By AKOMA CHINWEOKE & ANTHONIA ONWUKA
Ever since the country’s economy took a downturn, the masses have not been spared from pains the years of failed dreams resulting from bad leadership, and misuse of resources that could have been chanelledÂ towards reviving theÂ battered economy. It is an established fact that 70 percent of the countryâ€™s population still live below the poverty line.Â AlthoughÂ major players in the economy have said all is not yet lost but, the question remains, how long will it take the country to achieve economic prosperityÂ having consistently failed to pay attention to SMEs which are engines of growth. Christopher Knight is the managing director of Standard Chartered Bank, Nigeria. In this interview, he speaks on why it might take Nigeria a little longer to get its economy back on track and why the bank would always stand by small and medium businesses.
DESPITE the threat that global economicÂ meltdown posed to the financial sector,Â your bank seems to have weathered the storm unlike many otherÂ banks in Nigeria.Â How were you able to achieve that?
I donâ€™t think the global financial meltdown is entirely responsible for the problem ofÂ the localÂ banks. The issue with the local banksÂ wasÂ not having proper lending policies as well as issues of corporate governance. Unlike what happens elsewhere, Nigeria still has strong economic growth, positive GDP growth whereas in many areas of the world, the growth rate is negative. So, to anÂ large extent, the issues affecting NigeriaÂ really areÂ internally generated.
Standard Chartered Bank has over the years shown its commitment towards the growth of SMEs. How would you measure the impact of your bankâ€™s activities in theÂ direction ?
The SMEs story in Nigeria and in many of the countries that we are involved in is really where a lot of social economic growth comes from and we at Standard Chartered Bank hope to be able to do more with the sector. Part of the success of the sector is actually in the operators becoming more knowledgeable in managing their businesses ,Â Â put down business plans and having proper accounting standard to facilitate banks understandingÂ credit propositions.
What is the essence of your latest collaboration with the Nigeria- Malaysia Business Council?
As you know, the councilÂ itself is only a few years old and since we are based in Malaysia, we are in theÂ position to help businessmen and women who want to do business between both countries mainly because of our branch network here in Nigeria as well as in Malaysia.
How can interested businessmen and women take advantage of this opprtunity that your bank offers?
Businesses who are interested in taking advantage of our connections between the two countries should contact our bankâ€™s SME unit to explore how we might be able to help them.
Poor financial infrastructure is still a major challenge to Nigeriaâ€™s financial stability. How do you think the country can overcome the challenge?
I think what the new Central Bank of Nigeria governor is doing is commendable. But I also think the issue of corporate governance should be taken more seriously and I thinkÂ that, that is what he is addressing with the help of the EFCC. So, I think it is a period that we must pass through and in the end we are going to have a much more sound financial industry. It is already a robust industry.I think actually they are necessary and appropriate.