The recent 50 billion naira loan scheme implemented by the Central Bank of Nigeria to support local businesses, was tainted with controversy after applicants were compelled to pay ten thousand naira to Simplified Credit, a little-known private company located in the Federal Capital Territory, Abuja.
An approved business plan from the company, run by Angela Gbemisola Attah, was one of the requirements for accessing the CBN-backed loan from NIRSAL Microfinance Bank, which administers the loan for the central bank.
Documents seen by the Lagos Times newspaper show that Simplified Credit made millions of naira from the loan application scheme after being awarded the project without a transparent bidding process. An investigation by the Lagos Times revealed that Simplified Credit is owned by Angela Gbemisola Attah, her husband Adadu Attah and a relative Titus Oladipo Adeboye.
Ms Attah is a well-connected operative with ties to the All Progressives’ Congress Party, which has ruled Nigeria’s federal government since 2015. An alumna of University of Abuja, she is a close friend of Northern dynasts such as the former Emir of Kano, Sanusi Lamido Sanusi and Umaru Mutallab, the former chairman of First Bank.
Ms Attah is the managing partner of Alegna Global Partnerships and a board member of the non-profit, Lagos-based Freedom Foundation founded by the popular pastor Tony Rapu. Prior to founding Alegna Global Partnerships, she worked as a Project Manager at Roland Berger Strategy Consultants, where she focused on financial services and led the acquisition and execution of public sector engagements in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Attah launched Simplified Credit in 2018 as a provider of credit options and business planning tools. She had previously worked as a Private Wealth Manager for the Standard Bank group in Lagos, Nigeria for six years and briefly for the Debt Management Office in the Presidency in Abuja, Nigeria.
In an emailed response to questions raised by the Lagos Times, Ms Attah defended the award of the controversial contract, without a bid, to her firm. She said:”Simplified Credit provides a very easy-to-use Mini Business Plan development tool, among other services, that puts the responsibility of business plan development conveniently in the hand of the user at very minimal fees and quickly. It is a comprehensive service that provides a questionnaire which users can complete easily and then translates the responses into a high quality Mini Business Plan and financial analysis that is globally acceptable.
“This service changes the face of business planning and business continuity for micro and small enterprises helping them to improve operations given that professional services such as business plan development was hitherto reserved for larger companies due to the prohibitive costs and processes associated with them.”
However, Ms Attah repeatedly refused to explain how her company won the bid to handle the project, choosing to deflect the query by asking the Times to contact NIRSAL Microfinance Bank.
The CBN’s Director of Corporate Communications, Isaac Okorafor had denied that the apex bank had authorized the mandatory payment of consulting fees to third party firms but documents seen by the Lagos Times show that applicants were forced to pay 10,000 naira to Simplified Credit.
Okoroafor had said: “The attention of CBN has again been drawn to false reports on the social media that loan seekers and owners of small scale businesses who apply for loans provided to cushion the effects of COVID-19 are required to pay a certain amount as application processing fees. The CBN urges members of the public to disregard any message requiring them to pay any amount to process their applications.
“Prospective applicants are advised to approach NIRSAL Micro Finance Bank or the CBN branch nearest to them for clarification on the procedure for accessing any of the bank’s related loans. Any observed irregularities should be reported to the Consumer Protection department of the CBN.
Mr Okorofor did not respond to repeated requests for comment from the Lagos Times.
Two analysts, who spoke to the Lagos Times on the condition of anonymity, said that the idea of forcing applicants to pay for business plans to a favoured company before accessing COVID-19 bailout funds, was exploitative and that the business plans should not have been made mandatory.