Making Nigeria business-friendly
On July 2016, – only two months after the President Muhammadu Buhari-led government of the All Progressives Congress party was elected, the new government set up the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC). It thereby served notice to local and foreign interests on a desire to actively involve the private sector to drive the economy, unleash the entrepreneurial spirit of Nigerians, and attract well-intentioned foreign players into the Nigerian economic space.
Furthermore, proved the commitment of the Buhari government to remove bottlenecks and procedural restrictions to doing honest, lawful business in the country and improve Nigeria’s less than respectable rating on the World Bank Ease-of-Doing Business (EoDB) record. For in 2016, based on 10 criteria used in the two largest commercial cities of Lagos and Kano, Nigeria was ranked 169th of 190 countries assessed. So, PEBEC was set up with the specific mandate to reduce the cost, time, and processes required to set up and safely operate business in Nigeria.
In a world interlinked and driven by the fast exchange of tangible and intangible products, every members of the community of nations must fall in line with the fast-paced conduct of business in both public and private sectors, must key into the global economy, accentuate and reap from its competitive advantage -or be left behind.
Within the constitutional obligation of government to assure ‘the security and welfare of the people’, the business of government is to make the polity conducive for interested persons and corporate bodies to, within extant laws, conduct their businesses profitably, and also to the overall economic benefit of the country. ‘Governments have the enormous task of fostering an environment where entrepreneurs and small and medium enterprises can thrive’ says World Bank president Jim Yong Kim.
The determination of the current government to improve the business climate keeps faith with a number of promises in the manifesto of the APC. The party pledges to ‘make [Nigeria’s] economy one of the fastest growing emerging economies in the world, with a real GDP growth averaging 10% annually’; it commits itself to ‘…provide a conducive environment for a private sector-led industrial base for the economy… promote entrepreneurship [to] usher in new industries and new jobs; and to increase power supply to 50,000 MW within ten years. The APC also promises to ‘enact legal and regulatory frameworks to establish independent regulation and incentives to accelerate public and private sector investments in seaports, railways, and inland waterways’. Pursuant to a public- private sector partnership, the Federal Government launched the Economic Growth and Recovery Plan (EPRG) that aims to achieve economic stability with the collaboration of the private sector.
PEBEC is established to facilitate a business-friendly Nigeria and remove the country from the unenviable category of somewhat ‘business-hostile’ nations. Three indications of government seriousness in this pro-business course of action are, firstly, that no less than the Vice-President, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo leads the 13- high ranking members of PEBEC, and secondly, an engine room – Enabling Business Secretariat (EBES) – has been set up to implement the reform agenda. The third and most compelling measure is the Executive Order 001 (E01) that the vice-president and chairman of PEBEC, Prof Osinbajo issued on 18th May, 2017 in his capacity as acting president of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
E01 aims to promote transparency and efficiency in the business environment through the application of six policy directives specifically addressed to ministries, departments, and agencies of government (MDAs) that play one role or other in the effectiveness or failure of the executive order. Directive 1 titled ‘Transparency’ requires MDAs to publish as well as update on its website and on its premises a full list of all fees, timelines, conditions, and requirements for obtaining whatever documents it issues; the ‘Default Approval’ directive mandates MDAs to approve or reject applications as well as inform applicants within its published timeline.
The ‘One Government’ directive mandates MDAs may accept copies of documents issued by other MDAs subsequently verify them, another directive demands relevant agencies to publish an up- to -date list of requirements and timelines on all immigration-related websites , issue tourist and business visas within 48 hours, prevent touting at the airports and refrain from soliciting and accepting bribes from travelers. MDAs are mandated to harmonize port operations implemented by a single joint task force that is sited at one location and working 24 hours, the ‘Registration of Business’ directive requires the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to, within 24 hours of the issuance of the Executive Order (on 18th May 2017), fully automate all registration processes via the CAC website as well as provide an online payment platform where necessary.
PEBEC is modelled after global best practices that include performance tracking component that measures the key indicators of EoDB. But it is a truism that government directives, no matter how well intentioned and well crafted, must be followed up with both effective monitoring and honest evaluation in order to sustain faithful implementation.
In order to monitor and evaluate the delivery of service in accordance with the six E01 directives, PEBEC maintains an internet platform REPORTGOV.NG where citizens may lodge complaints and report, at no cost at all, on emergencies to relevant MDAs. The portal www.reportgov.ng allows citizens to submit feedback or complaints to MDAs via a single medium. REPORTGOV.NG encourages customers of MDAs to give feedbacks to help improve the enforcement of the directives, improve service delivery by public institutions, and enable PEBEC identify trends and track issues that truly matter to Nigerians.
PEBEC’s founding objective was to bring Nigeria’s ranking to sub-100 in 2019/20 World Bank EoDB Index. Two years after, it has implemented reforms with positive impact on doing business in the country, as evidenced by not less than 15 important indicators. More MDAs have functional and regularly updated websites on their statutory functions and services; there is better collaboration among MDAs as demanded under the One Government directive. Access to credit has been improved with movable assets such as cars, jewelry acceptable as collateral for loan; visa-on-arrival applications can be done online and issued within 48 hours; in Lagos, property can be registered within 30 days, payments made online and Certified True Copies (CTC) of title documents and survey plans obtained at registry automated centers.
Application for connection to the national power grid can now be made online and the applicant connected within 30 days; business name reservation and registration can be done online within 4 hours filing and payment of taxes can be done online and water from the public water source can be connected within seven days. The rules of public procurement have been refined to enable SMEs offer services to government; small claims courts are in place in Lagos and Kano to settle minor contractual disputes; the Apapa port in Lagos is now open 24 hours of the day. The REPORTGOV. NG feedback mechanism is noted to be actively in use to resolve complaints about the performance of MDAs.
These achievements notwithstanding, Nigeria’s drop in the 2018 rating warns that there is much work for PEBEC to do. This is understandable for a new and innovative structure that seeks to change entrenched negative culture. But if the present tempo of effort is sustained, PEBEC, with consistent backing of government, will incrementally make the gains to put Nigeria in the ‘elite’ group of the EoDB Index.
Good business is everybody’s business; to make Nigeria business friendly is work- in- progress that requires all stakeholders –government, the business sector, and the citizens – to play their respective parts. Citizens in particular must, as a habit, demand quality service from the MDAs and if dissatisfied, lodge formal complaint through REPORTGOV.NG. This will strengthen a culture of responsiveness and accountability in the Nigerian society.
Onaiyekan is member, The Guardian Editorial Board
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