Lagos: Economic nerve centre still struggling to fix challenges
The Special Adviser to the Lagos State Governor on Overseas Affairs and Investment, Professor Ademola Abass, spoke with GBENGA SALAU on steps to improving ease of doing business in the state.
• We Will Get Better, Says Abass
As the economic nerve centre of the country, what steps is Lagos taking to boost ease of doing business?
Lagos takes up 73 per cent of how the World Bank ranks Nigeria on ease of doing business. In terms of effort, the governor created this office when he assumed office May last year, in realisation to the fact that he needed to do things differently. The office was brought in to enhance ease of doing business and create a friendlier environment for investors.
That translates to our mandate, which is to streamline investment processes in the state. Before we came into existence, if you had to invest in Lagos, you had to go through different MDAs, the land bureau, physical planning office, and different bodies.
One way we have dealt with that is streamline everything. As investors come to our office, from here, we make all the applications on their behalf. They do not have to go to all the offices for approval. With that, we have made remarkable improvement in the turn around period.
It was a very notorious fact that in the past, investment proposals took between six months and three years. But today, it is under one month, from start to finish, which is tremendous improvement. That way, we have been able to get some investments through, very quickly. Apart from that, we have better coordination with the Nigerian Investment Promotion Commission, the federal agency with mandate for the entire country. We are collaborating with them much more effectively. And with that, we are able to do things more efficiently.
Also, one thing that was very critical to investors was information about opportunities in Lagos State. We have made a lot of improvement on how we handle and push out information. We have a very functional website and have done many road shows. Very soon, we would be going on air for advocacy programmes every week, for 26 weeks. We are going to be dealing with various aspects of investment opportunities in the state.
The whole idea is to inform and bring the citizens into what we are doing, so that they have clarity on kinds of investments in the state. With this, we hope to make a lot of improvement on the ease of doing business.
What kinds of investors enjoy this centralisation?
When we talk about investment, people tend to think only of Foreign Direct Investment. This office is about providing support to both internal and foreign investments. If you look at the name – Office of Overseas Affairs and Investment – investment is investment whether it is within or outside the country. As you know, we have great Nigerian investors. One of them is Aliko Dangote, and so many other people within the country. Nigerians and non-Nigerians are investing.
And what level of investment are we looking for? It could be $1 million or $1, because any dollar or any major currency is good for Lagos State.
What is important to us, whether you are within Nigeria or outside Nigeria, is that you are adding value to Lagos State, bringing investment that will generate jobs for citizens of the state. It is not about whether you bring in $500 billion or $1 or even N500 billion. Whatever you bring in, in terms of money, is appreciated; in as much as it creates jobs, food, shelter, and increases internally generated revenue.
People invest in property, but the burden of getting approval for buildings is often cumbersome. Are you doing anything about this?
When we talk about investment, it is broad; it is not only when you are bringing in money to start industries. It could be in property, energy, infrastructure, education, transport or ICT. Investment is open-ended. So, by no means are we sidetracking investment in property.
I agree with you entirely that people in the past experienced frustration getting permit for land, even at individual level. It used to be very daunting, for so many reasons that people know. But the most important thing is: what is our government doing to end that kind of regime and alleviate the suffering of the people?
Since this government came in last year, it has taken a lot of measures to revamp and revitalise the land bureau. Gone were the day’s when people waited four, five years to get a C of O for a property. One of the things done was commissioning the Geographical Information System, which will remarkably improve our land registration process.
Everything will now be done electronically. From applying to getting a C of O, you do not need to push a file from one office to the other. This is important because nobody can run a mega city economy by relying on such old model and inadequate process. It will not work well. Our government understands this challenge, which is why we decided to go the way of technology.
But much more important is the department of physical planning. This government is taking many steps to make sure the era of illegality is over, where people get approval for one-storey buildings but construct five, 10 storeys in violation of government policies. We want to make that era history.
Government has not been living up to its task of ensuring physical regulations are obeyed. That is what we are trying to correct by making sure the physical planning department is revamped and empowered to do its work, as it ought.
If the citizens do not comply with the laws, the danger is that you have houses collapsing and substandard buildings that cannot stand integrity test. We do not want to endanger lives. So, the government has become more proactive, ensuring buildings in violation of regulations are not allowed.
One complaint by investors is multiple taxations.
There is no gainsaying the fact that we have had some challenge in the tax regime. When we came in, we acknowledged that. And the most important thing was how to fix the problem.
This administration has taken a lot of measures to fix the problem within the Lagos Internal Revenue Service. I am aware they are making a lot of efforts to streamline various taxes in the state. Nobody is happy to face something 20 times over when it can be met once.
So, a lot of efforts are being put in that direction. At our office, we are working with LIRS and other agencies, to make sure complaints of multiple taxes become a thing of the past.
A word to potential investors
Nigeria is going through a recession. There’s no doubt about that, but we are going to come out of it strongly. Investors need to understand that Nigeria is a safe economy to invest in and that Lagos is a robust economy to invest in. Lagos is a self-sustaining economy. If Lagos were to be a country, it would be the fifth largest economy in Africa.
We have challenges but investors should also look at the opportunities those challenges present. This period presents credible opportunities for investors to get into the country. We have an economy that is opening up to the world. We have invested massively in security in Lagos State, with about N5 billion December, last year, and even much more later. We have embarked on the Light Up Lagos Project and constructed many roads.
So, Lagos is a safe place to live and work, and a great economy to investment in. We are telling investors to come in to partner with us. Come, invest in Lagos, and get remarkable reward.