By NBF News

When he took over as the Managing Director of the Nigeria Export Import Bank (NEXIM) in 2009, the bank was operating under a non-profit margin without a clear cut policy or risk management framework, as well as a good corporate governance policy.

But barely one and half year on the saddle, Mr Roberts Orya is not only counting on his accomplished achievements to turn the bank's fortunes around, his determination to restore its lost glory has driven him to pursue and collect about N540 million from its numerous notorious customers, who had refused to service the loans granted them over the years.

He said that with the support of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and the Finance Ministry that are the major shareholders, NEXIM is moving close to being world class finance institution with its robust risk management framework and 25,862 jobs target for Nigerians at the end of 2011. He spoke in an interview in Abuja.

How you have fared in the past in terms of loan facility profile

We are taking a holistic look at the level of loan intervention by the NEXIM Bank from 1991 to date in the economic development of the nation. When we took over, there was no robust risk management framework in place, there was no good corporate governance policy in place, but all these have been addressed.

So, as we are moving, we are moving close to being a world class organisation because what other world-class corporate institutions in the world are doing, we are also doing it. So, all we need to do is just to build on what we are doing. But because we have just commenced implementation so it will take some time but we are very happy with what we have been able to do so far. At least we have turned around the fortunes of the bank from non-profit making to a profit making financial institution. We have been able to create more awareness for our operations and have sensitized people.

We have also rendered more financial support to non-oil exporters in the country. We have also been able to re-established and create new alliances with other multi-lateral agencies. In-house, our staff have undergone a series of trainings. Our processing time is now very short. They have become more professional. So, every ingredient that is required for a modern institution and the one that is striving to be higher, we are building them.

When we took over the bank in 2009, we had a lot of challenges, there were lots of non-performing loans. So what we did was to classify and provision those accounts, so that we start on a clean slate. By doing so, any account that we identify to have any default element, we classify them so that, henceforth, any profit we make the auditors will now come and reduce it and say no, we did not make provision for those loans, so we do not incur losses. And because the bank was not doing well, we had to turn it into a profit making financial institution.

How we surmounted those challenges
Loan recovery has been our greatest challenge. We actually forwarded some names of our loan defaulters to the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC) to help us recover the loans but, as you all know, EFCC is not a loan recovery agency. The only debts that we referred to EFCC are those that have criminal elements. So it is not as if we are taking the whole of our loan book of non-performing loans to the EFCC.

No, we are doing our own bit. We are doing so much to see how we can recover those loans. But only those with criminal intent, for instance, a debtor offering us a dud cheque, or we have evidence that the person willfully went out of his own way to digress to a long process, and if we consider it as an economic sabotage, these are the few cases we have referred to the EFCC to handle for us. We have been able to recover at least N540 million but we are building up more steam to recover more. We have been able to re-engineer our processes, and we are also refocusing on our strategies of debt recovery and fine tuning some of our strategies. We expect that we'll do even better than what we did in 2010.

Future projections
In 2011, we have projected to create a total of 25, 862 jobs from our various activities based on the kind support that we are expecting from our stakeholders. We have a strategy for the next five years and for each year we would be able to come clear with the number of jobs we will be able to create. So the 25, 862 jobs are the number of employment opportunities we will able to create in 2011. The jobs are not just from the N500 million ECOWAS Support Trade Facility because the amount is just the seed fund we are getting from the ECOWAS.

We have developed products to deepen trade within West African Sub-region. And we want the Nigerian exporters who want to export within the West African sub region to tap into that fund, so for a mark of encouragement, and to commence effective implementation of the product that we have developed that was launched here last year to encourage Nigerian traders on the need for the sub regional or regional export trade to deepen trade within the African region.

It has been a thing of worry to us because Nigerian exporters are always looking beyond Africa with no consideration that there are also a market for them within the region also. Their target is always on America, Europe and other Asian countries. But what we want to do is that we realized a lot of potentials within the ECOWAS sub region and NEXIM wants to pioneer the drive both the trade and the payment system. Because if the payment system is not deepened you will find a Nigerian selling his goods into Benin republic market to sale and pocket his money. There is no way you can deepen the trade under that kind of scenario, so we have to find a way to encourage exporters to make payments through a banking system.

And this is the first time we are developing a product targeted at deepening the market within the sub region. There is a kind of intra regional trade but it is not formalized yet and don't forget there has been a lot of informal trade within the sub region.

So, even for statistical purposes, there is need for us to capture it to aid planning, so these are the kind of things we are doing with the N500 million. This is the product that NEXIM has developed targeted at deepening trade within the ECOWAS sub region. In developing the product, we involve all stakeholders like exporters. We are also engaging the commercial banks, the Chambers of Commerce and Industries and National Association of Small Scale Industries (NASSI) too in the process.

Because we are going to use another company called NEXPO Trade and export house that has been set up to bring the small and medium scale exporters together. It is an all-engaging framework that we are developing.

Support from CBN and finance ministry
We have the absolute support of the Central Bank of Nigeria and the Federal Ministry of Finance. In fact, we have great support from the CBN because our Chairman now is a deputy governor in the CBN and we also have another director who is also from the CBN. The current reforms by the CBN have cut across all sectors and he want managements that are focused, institutions that have a clear cut out risk management framework with a robust corporate governance culture among other requisites.