April 28, 2022
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Mr. Ifie Sekibo, Managing Director/CEO, Heritage Bank



Credit and the Economy

One of the major drivers of economic activities is credit. Credit in the form of business loans, enhances investment and boosts production of goods and services. Credit in the form of consumer loans encourages consumption and protects individuals and households from the vagaries of life, including illness, sudden job losses etc.

Thus, credit boosts aggregate demand for goods and services in the economy which in turn facilitates aggregate output and economic growth. This is evident from the huge difference between the Credit to GDP ratio of developed countries and developing countries. According to World Bank data, the total Credit to the Private sector as a percentage of GDP for Nigeria at the end of 2020 is 12.1%. Ghana is 11.5%, while that of France and Japan are 122.4%, and 192.1% respectively.

Recognising this fact, governments around the world make efforts through the banking system, which intermediates between savers and borrowers, to widen access to credit for businesses, individuals and households, especially those in the low-income levels.

What is Micro Credit?

Micro credit refers to small loans provided to individuals who cannot meet the conditions for accessing loans from conventional commercial banks.

Micro credit is the progenitor and core of microfinance, which refers to provision of loans, savings, insurance, transfer services and other financial products targeted at low-income people.

Elaborating on the historical relationship between micro credit and microfinance, Ehigiamusoe (2008) said, “At the onset of what is now termed microfinance revolution, credit was the dominant financial service. Working capital loan was in most cases the only product delivered to clients. This explains the appellation microcredit.”

Nevertheless, provision of micro credit is still the dominant practice of microfinance and also the basis of most discussions about its impact on the economy. Consequently, both terms will be used interchangeably in this presentation.

Micro Credit is Not Charity?

Charity is providing help usually in the form of money, to those in need or poor people.
Micro credit on the other hand is for poor people engaged in micro enterprises or that desire to engage in such enterprises. This means it is for poor people engaged in productive or income generating activities. The aim is to give them an opportunity to generate income for themselves and by extension become productive members of the society, with purchasing power to contribute to aggregate demand in the economy.

This is aptly stated by Kurfi (2008): “Microcredit serves best those who have identified an economic opportunity and who are in a position to capitalise on that opportunity if they are provided with a small amount of ready cash.

“Thus, those poor who work in stable or growing economies, who have demonstrated an ability to undertake the proposed activities in an entrepreneurial manner, and who have demonstrated a commitment to repay their debts (instead of feeling that the credit represents some form of social re-vindication), are the best candidates for microcredit.”

Reinforcing this fact, Ehigiamusoe (2008) stated: “Despite its poverty alleviation appellation, microfinance is not charity. It is simply the provision of opportunity for poor persons to access financial services on affordable terms. It is premised on the fact of economic relations, that the poor remain poor because they are deprived of access to life transforming opportunities such as affordable financial services. As a development strategy, microfinance believes in the ability of the poor to meaningfully improve their conditions of living, if they can access financial support on affordable terms”

This is what Professor Muhammad Yunus did when he pioneered modern microcredit practices, by lending $27 of his money to 42 women who created bamboo stools in a village in Bangladesh. Each woman made a profit of $0.02 on the loan. This development led Yunus to establish Grameen Bank in Bangladesh, a feat that earned him and the bank the Nobel Peace Prize in 2006.

Economic Importance of Micro Credit

The rationale for microcredit and its importance to the economy is rooted in two economic realities.

The first is the huge population of poor people and their potential in terms of demand for goods and services. This is reflected in the book of C. K. Parahalad, “The Fortune at the Bottom of the Pyramid ” which highlights the enormous advantage of the large number of the poor in any economy and its implications for market and overall economic development.

He said: “The real source of market promise is not the wealthy few in the developing world, or even the emergence of middle – income consumers. It is the billions of aspiring poor who are joining the market economy for the first time”.

