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Ease of Doing Business: Tackling imminent challenges

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Ease of Doing Business: Tackling imminent challenges

At last year’s annual Nigerian Institute of Public Relations’ (NIPR) Presidential Award Dinner in Lagos, the issue of Ease of Doing Business in Nigeria was exhaustively discussed TAIWO HASSAN reports

 

It is saddening that over 50 years after independence, the Nigeria of today cannot be compared to that of 1960 in terms of attracting investment.
Then the country had selfless leaders who created the enabling environment for investment to thrive.
Different industrial estates were created across the country to bolster trade and industrialisation. For instance, Nigeria had Ikeja Industrial Estate in Lagos, Trans-Amadi Industrial Estate in Port-Harcourt, Enugu Industrial Estate, Kano and Kaduna Industrial Estate, Umuahia Aba and Onitsha Industrial Estate, among others.
Also, in the sixties and seventies, employers went round universities in search of talents.
Invariably, Nigeria demonstrated at the time that it had potential for growth and the capacity to raise the quality of life of its citizens.
Unfortunately, Nigeria could not sustain the thriving business environment created by the country’s selfless leaders for long.
President, Business Education Examinations Council (BEEC), Mazi Mike Okereke, said: “We took investors for granted. We felt that we were doing them a favour by allowing them operate in Nigeria. We harassed investors in our midst.”
In short, there was the first and second “enterprises promotion decrees,” which took over 40 per cent and then 60 per cent of the shareholding of foreign business.
Later, government then repelled the decrees but it was too late as the damage had been done already.
Indeed, Nigeria made the operating environment uncomfortable for them (foreigners) through kidnapping, poor infrastructure, corruption, erratic power supply, poor security of life and property, over taxation and high interest rates.
The resultant effect was the investors closing shops for good in search of greener pasture elsewhere.
Post-independence
Following the collapse of the past, discussions on recreating the business environment had dominated every forum.
With the Nigerian economy at crossroads, the President Muhammadu Buhari-led administration was concerned with the deplorable state of the country’s economy.
Indeed, the Nigerian Economic Summit Group (NESG) has been advocating restructuring of the country’s economy through its numerous recommendations to the Federal Government.
The current administration heeded the call by implementing some of the recommendations made over the years.
Indeed, the Federal Government’s ease of doing business policy has become a solution to revamping the ailing economy.
Under the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council on ease of doing business in Nigeria, the Vice President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, has worked to tackle the problems associated with investing in the country.
Global ranking
On the ease of doing business, Nigeria was ranked 125th by the World Bank on the 2017 and 2018 index out of 137 countries.
Nigeria only moved two steps-up to improve on its 2016-2017 ranking.
This means that more work is needed as measures taken so far by the Federal Government to improve ease of doing business in Nigeria is yet to make the desired impact.
According to the report, some countries such as Mauritius, Rwanda, South Africa and Botswana are occupying 45th, 58th, 61st and 63rd respectively.
Others are Namibia (90th), Kenya (91st) and Senegal (106th).
Action plan
For the organised private sector (OPC) to reposition Nigeria for prosperity, there is urgent need for government to incorporate in its planning and strategy, the following reforms:
Enabling environment for business, the private sector believes that the current global rating is unacceptable.
They said: “We must take immediate action to reposition and rebrand Nigeria; transform Nigeria into an investment friendly country.
“Take immediate step to invest, enhance and rebuild the country’s social and physical infrastructure, roads, airports and ports.
“Provide reliable power supply, it is the key to investors. Notably, the country’s industrial sector has virtually gone out of business.
Improve security and protect life and property.”
Other recommendations are creation of job opportunities for school learners, immediate enactment of the Petroleum Industry Bill, among others.
It also noted that state government should steer clear of corporate taxes except employee income tax as businesses are currently being harassed.
They said: “There is need for the country to learn from USA and other countries. Government should reduce drastically corporate taxes. Nigerian banks’ interest rate is the highest in the world.
“Most banks in Nigeria charge 26 per cent for loan to business. Britain six per cent and USA two per cent. Which business can make a profit after paying 26 per cent interest rate?”
Budgetary process
One of the key factors that is likely to hinder this year’s ease of doing business in Nigeria is the continued delay in passage of the 2018 appropriation bill.
For Nigeria to make impact on its ease of doing business programme, ensuring that the national budget is delivered on schedule and ready for implementation on every January 1 is important.
So, the country cannot be serious about instituting the ease of doing business policy when national budget, which is the engine for national growth, is five to six months late each year.
President, Manufacturers Association of Nigeria (MAN), Dr. Frank Udemba Jacobs, noted that “our budget, which should be operational on the first of January each year, is approved in May or June.
“Fund release are also delayed after approval of the budget.
“For example, funds released for capital project for 2017 was still being discussed in October 2017.
“Businesses attach a great deal of importance to government budget. It gives business the strategic direction of government. Budget delay gives a wrong signal to investors.
“It creates an impression that this is not a serious country to do business with. When government’s budget is delayed, business activity is also delayed. Most countries ensure that the budget approval and implementation take place on scheduled date.”
Last line
The ease of doing business will grow and prosper the business environment and the economy in general if only those in charge handle the process with the diligence it deserves.

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