COVID-19: NITDA’s boss wants more support for SMEs from financial institutions

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The Director General, National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA). Mallam Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, has tasked Nigeria’s financial institutions on the need to increase lending access to Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) especially startups in the financial technology (FinTech) ecosystem.

This will help to promote financial inclusiveness in the country, said Abdullahi in a webinar organised by FinTech Association of Nigeria with the theme: “COVID-19: Enabling Speedy Business and Economic Recovery Through Regulations.”

Abdullahi stated that traditional banks’ lending process remains a barrier to assessing finance for SMEs in Nigeria which is negatively impacting the operations of the SMEs, adding that the banks need to come up with innovative ideas to assist vulnerable SMEs in the era of COVID-19 that is plaguing the world.

His words: “the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately impacted SMEs around the world, Nigeria inclusive. Traditional bank lending process has long been a barrier to accessing finance for SMEs in Nigeria.”

He said government was providing different types of interventions and palliatives but financial technology is not being employed optimally for disbursement; adding: “our interventions are to help lead the tech startups from crisis to recovery as well as support them to navigate today’s challenging business landscape.”

While reiterating the promise of president Muhammadu Buhari’s administration to lift 100 million Nigerians out of poverty in 10 years, Abdullahi expressed optimism that government would support investment in startups to create jobs and future prosperity for all. 

According to him, NITDA as an information technology regulator in the country with twin mandates to regulate and develop the sector, had designed initiatives meant to provide a secure base for startup ecosystem with inclusion of FinTech startups.

He stressed that immediately the government pronounced the lockdown, NITDA constituted a 10-man committee named Tech4Covid with objectives to  identify innovative solutions to address the pandemic; provide enabling policies and incentives to cushion the impact of the pandemic; and build massive digital skills to reskill the region to leverage technology in different sectors.

On funding for the innovative ideas of the startups, Abdullahi recalled that the Minister of Communications and Digital Economy, Dr Isa Ali Ibrahim Pantami has directed all parastatals under the supervision of his ministry to set up an Innovation Research Fund for the startups, and NITDA is equally working with Bank of Industry (BOI) to give consideration to IT startups in accessing funding. 

He revealed that NITDA was also supporting the IT hubs in the country by implementing the recommendations submitted by Tech4Covid committee on hubs’ support during and after the pandemic and had also developed innovation portal that would serve as database for innovation and entrepreneurship ecosystem.

He listed some of the policies the government has put in place to assist the startups to include the National Outsourcing Strategic policy, Nigeria Data Protection Regulation, Reviewing of Framework and Guideline for the Use of Digital Platform by Federal Public Institutions, and the National Cyber Security Policy.

Another Speaker at the webinar and Chairman, Africa FinTech Network, Mr. Segun Aina, described the agency as a great pillar of support which has been reliable in providing fund for FinTech in Nigeria. He said, “although most of the funding come from outside the country but regulatory agencies like NITDA have been very helpful in assisting the FinTech industry. 

He said that the association will be embarking on advocacy and support for startups in 32 African countries and assisting them to access funding from organisation like the African Development Bank.

Another speaker, Mr. Sopnendu Moharty, remarked that Africa needs to prioritize the new normal by using the “COVID-19 pandemic to rethink opportunities on the continent,

 “We need to digitise everything and you can’t argue with the fact that if you don’t digitise you will die,” said Moharty.

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