Elaborating on this fact, Egwuatu (2008) stated: “Over 500 million of the world’s populations live under very poor conditions but they are economically active. They lack access to basic necessities of life: food, shelter and primary health care. They earn their livelihood by being self-employed as micro entrepreneurs or by working in micro enterprises (very small businesses which may employ up to five people). These micro entrepreneurs make a wide range of goods in small workshops; engage in small trading and retail activities; make pots, pans and furniture, or sell fruits and vegetables. Yet, these poor households often fail to secure the capital they need and miss the opportunities for growth because they do not have access to financial resources, loans or safe places to hold savings.”

The second imperative of micro credit is the global emergence and recognition of the critical role of micro small and medium enterprises, MSMEs in terms of employment and gross domestic output.

According to the World Bank, MSMEs account for the majority of businesses worldwide and are important contributors to job creation and global economic development. They represent about 90% of businesses and more than 50% of employment worldwide. Formal MSMEs contribute up to 40% of national income (GDP) in emerging economies. These numbers are significantly higher when informal MSMEs are included.

Charles Harvie (2013) noted that in Asia, micro-enterprises provide income and employment for significant proportions of workers in rural and urban areas by producing basic goods and services for rapidly growing populations. They account for more than 60 percent of all regional enterprises and up to 50 percent of paid employment.

Similarly, Nigeria, as at 2013 has about 37 million MSMEs that employed about 60 million people, representing 84.02% of the country’s total labour force. (SMEDAN 2013).

Given this fact, Egwuatu (2008) argues that providing access to flexible, convenient and affordable financial services to micro-enterprises therefore remains one of the most viable policy options for job creation and poverty reduction for the country.

Interestingly, access to credit is the number one challenge for MSMEs in every country, a fact which reinforces the need for micro credit to empower them to increasingly contribute to economic growth.

Impact of Microcredit

From its modest modern origin pioneered by the work of Yunus reinforced by C. K. Parahalad, microcredit became increasingly popular attracting support from government, donors and investors. This led to a rapid increase in the number of borrowers to 211 million by 2013 less than 20 million in 1997.

But there have been arguments and counter arguments about the impact of microcredit in terms of its ability to lift the poor out of poverty and also on economic development.

After examining these arguments, Robert Cull and Jonathan Morduch, in a World Bank study titled, “Microfinance and Economic Development”, concluded: “We argue that claims about large impacts and profits have been exaggerated, but so have claims about failures. There is important heterogeneity in both impacts and profit, and microfinance holds real appeal in some contexts, especially where communities remain fundamentally under-served.

“Researchers, though, have so far failed to find sustained evidence that access to microfinance has writ large done much to reduce poverty, improve living conditions, and fuel micro-businesses. As debates on microfinance proceed, many are turning to broader notions like “financial inclusion” that bring microfinance together with efforts to provide saving, insurance, and payment services in under-served communities. This broadening should also inspire an expanded vision for microfinance itself. In this view, microfinance is not exclusively about fueling small businesses. Instead, microfinance makes life easier by enhancing financial liquidity, making it more likely that households can get hold of money when they need it. Here, microfinance is often worth paying for, and perhaps worth subsidising, even though it rarely transforms. In this expanded vision, microfinance helps households with the challenges of managing the ups and downs of lives in poverty and near-poverty, even when poverty persists”

Similarly, Stephanie Wykstra (2015) after reviewing the various studies on the impact of microcredit concluded: “Rather than see microcredit as it was portrayed in its heyday — as a way to get people out of poverty — we should see it through a different lens: as a way to expand options for poor people by offering more reliable financial services. Extremely poor people need these services just like everyone else, and the availability of capital to deal with irregular and at times unpredictable incomes is a huge help to them. This benefit, along with its impressive growth around the world, arguably makes microcredit a success.

“While earlier claims about microcredit’s benefits were overblown, there is mounting evidence that it nonetheless plays a valuable role in improving the lives of people in need”.

Also, in a study that examines the impact of microfinance institutions in economic growth of a country, with focus on Nigeria, Murad and Idewele (2017), stated: “On the impact of microfinance banks on economic growth, the analysis has shown microfinance loans have a positive impact only in the short run while investment has the long run impact.

“It is therefore clear that the welfare implications of microfinance banks ‘loans on the economy is limited to the immediate period when perhaps, access to loans may improve consumption levels and stabilise the households from plunging into further poverty levels.

