President Muhammadu Buhari Tuesday in Abuja said ongoing efforts to reduce poverty in the country continue to grow, with 1.6 million poor and vulnerable households, comprising more than 8 million individuals currently benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer program, while N300 billion has been disbursed to farmers.

Speaking virtually at the opening ceremony of the 14th Annual Banking and Finance Conference of Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, the President said the National Social Register of poor and vulnerable Nigerians had 32.6 million persons from 7 million poor and vulnerable households identified, imploring bankers to play a stronger role in improving livelihoods.

“From this number, 1.6 million poor and vulnerable households, comprising more than 8 million individuals are currently benefiting from the Conditional Cash Transfer program, which pays a bi-monthly stipend of N10, 000 per household,’’ he said.

President Buhari said the National Social Investment Programme was biggest in Sub-Sahara Africa and one of the largest in the world.

According to him, “Some of the various initiatives embarked upon to boost agric trade in Nigeria include the Anchor Borrowers Programme through which the Central Bank of Nigeria had made more than 300 billion Naira available to over 3.1 million smallholder farmers of 21 different commodities including Rice, Wheat, Maize, Cotton, Cassava, Poultry, Soybeans, Groundnut, Fish, cultivating over 3.8 million hectares of farmland.

“It is on record that 80% of rice consumed in Nigeria is now produced locally.’’
To further strengthen recovery and enable more Nigerians, President Buhari said, last year, he approved the establishment of InfraCo Plc, a world-class infrastructure development vehicle, wholly focused on Nigeria, with combined debt and equity take-off capital of N15 trillion, managed by an independent infrastructure Fund Manager.

“The Solar Power Naija project was launched in April 2021 with the aim of delivering 5 million off-grid solar connections to Nigerian households. In May 2021, the Rural Electrification Agency announced the planned deployment of solar-powered grids to 200 Primary Health Centres and 104 Unity Schools nationwide.

“Under the Family Homes Fund Limited, Social Housing programme incorporated by the Federal Government of Nigeria, more than two thousand hectares of land with title documents have been issued by 24 states with the capacity to accommodate about 65,000 new homes. The Central Bank of Nigeria is providing a N200 Billion financing facility, with a guarantee by the Federal Government,’’ he said.

The President affirmed that the theme of the conference, “Economic Recovery, Inclusion, and Transformation: The Role of Banking and Finance’’ was most appropriate, following the global shocks from Covid-19.

“I salute the Institute and the entire banking and finance industry for the commitment towards charting a practical path for economic recovery and transformation of our country, Nigeria, and by extension Africa as epitomized by the theme of your conference.
“I commend the financial services industry for its interventions and contributions towards the promotion of financial inclusion and literacy in our country. And more importantly, the roles played by the banks in fostering economic growth of the country.
“I am confident that the speakers that have been carefully selected to contribute to conference will share insights that will help individuals, businesses and governments at all levels make necessary adjustments and take the right steps towards our collective resolve to position Nigeria as one of the top economies in the world,’’ he added.
The President said a report from the National Bureau of Statistics revealed that Nigeria’s Gross Domestic Product grew 5.01 per cent in the second quarter of 2021; the strongest rise since the fourth quarter of 2014.
“This is cheery news and an indication that the efforts of this administration at repositioning the economy is paying off,’’ he said, urging bankers and financial institutions to leverage on the abundant business opportunities to grow the economy.
President Buhari implored financial institutions to play stronger role in making sure the Nigerian Small and Medium Enterprises were fit for purpose, with support in full implementation of “Agreement”.
“Indeed financial intermediary could not be any more relevant than at a time like this. We need you, the banks to drive value creation by developing new technologies, scaling payment infrastructure to serve the diversified economies expected to benefit from this Agreement,’’ the President noted.
He said technological innovation was also important in the modern business terrain, noting that most transactions now take place online given the advent of the “Internet of Things”.
“As we continue to progress towards the next frontiers of digitization, we must harness all opportunities while being mindful of the inherent risks. For example, the protection of data is now of utmost importance to provide users with more secure access to the online space.’’
President Buhari said the Covid-19 pandemic changed everything in the world, from interaction, work, communication to general lifestyle, noting that the epidemic also triggered new opportunities which helped to reshape the economy in the areas of digital transformation, trans-African trade, financial inclusion, security, workforce of the future, pharmaceutical, manufacturing, processing, supply, and logistics.
“As we look beyond the effects of the pandemic to the future, there are bountiful opportunities ahead of us. As you all may know, the African Continental Free Trade Area, of which Nigeria is subscribed, is not only an opportunity for the growth of trade but also the growth of Pan African businesses.
“It portends opportunities for our teeming youth population, the women, the creative industry, the digital economy, the financial services sector, agricultural value chain, commerce, industry, education and indeed every aspect of the economy as Nigerians will have unfettered access to the over 1.3billion consumer market,’’ he said.
The President commended CBN, working in collaboration with the Bankers’ Committee, for providing single-digit financing to young Nigerians in the fields of fashion, film, music and Information Technology through establishment of the Creative Industry Financing Initiative.
In a goodwill message, President Paul Kagame of Republic of Rwanda said exploring new technology in the banking sector, with more focus on innovation, will enhance financial inclusion.

“The banking sector can lead the way in integration. Banking is about trust,’’ he said.

CBN Governor Godwin Emefiele said the regulatory body had been working with the Bankers Committee to scale the challenges posed by Covid-19, which include reduction of interest rates on loans, increasing the moratorium for payments, and injecting N3 trillion loans in the private sector.
“We do expect that the pace of inflation will moderate as we approach the harvest season,’’ he added, assuring that banks remain strong, resilient and healthy.

He said the N15 trillion infrastructure fund will be launched in October, 2021, while innovations like the Nigeria/International Financial will provide a gateway for capital and investments, and digital currency, e-naira, will enhance inclusion.