Evening the Odds: Doing Business in Nigeria, by Tunji Andrews

Bank of Industry Headquarters, Abuja
Bank of Industry Headquarters, Abuja

For decades, the Nigerian economy has undergone various changes, from colonial dominance, to the oil boom, great recession and now, a major push for diversification. This fabric of our history is a woven tapestry which threads are held together by the old and new businesses that have shaped the times.

A formidable revolution is redefining what it means to do business in Nigeria, particularly equipping entrepreneurs with the right conditions and opportunities to thrive. At the forefront of it all is the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), which has implemented over 140 reforms since its establishment in 2016 and improved the country’s rankings in the sphere of progressively developing economies.

Contrary to this writer’s insinuations that “it’s getting easier to do business in Nigeria only on paper”, it is evident that these reforms are having real impact on everyday business owners. Journalistic ethics demand a high level of integrity, a duty to present fair and factual information, as well as a devotion to the cause of public enlightenment above all else.

While I acknowledge that there is great room for improvement, especially infrastructure development and enforcement of these reforms by the public sector, it would be untoward not to recognise the many wins that have been made so far in the quest for a more business-enabled Nigeria.

Some of the admitted limitations of the Doing Business indicators include the focus on the formal sector, and measurements reflected by the two largest economies in countries with more than 100 million inhabitants (in the case of Nigeria, these are Lagos and Kano states). This informed the 2018 World Bank Subnational Doing Business Report for Nigeria which goes beyond the largest business cities, captures local differences and stories, while helping the regions replicate good practices for healthy competition.

Access to finance doesn’t invoke such nightmarish visions for start-ups today, as it would have a few years ago. Thanks to the establishment of a National Collateral Registry, borrowers can now leverage movable assets such as vehicles, equipment, jewelry, etc., as collateral for loans. With this comprehensive database, lenders have saved 35% on the cost of verifying borrowers, while reducing the incidence of loan defaults.

We can also see improvement in terms of actual monies getting into the hands of business startups. In 2018, the Bank of Industry disbursed N33.9 billion specifically to Micro Small and Medium Enterprises. This shows a progressive year-on-year increase from 29.5bn in 2017, compared to 8.2bn in 2016. The bank also facilitated loans to 1.7 million beneficiaries in partnership with the Federal Government’s Government Enterprise Empowerment Programme (GEEP).

Alongside the strides made by PEBEC to support the private sector, it has taken steps to improve government efficiency in public service delivery, championing digitisation of services that improve the rate of transparency and accountability in the reform process.

These include the launch of the company registration portal, where entrepreneurs can register their businesses under 24 hours, and e-tax platforms for the computation and payment of taxes hassle-free – which some state governments have also adopted. Let us not forget reportgov.ng, Nigeria’s official public service complaints and feedback website (also downloadable as apps for Android and iOS). Business owners can now table issues with regulatory agencies and get results within 72 hours.

The PEBEC embarked on its nationwide L.I.T. Subnational Tour across geographical zones, engaging over 2,000 businesses in the country between October to November 2019 in a celebration of enterprise. Indigenous entrepreneurs gave verifiable testimonies on the impact of the Ease of Doing Business reforms on their bottom lines, while private sector attendees engaged in dialogue with government officials and industry regulators to exchange ideas that birthed results, including impending reforms in the manufacturing sector.

However, I do agree with the cited article that “the workaround to some of the problems that plague Nigeria’s business environment may come from the tech ecosystem itself”. But the spirit of collaboration for the collective good is indispensable on the road to development. The government’s continuing role is to even the odds in favor of a thriving business environment, thereby improving the struggle for ‘what ought to be’ versus ‘what is’.

Tunji Andrews is the Lead Economist at Time, Trade and Commodities (TTAC), Africa and the European Union consultant in Nigeria under the EU SUFEGOR project. He is a financial literacy advocate, Macro-Economics thought leader and a renowned media personality.


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