Consequently, they recommended that, “First, the initial focus of microfinance institutions should be providing loans to improve consumption in the short run.

The results have shown that application of the loans for long term economic challenges may not yield meaningful impacts. Thus, boosting consumption and increasing income streams should be the main focus of microfinance loans so as to address short term challenges.

Second, another area where microfinance loans can improve short term economic growth is when loans are targeted at business expansion.”

The above conclusions and validations on the impact of microcredit are aptly summarised in the five benefits of microfinance by Plan International Canada, namely: Access to loans; Better loan repayment rates especially by women; Extension of education and health for poor families; Sustainability for microbusinesses; and Improved income and nutrition for poor families.

Global Commitment to Microcredit

These validation of the impact of microfinance triggered a global commitment to using microcredit as a tool to alleviate poverty and promote economic development.

Prominent in this regard is the Microcredit Summit founded in 1997 by Larry Reed, Sam Daley-Harris, Professor Muhammad Yunus, and John Hatch. The first summit was held in 1997 in Washington D.C, and annually till 2013. The summit led to the Microcredit Summit Campaign which aims to:
“Ensure that 175 million of the world’s poorest families, especially the women of those families, are receiving credit for self-employment and other financial and business services by the end of 2015; Ensure that 100 million families rise above the US$1.255 a day threshold, adjusted for purchasing power parity, between 1990 and 2015.”

The campaign stated in its 2012 report, “As of December 31, 2010, 3,652 microfinance institutions reported reaching 205,314,502 clients,1 137,547,441 of whom were among the poorest when they took their first loan. Of these poorest clients, 82.3 percent, or 113,138,652, are women.”

The work and impact of the Microcredit Summit Campaign, also inspired the General Assembly of the United Nations resolution that designated 2005 as the International Year of Microcredit.

It stated, “The General Assembly, Recalling its resolution 52/194 of 18 December 1997 on the role of microcredit in the eradication of poverty,

  • Recognizing that microcredit programmes have successfully contributed to lifting people out of poverty in many countries around the world,
  • Bearing in mind that microcredit programmes have especially benefited women and have resulted in the achievement of their empowerment,
  • Recognizing that microcredit programmes, in addition to their role in the eradication of poverty, have also been a factor contributing to the social and human development process
  • Noting further that the international community is observing the period 1997–2006 as the first United Nations Decade for the Eradication of Poverty,
  • Proclaims the year 2005 as the International Year of Microcredit;
  • Requests that the observance of the Year be a special occasion for giving impetus to microcredit programmes throughout the world; and
  • Invites Governments, the United Nations system, all concerned non-governmental organisations, other actors of civil society, the private sector and the media to highlight and give enhanced recognition to the role of microcredit in the eradication of poverty, its contribution to social development and its positive impact on the lives of people living in poverty”.

Microcredit in Nigeria

Prior to 2005, provision of microcredit in Nigeria was mostly through informal cultural practices like Esusu and Adashi.

Formal and modern microcredit began in the early 1980s when some individuals began to establish Non-Government Organisations, NGOs, which offered microcredit in a formalised manner. These include the pro-women initiative – Country Women Association of Nigeria (COWAN) established in Akure by Chief Bisi Ogunleye and the Nsukka United Self-Help Organisation (NUSHO) established by Late Venerable David Ogbonna. Then in 1987, Godwin Ehigiamusoe founded the Lift Above Poverty, LAPO in Delta State, which later transformed to a microfinance bank.

In addition to the above, there were some government’s effort to promote microcredit. These include the establishment of People’s Bank in 1989 by the Federal Government and the creation and licensing of Community Banks in 1990.

But in 2005, microcredit in Nigeria assumed a new dimension when the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, introduced the ‘Microfinance Regulatory Microfinance Policy Framework for Nigeria’.

The policy target include:

  • “Cover the majority of the poor but economically active population by 2020, thereby creating millions of jobs and reducing poverty;
  • “Increase the share of micro credit as a percentage of total credit to the economy from 0.9 percent in 2005 to at least 20 percent in 2020, and the share of micro credit as a percentage of GDP from 0.2 percent in 2005 to at least 5 percent in 2020;
  • “Promote the participation of at least two-thirds of the states and local governments in micro credit financing by 2015.

