• Friday, September 29, 2023
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Jumoke Oduwole: Fuelling healthy rivalry in business among Nigerian states

Oduwole, former ease of doing business adviser, appointed senior fellow at Harvard University

It is not in doubt that Nigeria’s economy has suffered a huge downturn in recent times. And the factors that have led to this situation are very well known. Also very well-known are the factors that led to, and continue to fuel, the situation.

One of the most perceptibly affected areas of the economy is a foreign direct investment (FDI). Nigeria’s total FDI generated was estimated at $698.7 million, the lowest recorded over a ten-year period, falling by over $300 million from $1 billion in 2020

“There is a correlation between the business environment in a country and the FDI received in the country,” says Jumoke Oduwole, special adviser to the President on Ease of Doing Business.

Dr Jumoke Oduwole, who is also the pioneer Executive Secretary of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), chaired by the Vice President, where policies aimed at supporting small and medium-sized enterprises are facilitated, has a broad and penetrating insight into the issue: She provides this perspective: “There are several potential contributors to negative perceptions around Nigeria’s business environment (e.g., the loss of international competitiveness due to a continuously weak currency, poor business environment, lack of infrastructure, security challenges, etc.), leading to reduced investor confidence and resulting the decline in the flow of investment capital into the country as well as the exit of key multinational firms.”

She is determined to halt the slowdown of the macroeconomy because micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) account for about 50 percent of Nigeria’s GDP and provide 85 percent of employment in the country.

This underlines PEBEC’s strong focus on creating an enabling business environment in Nigeria for this cluster.

The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) was established in July 2016 to oversee Nigeria’s business environment reform mandate of removing bureaucratic constraints to doing business in Nigeria and to make the country a progressively easier place to start and grow a business

Since its inception, the PEBEC has delivered over 180 reforms across the board. From 2016 to 2019, Nigeria increased its score in the World Bank’s flagship Doing Business report (discontinued in 2020) by over 15.01 basis points and implemented 140 reforms. In the same period, Nigeria moved up 39 places in the World Bank Doing Business rankings and was twice named as one of top 10 most improved economies in the world.

The Ease of Doing Business assessment has introduced an element of competition among the 36 states and Abuja, the federal capital territory. But it’s bound to be healthy competition.

One of the most significant innovations from the Council is the domestication of the Ease of Doing Business (EoDB) assessment. From assessing the agencies of the federal government in terms of their discharge of their respective mandates relating to supporting business growth, PEBEC has institutionalized a subnational Ease of Doing Business Report. It involves assessing the business climate for MSMEs across the states of the federation and covered 2,800 businesses from the list of 10,000+ MSMEs shared by the National Bureau of Statistics responded to the survey, whose performances were measured across 6 indicators and 16 sub-indicators against 4 indicators and 11 sub-indicators in the 2021 baseline

The indicators included: Secure and stable environment was carved out from under infrastructure and measured as a standalone indicator. Access to economic opportunity was also introduced as a new indicator. The sub indicators were defined based on 3 dimensions relevant to MSMEs; accessibility (e.g., Availability of power supply from PHCN and other sources, Provision of clear information to start a business), cost (Amount spent on power supply, Expenditure on business registration fees as a percentage of revenue), and experience (Quality of onboarding and servicing of power supply, Functionality and navigability of website and other communication channels).

In the 2023 subnational ranking, the top quartile consists mainly of states in the North West (including Jigawa, Kaduna, Katsina, Kebbi, and Sokoto) and North East (Adamawa, Bauchi, Gombe, and Yobe) geopolitical zones. Only one state from the South East (Anambra) and one state from the North Central (Plateau) zones were in the top quartile of satisfaction.

Read also: Nigeria lags as peers enjoy Shell’s bumper payouts

There is no doubt the Ease of Doing Business assessment has introduced an element of competition among the 36 states and Abuja, the federal capital territory. But it’s bound to be healthy competition, because the states that have been scored lowly are bound to borrow a leaf from those adjudged to have performed well.

The Stanford University, University of Cambridge and University of Lagos-trained Jumoke Oduwole was, until her appointment to this role in August 2019, a Senior Special Assistant to the President on Industry, Trade & Investment (OVP) in which she worked to form the Nigerian Office for Trade Negotiations (NOTN). She also served on the Technical Working Group of the Presidential Committee for the Impact and Readiness Assessment of the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) (Sub-Committee on Ease of Doing Business) and is currently represented on Nigeria’s AfCFTA Implementation National Action Committee (NAC).

She is on leave of absence from the Department of Jurisprudence and International Law, Faculty of Law, University of Lagos, Nigeria, where she is a Senior Lecturer. She joined the faculty in 2004 and was a two-term elected member of the University of Lagos Senate. She taught various subjects, including International Trade Law, International Economic Law, Law of Banking and Negotiable Instruments, Contract, and Commercial Transactions. Her current research interests include International Economic Law, Development, and Human Rights in Africa.

One of the first things PEBEC did in 2017 was to have an executive order to address transparency and efficiency of public service delivery as antidotes to bureaucracy and corruption. We focused on the following: Customs, Immigration, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), National Agency for Food and Drug Administration and Control (NAFDAC) and Standards Organization of Nigeria (SON), which interface daily with the public.

“We had lectures based on the feedback from the public,” she recalls. Then we saw that we can’t stay at the federal level alone because every business is domiciled in a state, so we (PEBEC) entered into collaboration with the National Economic Council (NEC). Nigeria has moved up 39 places in the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business ranking. We were recognised twice in the top ten leaders in the world reform in a three-year period. In those three years, we passed an unprecedented amounts of legislations through the National Assembly, including the collateral registry Bill 2017 and the credit Bureau bill, both of which facilitates access to credit for MSMEs”.

PEBEC is coordinating with several agencies of government on an unprecedented scale, as well as with over 40 law firms and the Ministry of Justice’s legal drafting team on a business facilitation bill, which has been passed by the National Assembly and is awaiting transmission to the President for his assent.

It’s working with the judiciary nationwide on the establishment of the first small claims court in Lagos in 2018, which, by the end of 2022, handles over 4000 cases. Similar courts have been established in Kano and nine other states, the latest being Rivers, Bayelsa, Osun, Jigawa, Ekiti, Ogun, and Edo states. Dr. Oduwole is quite passionate about her work. She’s even willing to go philosophical:

“Nation building is not just a government burden. We each have a role to play. We have to see the glass as half full and work in a coordinated manner, knowing that there’s no point pointing at somebody else to deliver the Nigeria of our dreams. Each person has a responsibility. Who are the people who built Japan? Who built the US? Who built Europe? It is the Japanese, Americans and the Europeans! In Nigeria, we have a penchant for complaining, finger-pointing, criticizing, and everybody thinks they have the answer from their arm chair; nobody really wants to get into the kitchen. But on a serious note, these are things that we all need to take responsibility for, because it’s our country. There are countries that don’t have a quarter of what we have.

“Even our infrastructures that we complain about, you don’t just go to any country and see the kind of development that has taken place in Abuja or Lagos. So we have a lot of work to do. Granted, we are not where we should be in terms of potential, but with what we have, we should be much further than where we are.”