The Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, in an interview with some business editors in Abuja, recently, explained that the federal government’s drive to facilitate trade and ease of doing business in the country is ongoing. He also spoke on Nigeria’s recent feat in World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking among others.
Nigeria’s recently moved 24 places up the ladder in the World Bank Ease of Doing Business ranking. What were the things they considered, and what areas are you looking at for improvement?
It’s not something we take for granted and we don’t take it for granted because it’s good to adopt a purposeful approach to issues because the president came and said one of the priorities he was going to do is making it easier for people to do business.
As you know, last year, he inaugurated and commissioned the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council chaired by his Excellency, the Vice President and other stakeholders, ministries, departments and agencies of government that are interfaced to the public. We will be working on a number of profound measures which are the indices that the World Bank measures. These indices are the life cycle of running a business; from how you start a business, business registration to how you get the various permits, construction permits, paying your taxes to getting credit access, to funding, to all the things around dispute resolution and so on. Not surprisingly, around access to credit, we are now one of the top ten in the world. The bills that were passed by the National Assembly were important–both the bills in terms of collateral, access to collateral, both of which border on sort of how SMEs and businesses access credits. They also like the fact that we automated and made it easier to register businesses, pay taxes , at the state level when it comes to construction permits we made it easier to deal with things that go with land title, things like access to electricity and some other areas. There is more work to be done; we need to increase the capacity and also elaborate technology to get there but the important thing is that after sliding for so long and moving up, it shows that we are now heading in the right direction and the momentum can continue.
As important as the World Bank ranking, it’s not ranking per se but it is making it easier for people to do business. The objective we are looking at is how can we make life easier for people? How can we remove the bottlenecks and roadblocks and things that get in the way of people running their businesses efficiently? Our vision is to make Nigeria one of the most attractive and easiest places to do business in the world and that is our mission.
Are there institutional frameworks put in place to make the reforms sustainable, even when another administration comes on?
There are a number of things we are doing to ensure that reforms will be sustained and to codify the new rules and directives. One of the things that helped us this last time is that we worked very closely with the National Assembly and they passed a lot of bills like mobile access for collateral. Now, one of the things we are working with them now is something we call omnibus bill which will capture all the reforms that we are making and codify them. So, yes we are working on codifying these changes into a law and we are working on it with the National Assembly.
Some people are saying it is still not easy to do business in Nigeria. What are the measures being put in place to change the narrative?
You know the genius about Einstein is that he talked about the theory of relativity; most things are relative. So when they say it’s still not easy, we are saying it is easier. When it comes to registering businesses now, you can do this within 24 hours. There might be subsequent things you need to do that might take a few more days but the important thing is that it is automated, which is a big deal. Two, are all the key processes that are linked to that automation. Three, we monitor for the improvement and we keep getting better. We are committed to getting better; so it’s a journey. We believe that we are not stopping– we will keep going.
You told us that under the executive orders, we are going to see greater synergy among the security agencies in trying to do a one-stop check on cargoes and others, but people are still complaining that the necessary actions have not been seen.
There are several things we need to get right. First, the basic infrastructure. The ports in Lagos are among the busiest ports in the country. There are lots of congestion because maybe due to excess cargoes that they are meant for. There are challenges with goods and exiting the ports. There’s also a whole idea of leveraging technology through a single window, which means that they are using technology to do all the processes and all those people at the port can then be at the back end of that electronic window and that’s something getting a lot of attention. I think it’s something that’s between the Ministry of Finance, Customs authorities, and Trade – all working together under the umbrella of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council. Many also said that the Executive Order tries to streamline who should be in or out of the ports. So, there’s a transition process that was meant to be shorter but has not been completed. We need to make the investment in technology.
The way the World Bank actually talks to users, the business people, the SMEs and so on; it is the feedback from them that goes in. So, if you are doing a reform, for instance, access to credit or paying taxes or dealing with obtaining electricity, construction permit, business registration, dealing with insolvency and the things we have talked about and for some reason that work has not been completed; therefore the customer is not getting the benefits yet so you won’t get the credit. You have to complete the work. There are a number of reforms we are working on; remember we had a national action plan earlier in the year that had about over 50 reforms. We scored ourselves 70 per cent and we were scored 70 per cent. We are now going through a second wave of reforms this October/November and the number of reforms are even more; over hundred reforms. Some are small while some are big but they are all around helping people to run their businesses and the whole idea is that as we make those reforms, then we will now share them to the World Bank when they start doing their work and it will reflect them. We are not saying that ease of doing business can be solved in one year. I expect that this journey can continue for many years but we need to keep getting better and better, because we are not standing still–we are dealing with a moving target.
What would you say about Nigeria, Africa and WTO agreements?
WTO is a multilateral agency that looks after trading. Africa, right now, is going through a continental free trade area negotiation. WTO is concerned about creating the right enabling environment for trading to happen around the world. So, for Africa, the key is to learn from the experience of others to protect themselves against things like dumping, making sure of standard goods. All those things need to be codified; they need to have rules in a way that we can use those rules to leverage any abuse that they harbour.
Nigeria is hosting a high-level policy and private sector trade and investment facilitation forum. When we talk about trade facilitation, air link is key. It’s easier to connect Europe and the Americas by air than fly within Africa. What is being done to redress this?
The whole area about infrastructure in Africa is about time we quit talking about it and start doing something about it, which is why one of the priorities of the president is addressing the infrastructural gap in Nigeria. Our roads, rails, airports need upgrading. One of the things we need to do in Africa is to make sure we create more agreements and understanding to increase the connection because these are based on agreements that are negotiated.
We also encourage the states to have one-stop shops that could have their own people and some of these agencies that could house their staff to provide services to the states. So, I think it’s an initiative that is very well received and in appreciation of the role the office of the president and Vice President have played in it and also the work we are doing here in the ministry.
I think it’s good. There are areas for improvement. If you look at trading across borders, there are a lot of things that are going on. First of all, we have established a national office for trade negotiations to build our trade relationship with other countries, to make sure that we have the right agreement. Secondly we are a signatory to WTO (World Trade Organisation) trade facilitation agreement. Presently, the Presidential Enabling Business Council is working to eliminate bottlenecks and unnecessary roadblocks. Another thing is the single window, the automation of clearing goods. So it makes trading across borders easier. These are reforms that are on-going that I’m confident about.