To achieve the above, the policy established the licensing and regulation of the establishment of Microfinance Banks (MFBs), in two categories-Unit MFBs with N20 million capital base, and State MFBs with N1 billion capital base.

The policy also promoted the establishment of Non-Government Organisations-Microfinance Institutions, NGO- MFIs. It also seeks to encourage states and local governments to devote at least one percent of their annual budgets to micro credit initiatives administered through MFBs.

Under the policy, the CBN required the existing 759 Community Banks to convert to MFBs within two years. It also required NGO-MFIs that meet the N20 million asset base or 2000 membership base, to transform to the relevant category of MFB.

Furthermore, the CBN stated that other non-bank financial institutions that intend to participate in the delivery of microfinance service may either surrender their licences and promote a new MFB or establish one as a subsidiary, by meeting the prescribed licensing requirements.

The microfinance policy was revised and updated in 2011 to address various challenges confronting the sector. These include:

  • Liquidity crisis triggered by the impact of the global financial crisis;
  • Panic withdrawal following the banking sector reform of 2009, leading to failure of some MFBs;
  • Skewed distribution of MFBs with most of them concentrated in the urban areas
  • Inadequate funds for intermediation
  • Inability to attract commercial capital
  • Non establishment of the Microfinance Development Funds

The combination of these factors, the CBN stated, “significantly weakened the microfinance sub-sector and its ability to achieve its objectives. It is against this background that the 2005 Microfinance Policy was reviewed.”

Major changes in the revised policy include:

  • Creation of another category of MFB namely National MFBs with N2 billion capital base
  • Reduction in the capital base of State MFBs to N100 million from N1 billion.
  • Transformation path from one lower category to a higher category
  • Participation of Deposit Money Banks, DMB, through a designated Department/Unit and/or offer microfinance as a financial product, while a Holding Company having a DMB can as a subsidiary invest in or own an MFB.
  • Recognition of the existence of credit-only, membership-based microfinance institutions, which are not required to come under the supervisory purview of the CBN.
  • Recognition and support for apex associations of microfinance institutions/banks to promote self-regulation, capacity building, uniform standards, transparency and good corporate practices.

Assessment of Microcredit in Nigeria

Data from the CBN show that the number of MFBs rose by 9.1 per cent to 874 banks in 2020 from 800 in 2010. Using the loans and advances of MFBs as an assessment of microcredit provision and penetration in Nigeria reveals that the sector is still far below the target of the microfinance policy. According to CBN total loans and advances of MFBs grew by 858 per cent to N507.95 billion in 2020 from N54.35 billion in 2010.

Though the share of MFB’s credit as a percentage of total credit to the economy rose from 0.5% in 2010 to 1.7% in 2020, it was however far below the target of 20% set for 2020.

Similarly, the share of MFBs loans and advances as percentage of GDP stood at 0.7%, also far below the target of 5% set for the year.

Furthermore, the sector is still besseted by several challenges which led to the closure and liquidation of 325 MFBs during the ten-year period.

Providing insight into the challenges bedevilling the sector, the Nigeria Deposit Insurance Corporation in its 2020 supervision report stated: “The challenges observed from the examined MFBs were mainly: The adoption of inappropriate business model by most microfinance banks; Undercapitalisation; Huge operational expenses; Poor asset quality; Non-performing insider-related credits; Poor internal controls and record keeping; Inappropriate staffing/Weak Board oversight/poor corporate governance practices; Inadequate compliance with laws and regulation; and Lack of succession and strategic plans,

Similarly, the CBN in the circular announcing new minimum capital requirements for the three categories of MFBs in 2018, said, “The microfinance banking sub-sector, in pursuit of the above objectives, had been contending with such challenges as inadequate capital base, weak corporate governance, ineffective risk management practices, dearth of requisite capacity and mission drift. The CBN has reviewed the state of health of the sub-sector and is of the view that microfinance banks, as presently constituted, would be unable to meet the critical targets set out in the Microfinance Policy, hence the need for specific reforms to strengthen the subsector and reposition microfinance banks towards improved performance.”

