Last week, we received the hearty news that Nigeria’s position on the Global ease of doing business index improved significantly. In the 2017 rankings released by the World Bank, Nigeria moved from the 169th position to the 145th position, thus gaining 24 positions. This is a great feat that deserves commendation to all, put particularly we commend the recent efforts of the Presidential Ease of doing Business Council chaired by the Vice President.
After achieving a peak of 120th position out of 181 countries surveyed in 2008, Nigeria remained on a roller-coaster since then, hitting the rocks at the 170th position in 2014. Worried by the depressing descent, the Federal Government last year set up the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), which went to work to determine first, an action plan to address specific areas of business difficulties in Nigeria. This Committee which includes the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Minister of Finance and 8 other Ministers also has the CBN Governor and the Head of Service (HOS) as members. It started with identifying certain criteria for the assessment, had consultations with players in the economy and got the then acting president to issue executive orders, perhaps for the first time in Nigeria, borrowing from the practice in the USA. Executive order 001 on Transparency and Ease of doing Business led to the 60day National action plan that addressed issues such as business registration, construction permits and trans-border trade.
The committee monitored to ensure that the orders were obeyed and then went on to take certain other aspects of the ease of doing business assessment criteria, setting fresh targets and determined new time lines for accomplishment. The reward is what we are now witnessing- the 24 places jump.
Around 2010, in an interactive meeting with Dr Olusegun Aganga who was first a Minister of Finance and later Minister of Trade & Industry, we had suggested that the Country needed to be methodical in addressing the issues that affected the ease of doing business in Nigeria, so as to improve our overall global competitiveness. We had reasoned that continued platitudes and expression of intention by government to improve our global competitiveness would yield little result and that focus was needed. This, especially since the government was getting frustrated by the lack of improvement in our ranking year after year. The minister agreed with us and went on to set up the National Competitiveness Council of Nigeria (NCCN), and I was invited to participate in some of the council’s work at some point. I am aware that the Chika Mordi led council has been working very hard. It has undertaken several initiatives and several studies and surveys, in addition to making several recommendations. But its achievements and successes have not been easily measured.
This is what makes the Presidential council different. Whereas Mordi’s council essentially made recommendations with minimum power for execution and enforcement since it is mostly private sector driven, the Vice-President’s council has both execution and enforcement powers. Whereas Mordi’s council would be making effort to convince government officers on the need to take certain actions in line with its recommendations, the Vice- President’s had no such burden. Whatever they recommended, they went ahead to implement and if there was any obstacle, they issued executive orders to clear it, including dealing with recalcitrant public servants. Nevertheless it is certain that both councils have contributed to this improvement in both Ease of doing business and Global competitiveness.
While we may be tempted to celebrate, it is important that we realize that we still have a very long way to go. First, the World Bank evaluation that gave us this jump was only done in Lagos and Kano. It is certain that if many more states were included in the survey, the result would not have been this cheering. Second, we must be humble to admit that locating at the 145th position out of 190 countries does not in any way put us in a competitive position even for African standards. We are much behind Angola, Ghana, Sierra Leone and several other smaller African countries. So we really do not have the luxury to celebrate nor to begin to rest on our oars. Global investments follow the lines of least resistance. Therefore there are 144 countries with less resistance to investment than Nigeria.
We recommend that we beam the searchlight on the sub national economies. The recent surveys conducted by NCCN have ranked the States in terms of ease of doing business and competitiveness. The Federal Economic council which co-incidentally the same VP chairs must put its focus on this and see that the efforts and initiatives by the Ease of Doing business council are adopted by all States of the federation. May be, some incentives or kind of competition must be instituted to motivate and reward States that show the most improvement every year. This must transcend politics, as Nigeria’s sustained economic well being firmly hinges on these matters.
Let me also add that all efforts must be put in place to institutionalize the changes that helped move us up. Much relates to the public sector and as we all know, Nigeria’s Public sector is very resistant to sustained change. Many good initiatives are started with fanfare, but soon die out. Sometimes Nigeria’s primitive political culture stands in the way of sustainability. New Government, new policy, new program; new party in power relegates all good policies, programs and projects of the previous party in power. We must change this self-defeating political culture, and do what the Ministry of Industry, Trade and investment did by retaining the Industrial Revolution program of the previous government.
My hope is that we can repeat this feat next year and sustain the improvement in subsequent years. Now that we know it is doable, we should be encouraged to aggressively pursue the changes that need to be made. We must set new targets for each year and hold ourselves accountable for achieving them. Leadership is critical as we have just seen.
Mazi Sam Ohuabunwa OFR