That the relevant authorities in Nigeria have begun the processes of dealing decisively with factors that have always made doing business in Nigeria difficult is quite inspiring. Specifically, recent steps taken by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo to run faster with the mission of the government and activate the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council which it set up last year is a comforting indication of seriousness. The hope is that this new spirit would endure and the annual reproach that comes with World Bank’s release of “Doing Business Index” in which Nigeria always performs woefully would be removed.
In the current ranking (2017) Nigeria is rated 169 among 190 economies in ease of doing business. In 2016, the country was ranked 170. For policy makers trying to improve an economy’s regulatory environment for business, a good place to start is to find out how it compares with the regulatory environment of other countries. Doing Business provides an aggregate e-ranking on the ease of doing business based on indicator sets that measure and benchmark regulations applying to domestic small to medium-size businesses through their life cycle. The ease of doing business ranking compares economies with one another; it benchmarks economies with respect to regulatory best practice, showing the absolute distance to the best performance on each Doing Business indicator. When compared across years, the distance frontier score shows how much the regulatory environment for local entrepreneurs in an economy has changed over time in absolute terms, while the ease of doing business ranking can show only how much the regulatory environment has changed relative to that in other economies. Until 2017, there are ten critical factors that define healthy environment for business in this global context: they include starting a business, dealing with construction permits, getting electricity, registering property, getting credit, protecting minority investors, paying taxes, trading across borders, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. Business journals have constantly reported that economies in Asia Pacific and Australia have not been feeling the recession and even depression heats that have beset the West since 2008 and the annual rankings have always shown why countries in the contiguous regions have been thriving: the ease of doing business there is real.
It is clear that Nigeria’s Acting President, a Law professor, is well aware of why Nigeria has not fared well in the regulatory environment category of ease of doing business measures. And the fervency with which he has been pursuing the new policy thrust to meet most of the global standards shows that there is a glimmer of hope.
For instance, the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council at its expanded meeting chaired by Acting President Yemi Osinbajo approved a 60-day national action plan for ease of doing business. The plan is to be implemented in three priority areas: entry and exit of goods, entry and exit of people as well as government transparency and procurement.
To show how serious the government is, the expanded meeting was attended by the leaders of the legislative arm of government, President of the Senate, Dr. Bukola Saraki and House of Representatives Speaker, Yakubu Dogara. It was thus resolved at the parley that the number of agencies operating at the nation’s ports be streamlined to six, a monster that had been difficult to confront.
Fittingly, the Acting President took the business-unusual spirit to the Nigeria’s main international airport on 23 February where he reiterated that the government would ensure ease of doing business in Nigeria.
At the Murtala Muhammed International Airport, Lagos, Osinbajo noted: “As part of our work on the Ease of Doing Business, on making the environment friendly, not just for local businesses but also for those who want to come and do business in Nigeria, the airport obviously is one of the major places where we need to ensure that facilities are working and that things are being run properly…”
Accordingly, the reforms expected to improve Nigeria’s ranking in the World Bank Doing Business Index 2018, are to be implemented by the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat without fail.
Besides, the reforms will also upgrade the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC’s) online portal to ensure document upload capabilities for new businesses to be registered online.
On entry and exit of people, the Council had observed that the visa on arrival and 48-hour visa processing procedures of the Nigerian Immigration Service (NIS) were already operational with various levels of compliance.
Meanwhile, the Council agreed to collaborate with Lagos and Kano State governments to make processes for obtaining construction permits and registering properties faster, cheaper and easier. This is a step in the right direction as Lagos and Kano are Nigeria’s commercial capitals.
It is also hoped that the National Assembly would quickly pass the National Collateral Registry Bill and the Credit Bureau Services Bill to ease access to credit for SMEs.
It is, indeed, important to underscore the legislative support the Senate President pledged when he noted at the meeting that the fact that the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council wanted the bills passed within 60 days did not infringe on the independence of the legislature.
This immediate migration from rhetoric to action by both arms of government over ease of doing business in Nigeria is how democratic engagement for development should be.