Consequently, the CBN in 2018 increased the minimum capital base of Unit MFBs to N100 million from N20 million, State MFBs to N1 billion from N100 million, and National MFBs to N5 billion from N1 billion.

In addition to this, the CBN in 2019 created two categories of Unit MFBs namely: Tier-1 Unit MFBs with minimum capital base of N200m and Tier 2 Unit MFBs with N50m as minimum capital base.

The deadline for meeting this new minimum capital requirement had been extended from the initial date of April 1, 2020 to April 30th 2022. This was necessitated by the economic crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

It is pertinent to note that there are other players in the microcredit business in Nigeria. There are the cooperatives, NGO-MFIs, Fintechs and the informal Esusu and Adashi practices. But there is no data to assess their impact, which, undoubtedly will not be as significant compared to that of MFBs.

Furthermore, in spite of the challenges bedevilling the MFB sector, the policy brought huge sanity and benefits to the business of microcredit in Nigeria, namely the attraction of investment, especially from the international community. This is reflected in the growth in Shareholders Funds of MFBs by 197 per cent to N131 billion in 2020 from N44 billion in 2010.

The sector also made a significant impact in terms of deposit mobilisation, as total deposits of MFBs grew by 377% to N366.9 billion at the end of 2020 from N76.48 billion in 2010.

In addition to this, the sector contributed to employment generation through staff employed by MFBs and self-employment for loan beneficiaries as well as the influx of a huge number of talents at the top and senior management levels in the industry.

Nigeria’s Still Needs Microcredit to Enhance Economic Growth

While the country has recorded significant improvement in financial inclusion, from 47 per cent in 2008 to 64 per cent in 2020, poverty and unemployment remain very high while the economic growth still lags the population growth.

For example, the country had a poverty rate of 40.1 per cent as at 2019 according to the NBS 2019 Poverty and Inequality in Nigeria report. This indicates that 82.9 million Nigerians are considered poor. The NBS report showed that Rural poverty is 52.1 per cent and Urban poverty is 18 per cent.

Furthermore, the country’s unemployment rate rose to 33.3% at the end of 2020 indicating that about 23.2 million Nigerians are unemployed.

The above indicators when combined with the fact that about 38 million Nigerians are financially excluded as at 2020, population growth of 2.55 per cent and economic growth of 3.4 per cent in 2021, shows the potential need for microcredit to accelerate economic development.

Furthermore, with a GDP of N70.8 trillion in 2021 and a microcredit target of 5%, the total amount of microcredit Nigeria should be about N3.5 trillion at the end of 2021.

Achieving this target requires bold and radical policy measures that will expedite provision of microcredit, a major tool for enhancing economic growth in Nigeria. Consequently, the following measures are recommended.


  • Standard and Database for Microcredit

In Nigeria there are many organisations offering various forms and volumes of lending both at the rural and urban level. But who determines what can be considered as microcredit, and where is the data to capture these lending activities?

Hence it is recommended that the CBN define a standard or maximum amount of loan that constitutes microcredit to an individual and to a micro enterprise. The standard could be for example, a loan below N20,000 to an individual and N50,000 to a micro enterprise.

Secondly, there should be a microcredit data centre to capture all lending activities including volume and value of loans, that fall within the defined standard irrespective of the lending institution be it DMBs, MFBs, Fintech, Cooperatives or micro lenders.

These two measures will make it easy to measure progress in respect of the microcredit-to-GDP ratio target.

  • Microcredit Summit Nigeria (MSN)

We also recommend the establishment of a Microcredit Summit Nigeria to bring together all the institutions involved providing microcredit in the country.

We recommend MSN should borrow from the campaign and operations of the global Microcredit Summit in terms of clear targets, strategies needed and periodic reports to monitor progress.

This will help in further driving provision of microcredit in the country. Thus, the recommendation by Onuka (2021) is instructive in this regard. He said: “Government may consider bringing in the informal sector groups like co-operative societies and local thrift associations in the microcredit framework. These informal groups have co-existed with the formal financial institutions in an uneasy relationship. The time has come for the government to formalise this existence and perhaps channel microcredit support through these informal institutions.”

