Nigeria’s harrowing business climate 

Lagos Island

The aerial view of Lagos Island Business District PHOTO: FEMI ADEBESIN-KUTI
Most times Nigeria”s leaders express the suitability of the country for foreign investments and even travel abroad making part of their itinerary to include meeting with business executives and business owners with the sole aim of attracting them to invest in Nigeria.
Indeed, the first eight years of Nigeria’s current democratic dispensation saw the former president Olusegun Obasanjo traveling throughout the whole length and breadth of the universe ostensibly to woo foreign investors to the country. It was difficult for anyone, not even the Manufacturers Association of Nigeria, to remind him that such desire was bound to be fruitless until the country’s business climate was made highly attractive and conducive.

With that, going about searching for patronage will be unnecessary since the right business climate will by itself achieve the same purpose. From that first misadventure of an itinerant president to the current loan-prone regime, it has remained extremely difficult for Nigeria’s leaders to see the reasons why most businesses lifespan are short-lived and the fact that absolutely nothing will be achieved until the much needed enabling environment is created and the current nightmares faced by business owners are permanently addressed.

To start with, successive governments in Nigeria have consistently failed to realize that Nigeria’s business climate will remain only motion without movement until adequate solution is found for the nation’s power situation. Erratic and epileptic power supply have usually forced most business owners to resort to burning of diesel on daily basis with the resultant effect on the prices of manufactured products.
Yet, the same products still have to compete with imported ones which usually flood the market with lower prices. And rather than show solidarity with locally-made products, Nigerians are always known to rush for the imported ones because of the slight difference in prices which put the home-made products at the receiving end. 

Unknown to Nigerians, refusing to patronize home made goods has negative effects not only on the local industries but on the country as a whole, and by extension on the people themselves. , It’s nothing different from the proverbial tick killing itself thinking it’s killing the dog. When owing to low patronage, business expansion becomes difficult, the concomitant ripple effect is inability of companies to employ more workers, and inability of Nigeria’s teeming unemployed graduates to secure jobs.
As if the menace caused by poor and inadequate electricity supply is not enough, the taxes imposed on business ventures by various tiers of government are quite unimaginable, and shows very clearly a clandestine attempt to force the various businesses under when in actual fact, a responsible government would seek the rapid expansion of businesses in a way that can address employment deficit thereby reducing the growing unemployment in the country. Apart from the local councils, state and federal government, in many instances, the host communities of business ventures also impose their own levies failure to pay of which such businesses may be attacked and looted. Therefore, as entrepreneurs struggle so hard to cope with all the formal burdensome statutory taxes, they still have to cooperate with all the informal ones for business to run smoothly.
Yet, after the proverbial fulfilling of all righteousness, the problem is far from being over. There are still some other problems such as pilfering of finished products by dishonest workers and another associated with conveyance of products from one location to another as touts and illegal road blocks mounted by law enforcement agents await company drivers whose free passage is only guaranteed by maximum cooperation with the illegal charges demanded. Apart from these groups, there are also traffic officers in different uniforms to contend with.

It is always difficult never to fall into the trap of either LASTMA, VIO or Federal Road Safety corps as there are usually different complaints that may warrant ticketing or impounding of vehicles. Whenever any company’s vehicle is impounded, huge sums of money is always demanded before such vehicles are left off the hook. Because of these problems, most vehicles conveying consumables from the northern part of the country have had to confine their movements to the nights and it has also always led to very high cost of food items in the market.

Due to all these problems facing business owners in Nigeria, many have been forced to fold up prematurely thereby throwing their workers back to the employment market. Some too, rather than fold up, only relocate to other neighboring countries where the business climate is more conducive and favourable. In both situations, the losers are always the retrenched workers who have to start all over again roaming the streets searching for non-available jobs.

Those among them who continue to operate do so with all the negative forces painted above to contend with on daily basis so much so that most of them move their products about in rickety company vehicles because they cannot afford new ones. For the same reason, most companies no longer employ permanent workers and the new strategy of operation to cut costs is to engage the service of casual workers. 

That way, there is no issue of litigation arising from legal appointments and there is no commitment about the issue of pension and gratuity.

It is therefore a very harrowing experience keeping businesses afloat in Nigeria. This is the more reason why the Nigerian government should take a holistic look into the factors militating against business growth in Nigeria with a view of finding adequate solutions to them.

It is only when that is done with visible results that Nigeria will be able to attract the much-desired massive local and foreign investors and thus a permanent solution to unemployment.
Oyewusi the coordinator of Ethics Watch International wrote in from Lagos.

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