It gives me great pleasure to be part of this very important gathering. Indeed, the significance of the subject matter of the occasion makes it sufficient and fulfilling to simply be a listener or an observer or a floor contributor. The honour is therefore mine not only for the invitation but to have been identified to deliver the keynote address of the conference.
2.0 The issue of poverty in Nigeria is one that calls for serious reflection not only because of the urgent need to eradicate it or reduce it to the barest minimum but because of the fact that it has continued to linger against all reasonable justification for such and has continued to impact negatively on various and significant facets of our national life. Nobody in Nigeria needs to be told about the disturbing level of poverty in the country. The multiple security challenges that bedevil the country, the increasing number of youth and adult beggars; the increasing number of area boys in virtually all the states of the federation; and the increasing level of unemployment in the country are all pointers to the poverty situation in the country.
3.0 Ironically, side by side with the gloomy picture of poverty in the country, we see the relatively rising profile of some of our businesses, individuals and corporate entities. Our economic indices in the recent past suggested economic growth but in actual fact the poverty and unemployment level in the country had not improved. That would suggest a significantly skewed contribution to the growth of the economy in favour of the corporate businesses and few individuals rather than the entire stakeholders in the economy.
4.0 Based on the foregoing, the 2011 Federal government budget has made it very clear the concern of government for addressing poverty situation in the country as a matter of both the immediate and medium term plans and initiatives. This concern was expressed in one of the key objectives of the budget which is inclusive growth and job creation. Among the initiatives lined up by the government is the earmarking of N50 billion start fund in the budget to facilitate job creation and the involvement of the 36 states of the federation and Abuja in initiating labour intensive public work in the areas of construction and maintenance of roads, schools, hospitals, dispensaries and other public utilities. Others included the requirement of disclosure of local employment content in any contract to be considered and approved by the Federal Executive Council, the commitment of the Federal Ministry of Education to review its curriculum towards making graduates not only self employing but employers of labour and the revamping of the NDE to retool school leavers towards closing job gaps in the country.
5.0 However, while the initiatives being embarked upon by the Federal Government are welcome developments, there is a growing concern on the need for all stakeholders in the Nigerian economy to complement and be visibly supportive of those efforts. The corporate bodies in Nigeria are certainly among the major stakeholders in the country’s economic development drive and the additional contribution they can make over and above what they presently do is in the area of corporate social responsibility.
Corporate social responsibility as a business function has taken a global stage. Accordingly, it has come to assume different definitions and perspectives depending on organizations that adopt it. However, for the purpose of this presentation corporate social responsibility could be described as a concept whereby companies consider not only their profitability and growth but also the interests of society and the environment by taking responsibility for the impact of their activities on stakeholders, employees, shareholders, customers, suppliers, the general civil society and the environment. Within this context, some companies go further than others by going beyond managing the impact of their activities into making additional contribution to the achievement of broader societal goals.
6.0 The concept of corporate social responsibility did not emerge overnight. It started assuming importance after the industrial revolution when big companies started emerging and creating huge values for their owners but dealing with their workers in a manner that today will be seen as exploitative. Over the years, laws and regulations were enacted to moderate the large corporations and to protect employees, consumers and society at large. By the 1960s, according to extant literature on the subject, the business world had started gradually to accept additional responsibilities other than making profits and obeying the law. By the 1970s, the civil rights movement, consumerism, and environmentalism had affected society’s expectations of business leading to calls for the business world to be more proactive in (1) ceasing to cause societal problems and (2) starting to participate in solving societal problems whether they had caused the problems or not.
7.0 Against this background, should corporate entities in Nigeria be left behind in the drive to create a better society? Should that effort be left mainly to government and some of its agencies? I feel it should not.
8.0 There are those who hold the view that engaging in social and moral issues is not economically feasible for companies. They believe that corporations should focus on earning a profit for their shareholders and leave social issues to others, arguing further that doing so will put them at a competitive disadvantage relative to those who do not do so. While such proponents reserve the right to hold their opinions especially in a free and fair environment, one fact we all can not contest is that survival is first before any profit generation. Thus, while in some societies the requirements for corporate social responsibility may be simply adding value to an already developed economy, in some societies it may be much more than that. And I want to submit that in the context of Nigeria, corporate social responsibility can go a long way in complementing government’s efforts towards reducing poverty and facilitating economic development under which organisations can themselves flourish better. Apart from adding value to the society, adopting corporate social responsibility serves to publicise the organisation with increasing likelihood of building market share through deliberate patronage by admirers.