  • Microcredit Month and Champions

Borrowing from the example of the United Nations International Year of Microcredit, the Federal Government can declare one full month every two or three years as National Microcredit Month, NMM, to raise awareness and promote increased access for potential beneficiaries. Highlights of the Month could include Microcredit Champions Awards in various categories to recognised individuals and institutions going the extra mile to provide microcredit services.

  • Microcredit and Micro Entrepreneurs Card

In order to facilitate identification of micro entrepreneurs and access to microcredit, it is recommended that the CBN and other stakeholders leverage mobile phone penetration, NIN and other digital initiatives to issue microcredit cards to micro entrepreneurs. The card will create a database of MSMEs and a portal through which they can apply for credit. Such data can be accessed by MFBs and other recognised micro credit institutions to meet the credit needs of these micro enterprises.

  • Address the Skewed Distribution of MFBs

Data from the CBN and NBS shows correlation between numbers of MFBs and poverty rate in Nigeria. Most MFBs are concentrated in states or zones with the lowest level of poverty. For example, the South West zone has the highest number of MFBs at 37.07% and average poverty rate of 12.01%. On the other hand, the North East zone has the lowest number of MFBs at 4.69 per cent and a poverty rate of 71.86%.

There is a need for deliberate regulatory measures to address the trend. Such measures may include: a comprehensive study to identify barriers to rural based MFBs with a view to developing appropriate incentives; Ban on licensing of new urban based MFBs; and strategic engagements with government in states with low concentration of MFBs.

The need for such measures is reflected in the recommendations for reintroduction of rural banking in Nigeria by Adeyemi (2008), who stated: “Reintroduce rural banking for all banks and require every bank to open one rural branch for every five urban branches.”

In India, The Reserve Bank requires banks to open one rural branch for every three urban branches opened. This is a requirement of Section 22 of Banking of Banking Regulations Act of 1949 that provides that “Private sector banks are required to open a minimum of 25% of their total branches in rural/semi urban areas as a condition of the license issued to them.” In the meantime, the government/CBN should extend matching grants to legacy banks for their existing rural branches.

Similarly, Onuka (2021) said: “The government may have to reintroduce the rural banking scheme or reinstate the community development ownership model for microfinance banks to encourage more communities to open and operate their own microfinance banks.”

  • Support to Strengthen MFBs

The MFBs subsector is still in infancy and weak and thus there is need for increased and continuous institutional and regulatory support to strengthen the industry. Such support include:
Refinancing Fund: Such fund according to Ehigiamusoe (2008) will provide refinancing facility to fledging MFBs and poverty focused microfinance institutions.
“Contributions to the FUND should come from various sources such as government, development agencies, private sources and even the microfinance institutions themselves. There are still development agencies interested in microfinance development but at a loss on how to intervene in an environment of ultra – commercialization. The Management of the FUND should be as independent and professional as possible. The FUND operationally to have two (2) windows for funding viz:

    • developing window through which funds be channelled to fledging microfinance institutions and banks; and
    • Commercial support window, which will support mature microfinance institutions with loans on commercial interest rates.
  • Comprehensive Industry-wide capacity development programme to address the challenge of low capacity and dearth or requisite personnel.
  • Industry Rating Services: The CBN should create a rating service operators and framework for MFBs and make rating mandatory and criteria for accessing incentives such as CBN intervention funds.

This will compel the board of MFBs to strive towards sound corporate governance.


While the above recommendations are not exhaustive, we believe they will go a long way in radically upscaling microcredit in Nigeria and enhancing achievement towards the goal of 5% percent of GDP.


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  • Central Bank of Nigeria (2005): Annual Banking Supervision Report 2005
  • Central Bank of Nigeria (2011): Revised Microfinance Policy Framework For Nigeria, 2011
  • Central Bank of Nigeria 2018: Review of Minimum Capital Requirement for Microfinance Banks in Nigeria, Circular to All Microfinance Banks, October 22, 2018
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