessment.

It was learnt that people began to queue as early, in anticipation that the officials of the TraderMoni would come back to capture their data and hopefully disburse their own money.

This was also the situation at Moshalashi and Ologufe bus stops, where there were two supposedly registration points along Ikotun-Igando Road. Scores of people were seen in long queue, not minding the intensity of the scorching sun, struggling to get registered for the TraderMoni.

According to a commercial cyclist (Okada) the queue began as early as 6:30a.m. It was discovered that those struggling to have a share of the TraderMoni were street urchins (area boys) and their female counterparts, who believe the money is a gift from the government.

One of the boys, who were simply identified as Saheed, said he was a welder by training, but he registered as a cobbler.

“I’m a welder but I registered as a cobbler. I came with some pairs of shoes that I collected from a friend’s shop,” he said.

On the SIP fund, the executive director, Bank of Industry, Toyin Adeniji, who spoke with LEADERSHIP, said, “The goal of TraderMoni is to take financial inclusion down to the grassroots. The President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration recognised the contribution of petty traders to economic development and identified the fact that some of them may not have what the commercial banks may require to grant loan, hence, his support for this initiative to help them grow their businesses.”

For the chief operating officer of GEEP, Uzoma Nwagba, the initiative is aimed at expanding financial inclusion, as there are over 23 million Nigerians that are financially excluded from the system.

He said, “This administration aimed to reach them so that they can grow their businesses. In addition to TraderMoni, GEEP has ‘FarmerMoni’ for farmers which avail them an opportunity to access up to N300, 000 loan each. MarketMoni targets market women, traders and artisans to get between N50,000 and N100,000.

“Under TraderMoni, beneficiaries can access N10,000 and pay back N10,250 to qualify for N15,000. Once you pay back N15,375 you will qualify for N20,000 loans and when you pay back N21,000, you will get N50,000. All loan categories have payback duration of six months. Repayments can be made to BOI-GEEP loan account under PayDirect at banks,” he explained.

As the TraderMoni train hit the city of Lagos, unsavoury tales have dogged the programme right from the start.

At Sura Market in Lagos,the Iyaloja, Mrs. Funke Adeniji, said the initiative which has been activated to support us is the best offer this administration is giving to us as it helps traders to have access to loan in Nigeria despite our status or level of education.

According to her, the scheme is of good help to pure waste seller, bread seller, food seller, okada rider among others, accesses the loan to expand their businesses.

Also, Mrs. Ireti Onabanjo a trader in Sura market said that the N10,000 has added to her commodities and the administration has done well at least for having traders in mind.

In Mushin, Sabo and Odogunyan markets in Ikorodu where the scheme was recently launched, a petty trader at Sabo market said he was sad that the scheme had become a money making avenue for many.

Recounting his experience, he said some men came to the market where he sells a couple of weeks ago, informing them of an initiative by the federal government, wherein they would be given interest-free loans, starting from N10,000.

According to them, “We would be given two to three months to repay the loan and if you did this successfully, you would qualify to get a loan of up to N50,000 and depending on how faithful you are in repaying, you would get more as time goes by. Naturally, I was excited and happy to hear this and saw this as a good opportunity and though I knew the N10,000 was a small amount; I was targeting the N100,000.

“ I come from a very humble background and nobody has ever helped me in life with anything. I was using LAPO loan initially and repaying it and when I heard this was interest-free, I was very happy because the interest on LAPO is very high and is affecting my business.

“So, I registered as everyone else but what I noticed that day was that every Tom, Dick and Harry was registering, including street urchins and people that came to buy things in the market. They didn’t carry out any checks to see who is truly a trader or not, whether you had a shop or not, nothing at all, it was free for all.

“Shortly after, my friend came to me that they were sharing money and the crowd was unbelievable, everyone, including area boys was all scrambling for the money but I was told by a friend that it was N8,000 and not N10,000 that was being distributed. Initially, they were distributing cash but they stopped that and started transferring into our accounts. When I got a call that N10,000 was put in my e-wallet, I checked and saw it was N8,000 and N2,000 was removed for ‘logistics.’

“I didn’t say anything initially but then I decided to lodge a complaint with the TraderMoni and the Bank of Industry (BoI). I got a call from someone at BoI and they confirmed that indeed, N2,000 was transferred to another account (name withheld) and they were going to look into it and effect a correction. However, till today, I am yet to hear from them. I also got a call from Eyowo, the agents that facilitated the whole thing and they promised to come to the market to confirm the allegations but they never did.”

Michael went on to add that the agents were only interested in giving out money and paying back was never discussed.

“It is basically free money, everyone just took it, nobody is discussing how to pay back so we can scale. I don’t think this scheme would work or last, because there are no basic loan structures in place to sustain it.”