9.0 In the last 22 years, the Corporation has been actively involved in voluntary actions executed outside its statutory mandate, and which are basically intended to positively impact on its various stakeholders. Apart from being a public institution, which should ordinarily partake in courses of action that serve public interest, the Corporation has passionately pursued other developmental activities as part of its corporate social responsibility. Firstly, substantial size of the members of the public especially bank depositors, are its stakeholders, and the Corporation would want them to feel the impact of its existence through its contributions to socio-economic development. Secondly, even members of the public that are not direct stakeholders in the Corporation are potential users of banking services, hence the need to make them feel the impact of its existence.
10.0 Among the objectives of the Corporation are the promotion of banking culture and the preservation of public confidence in the banking system. Thus, any social programme or project in the name of the Corporation would serve to raise its public image. This in turn is likely to facilitate the patronage of what it stands for, such as inculcating banking habit. It is against that background that the Corporation has been pursuing its social responsibility programmes.
11.0 In its effort to promote educational excellence and fulfil part of its social responsibility, the Corporation instituted, in 1994, an endowment fund and prize awards for institutions of higher learning in the country. Under the scheme, grants were made to several Universities. A total of 9 Universities benefitted from the endowment of Professorial Chairs in different academic fields by 1995. Similarly, in 1996 thirty one (31) Universities benefited from cash award prizes with some Universities getting two (2) prize awards.
12.0 For better impact, the Board of the Corporation subsequently decided in 2003 to sponsor projects in the institutions of higher learning instead of the hitherto endowment/prize awards. This represents a response to the challenge thrown by the Federal Government in 2003, to the Bankers’ Committee on the deplorable state of infrastructural facilities in the higher institutions of learning in the country. Thus, in 2003, the Board of the Corporation approved a grant of N130 million to be disbursed at the rate of N10 million each to 13 selected Federal Universities. Two Universities each from the six geopolitical zones of the country and one from the FCT were selected for the grant. The projects, which were conceived and executed by the institutions, included lecture halls, academic offices, hostels, theatres, provision of laboratory equipment, internet facilities and cybercafé/computer centres that were considered essential for effective learning and research. By 2006, the implementation of the various projects under the above grant was virtually completed. In the same year, the Board of the Corporation approved yet another disbursement of funds under the initiative thereby bringing the cumulative amount disbursed under the first and second phases of the project-based support to N250,000,000 (Two Hundred and Fifty Million Naira Only) with beneficiaries rising to 25 Universities and Polytechnics spread across the six geopolitical zones.
13.0 In view of the rising cost of materials and to ensure the successful completion of the projects, the maximum grant extended by the Corporation to educational institutions was reviewed upwards in 2011 from N10 (Ten million Naira) to N20 (Twenty Million Naira) per project under the third phase of the initiative. In the third phase, eleven (11) institutions are beneficiaries of N20million each. This assistance, through the project-based support funding scheme, has contributed in no small way towards the enhancement of learning environment and has promoted excellence in educational activities to move the country forward on the path of social and economic development.
14.0 Beyond the support to the educational institutions, the Corporation also took the responsibility for the publication of the Nigerian Banking Law Reports. The publication is a compendium of decided banking-related cases in Nigeria. It documented all banking and finance cases decided by the courts since 1933. This is part of its contribution to the development of the legal profession in Nigeria.
15.0 In a recent survey conducted by an independent consultant on the status of the various education projects that were executed, the Corporation noted with satisfaction that all the projects were serving the purposes for which they were executed. Beneficiaries were full of commendation for the efforts and wished other corporate bodies should emulate the NDIC.
16.0 I am certainly not oblivious of the fact that a number of other organisations in the country do engage in one social responsibility or another. I wish to call on such organisations to not only continue with the good work but to do more especially in the areas that will facilitate poverty reduction in the country. For those who have not started, let us use this clarion call to initiate such an endeavour. Economic development cannot be achieved in the environment of mass poverty. Poverty threatens the energy to produce; it threatens the mental faculty to think and it indeed threatens the purchasing power to buy goods and services which is critical to profit making and to organisational survival. Let us include or factor corporate social responsibility in our strategic thinking and strategic planning so that it becomes a culture in our various organisations. I hope the various presenters we have for this occasion will do justice to how much we all can do in the area of corporate social responsibility to address economic development and poverty situation in the country.
17.0 Thank you all and happy deliberations.