When Alhaji Hadi S. Birchi, Deputy Director and Head of Communications and Public Relations Unit of Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation (NDIC) announced that the 2014 annual seminar for finance correspondents and business editors would hold in Katsina, there was a lot of apprehension. For many Nigerians including (surprisingly journalists!) anything north is Boko Haram and so, there were a lot of agitations for the venue to be altered. As it is, the annual seminar is rotated annually between the north and south and since the 2013 edition held in Uyo, Akwa Ibom State, that of 2014 should hold in the north. Incidentally, Birchi himself is from Katsina and since year 2000 or so that the first seminar held in Jos, Plateau State capital, this is the first time that it was going to Katsina. And so to Katsina every business editor and finance correspondents from over 40 media houses including some civil society activists headed on Sunday, November 31, 2014.
Now, upon learning that 2014 NDIC FICAN seminar would hold in Katsina, I was personally elated. It would be the first time that I will visit the ancient town even though I had been to some other towns in the state. I was also apprehensive of the level of development to witness in the state. There had been much hype about the phenomenal development of the state since former governor of the state late President Umar Yar’Adua was contesting for the presidency. Three of his most appealing credentials were prudency, education and infrastructure development. Soon as I was convinced that the man achieved these three things, I began to canvass for him even though I had never been to the state capita. I must confess that any individual touted to be passionate about those three issues will always have my mandate. He very reasons that I am convinced that another four years of President Goodluck Jonathan will be monumental waste of lives (consider the multiplication of the four years by 177 million souls living in Nigeria and see the number of years that would have been wasted by 2019) and opportunity.
Either by design or accident, the road linking Zaria to Katsina, a journey of about four hours is one of the best interstate highways I have travelled in this country in recent times north or south. I made the comment in discussions with colleagues in the vehicle. Entering Mai Kudi Hotel in Katsina however, we were assaulted by a battalion of determinedly ferocious mosquitoes and somehow, they chose to hover over my head rather than spread across out team members. One of the hotel attendants informed us that one of the problems of residents was mosquitoes. After moving round a bit, I finally decided to lodge at the Fadama View Hotel.
In his keynote address, Managing Director of the Corporation, Alhaji Umaru Ibrahim said the banking sector is the engine room for economic growth and development through the process of financial intermediation. This pivotal role makes it imperative for all stakeholders in the sector to continuously strategise with a view to tailoring it towards responding to global developments. He noted that as a deposit insurer, NDIC has been effectively responding to all emerging issues in the global financial system particularly financial literacy, consumer protection, financial inclusion, sustainable banking and extension of deposit insurance coverage to depositors of non-interest banks.
According to him, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued a regulatory framework for Mobile Payment Service in Nigeria in June 2009 as a measure which would help in the reduction of the number of unbanked Nigerians. The apex bank also granted licences to 21Mobile Money Operators (MMO) comprising 15 non-bank operators and six bank operators as at Jan 2013. Also to engender public confidence in the service, NDIC is extending deposit insurance to the individual subscriber of the MMOs in the form of pass-through deposit insurance. Umaru told the journalists that the Nigerian Mortgage Refinancing Company, (NMRC) was launched to encourage and promote home ownership in Nigeria by providing financial facilities to the mortgage lenders.
For the Micro Small and medium Enterprises Fund launched last year but kick-started only recently, Ibrahim emphasized that 60 per cent of the fund had been earmarked for providing financial empowerment to women, stressing that the fund also prescribed 50:50 ratio for on-lending to micro enterprises and SMEs respectively. Only new SMEs would be allowed to be financed by commercial banks under the fund and two per cent of the wholesale component of the fund would go to economically active persons with disabilities.
Several papers dissecting each of the areas mentioned by the Managing Director were presented by staff of NDIC, CBN, industry operators and newspaper editors.
Midday on Tuesday, Umaru led participants on a courtesy visit to Governor Ibrahim Shema who unfortunately was out of the state but his deputy, Alhaji Ibrahim Garuba stood in for him. It was a bit of a disappointment because I actually wanted to see Shema in person and if the opportunity arose, ask him to justify the widely circulated video where he directed his supporters to crush the opposition. The statement has equally been widely and roundly condemned even by the European Union, the United Nations and Nigerians alike.
Garuba narrated the story of the success of the administration insisting that it was mainly anchored on policy consistency and building on the foundation built by Umar Yar’Adua as governor between 1999 and 2007. Upon assumption of office in 2007, the new administration did not award new contracts but concentrated on completing those it inherited. Proudly, he informed us that the befitting government house complex where we were entertained was built and completed in record time for a cost of N8 billion without owing the contractor a dime and not borrowing from anywhere.
Garuba told us that before the administration awarded any contract, the entire contract sum would be first provided for and after paying initial mobilisation fee the balance would be invested pending completion. In the case of the government house, 40 per cent was paid to the contractor as mobilisation fee and the remaining 60 per cent invested in treasury bills and other financial instruments. Maintaining the policy for the first three years, the government discovered that the state had earned an extra N10 billion income. It was from this profit that the spent N8 billion for the government house was sourced,
Always corroborating his assertions with the Commissioner for Finance, Garuba insisted that even as many other states are bemoaning their inability to meet their obligations in the face of dwindling revenue from federation account, Katsina is not in the least troubled as it currently has a balance of balance of over N32 billion and around N20 billion in local government account.
In the late afternoon, it was time for excursion to selected places in the town. Katsina is easily a peaceful modern city, with good roads network. The trip round town was mostly on a smooth stretch of six-lane ring road. and these included the Federal University, Katsina, which commenced academic activities before its peers courtesy of a N1billion take off grant given by the state government, newly completed hospital on the Katsina-Dutsinma Road, the state polytechnic and many more.
In northern Nigeria much vilified for the leader’s apathy to education thus leading to the Boko Haram revolution, it was much of a surprise to discover that education is free from primary to university level. The state government also pays for all exam fees like those of WAEC, JAMB, etc.
Little wonder that Shema has won many awards including the Best Implementing State Governor (Year 2007) Universal Basic Education (UBEC), Best Governor Agric Small Micro Credit Guarantee Scheme (2007) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Sardauna Leadership Awards as Best Governor in Education (2010) and the Mass Transit Award by the Federal Ministry of Transport (2010).
Where are the armed security squads to protect us in case? There were none. I’ve gone to many places in the South here where we were escorted by armed security, but not in Katsina.
Altogether, I thoroughly enjoyed my stay in Katsina especially as the management of my hotel ensured that rooms were flit to rid them of mosquitoes daily and much kudos to managing director of NDIC, Alhaji Umaru, Mallam Birch and other NDIC management and staff for their dedication and investment in the Nigerian financial journalist.