President Muhammadu Buhari, Rwandan President Paul Kagame, Vice President Yemi Osinbajo, and Lagos State Governor Babajide Sanwo-Olu have presented a compelling argument for a financial system that benefits everyone.
Speaking at the ongoing 14th annual banking and finance conference conducted simultaneously in Abuja and Lagos, the political leaders urged bankers to take the potential in the rising digital economy to build an inclusive, supportive, and long-lasting financial system.
COVID-19 had changed “everything around us,” according to Buhari, who spoke at a session where an estimated 10,000 hybrid participants convened to discuss the critical task of freeing the economy from COVID-19’s grasp at the State House. COVID-19, he said, had changed “everything around us” while creating new business opportunities, particularly in the digital space.
“Digital evolution is a watchword for survival. We must harness all the opportunities but also be mindful of the risks,” the President said, pointing out the massive opportunities in the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA), which he charged Nigerian banks to leverage in building a resilient economy.
Kagame, who arrived from Kigali, urged financial institutions to address Africa’s most pressing concerns and contribute to the creation of a continent that works for everyone.
“The banking sector must understand its role in building a resilient economy as we look forward to working together to build Africa that works for all,” the Rwandan President advised.
In a stern tone, he urged a vigorous pursuit of an inclusive financial system, stating that in the face of rising poverty, banking services should not be limited to the wealthy.
Osinbajo echoed Kagame’s sentiments, urging banks to continue to play a key role in the fight against poverty and job development. He cited the housing sector as a source of job creation and output growth but voiced concern that the sector had not received enough budgetary attention.
He argued for the creation of a long-term finance system that could help the infrastructure and industrial sectors realize their full potential. According to him, the Federal Government’s rural electrification scheme offers Nigerian banks a golden chance.
Osinbajo acknowledged that the banking sector has aided the country’s economy in a variety of ways, including by “generating good-paying jobs,” but insisted that more needed to be done to help the country’s next phase of growth.
He also urged banks to collaborate with the government to improve financial literacy while also providing innovative solutions to broaden financial inclusion.
Despite the outstanding second-quarter gross domestic product (GDP) performance, the Vice President observed that the sector plays a critical role in the country’s economic recovery, which the Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Godwin Emefiele, described as “fragile.”
The conference’s host, Emefiele, stated that efforts must be made to avoid COVID-19 from resurfacing in order to maintain the growth momentum indicated by the 5.01 per cent rise in the second quarter. He stated that Nigeria’s banks were strong and resilient enough to aid in the country’s economic revival.
According to him, the CBN plans to establish the Nigerian International Financial Centre (NIFC) within the next 12 months. The NIFC would be an international gateway for capital investment and payments.
“This new financial hub will curate local and international banks to make them global champions. The NIFC will be a 24/7 financial centre that will complement London, New York and Singapore financial centres and enable an acceleration of our home-grown initiatives such as Infracorp Plc, the N15 trillion infrastructure fund which we will be launching in October 2021.
“The NIFC will also complement our initiatives on the Nigerian commodity exchange and the National Theatre creative hubs for our youths as well as the e-naira project, which will also debut in October 2021. The NIFC will take advantage of our existing laws such as the BOFIA 2020, NEPZA and other CBN regulations to create a fully global investment and a financial hub where monies, ideas and technology will move freely without hindrance”.
However, Emefiele stated, close to 36 per cent of Nigerians do not have access to financial services. “Improving individual and business access to finance through digital channels can assist to boost financial inclusion, cut transaction costs, and increase the flow of credit to businesses,” he said.
Sanwo-Olu also spoke, saying that nothing short of the financial intervention that followed WWII was adequate to resolve COVID-19’s effects. He tasked banks with developing financial products and systems that target the most disadvantaged.