More than 90% of Nigeria’s poor are women. In a far-seeing, government-led initiative, development institutions are being encouraged to examine co-operative lending with commercial banks by which they guarantee each other. This policy is already strengthening weaker segments of society. And, at its last meeting, The Bankers’ Committee established a forum on Women’s Economic Empowerment with the objective of developing a framework that would enhance women’s leadership opportunities, and promote a gender-inclusive workplace and society. Explains Mr Lamido Sanusi, Governor of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN): “More banks will now pursue policies that are equal on a gender basis. Economic equality is one thing, but in an underdeveloped economy, we have gender and economic inequality. We have to address how the financial and banking system views this.’’
The CBN – whose successful policies with regard to eliminating bank toxicity without burdening taxpayers are being examined, forensically, by a very envious Europe – is also in the process of establishing a fund that will allow businesses owned and controlled by women to borrow at single-digit interest rates.
One of Nigeria’s most inspirational women, Ms Evelyn Oputu, is playing a key role in pursuing gender equality through her pivotal roles as MD and CEO of the the Bank of Industry (BOI), Nigeria’s oldest Development Finance Bank. At inception in 1964, the bank’s share capital was a mere $6 million. Current share capital is N250 billion ($1.5 billion). The cumulative value of fresh loans and investments rose by 53,4% from N0.31 billion to N165.74 billion between 2001 and 2011. More tellingly, cumulative jobs created have exceeded 1,250,000. She proudly stated that the bank had, in the last 10 years of its operations, approved 1,435 loans amounting to investment totaling N165.74 billion: This, she says, has had “considerable developmental impact on the Nigerian economy.”
A further inspiration to Nigerian women, Faith Tuedor-Matthews, is at the helm of another of the country’s well-known financial institutions – Mainstreet Bank – which operates 217 branches nationwide and has shareholders funds in excess of N55 billion. “It is important not to just target women, but to support and empower their development as well. Nigerian women are hard-working, industrious and committed, and I believe they need more support… I would like to see more women in leadership positions in the banking industry, but not just at the top. Presently there are four female CEOs, but I would like to see more at the Board and senior levels’’.
Ms Tuedor-Matthews concurs that the Government itself has set the tone for this. “If you look at the number of women in key positions, it has risen significantly in this administration. These are women who were accomplished in their previous callings, before they were appointed to serve in government. Our President has set the tone in this regard. The private sector should follow suit. Half of the talent in any country are the women, so how then can the country move forward if half of this talent is not carried along?”