Despite its myriad economic challenges, there’s no shortage of success stories from government efforts to reverse the threats and trends of recession. Dr. Jumoke Oduwole is one of the quiet hands defusing explosives on Nigeria’s path to economic revitalization. The prospects of getting the nation back to economic prosperity are daunting, but the Special Adviser to the President on Ease of Doing Business isn’t giving up, and tasks everyone to keep working at it.
Dr. Oduwole is 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. PEBEC generates policies aimed at supporting small and medium-sized enterprises are facilitated to make Nigeria a progressively easier place to do business, in collaboration with all arms and levels of government, as well as the private sector.
Dr Oduwole is passionate about nation building of Nigeria. She has mentored Nigerian youths on inspirational leadership for nearly two decades. In a recent interview with BusinessDay recalls what the Buhari administration met on ground in the economic development terrain:
“When the administration came into office in 2015, what was met on ground was the private sector agitating for a friendlier business climate. The private sector always wants more and deserves to have more. I wouldn’t say that there was nothing going on before 2015, but there was a lack of coordination. So you might have one ministry working on a reform, another ministry or agency working on another reform. There was also a big trust deficit between the private sector and government, so we did some fact-finding, engaged with private sector, looked at international best practice, and the World Bank had this ease of doing business programme.”
It was immediately clear that the interventions to steer the nation to increased economic development needed to be driven at the highest political level. This led to the establishment of PEBEC in July of 2016. “It is put at the presidential level because you need a high level so that there can be proper synergy,” she explains. “The Minister of Industry Trade and Investment is the Vice Chair of the Council because there has to be a coordinating agency. Now it has the Secretary to the Government of the Federation and Head of the Civil Service of the Federation, as well as a number of ministers on it. It is a convening power to pull together all the decision-makers and all the influencers to work hand in hand to deliver an enabling environment for the private sector, because no ministry can deliver it alone, they need each other. The agencies and parastatals under the ministries need to be coordinated their work overlaps.”
Dr. Oduwole is pleased with the rapid progress that the Council has made. In 2015 when it stated work, the World Bank’s ranking of countries on Ease of doing Business placed Nigeria 170. Secondly, Nigeria was reeling in a private sector trust deficit, based on feedback on how private sector spoke about business, and about government. There was no coordination like I mentioned. There was not enough inter-ministry, inter-departmental coordination; so we couldn’t move concertedly. Everybody was trying to do their own thing and without talking enough with the private sector who are the beneficiaries of the reforms. That was the scenario we met on ground. We started analysing the very empirical and systematic work. You have to break it down, use a lot of data, Nigerian data which you have to gather yourself and engage with stakeholders. You also use international data on what other countries are doing in terms of starting a business. We decided to adopt the World Bank’s model, and we added some other things.
The PEBEC models have been replicated across most states, with most states having set up active ease of doing business councils
The World Bank’s model runs from company corporation starting a business all the way to insolvency, although it has been stopped now, There are about 10 areas; from the legal ones like insolvency, minority protection, to land registration and paying of taxes. Ease of doing businesses is soft infrastructure; so you’re looking at processes, and how government relate with private sector when it comes to these things.
Dr. Oduwole places things in perspective thus: “One of the first things we did in 2017 was to have an executive order, the first one of this administration, trying 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. We conducted surveys, a lot of focus group sessions, interviews, research, and then looked at global best practices.
“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).”
She says that ach level of government has roles to play I enabling the environment for business. “Take, for instance, land use — you know that is for states. If you take corporate tax, that’s for federal. But when we take something like starting a business, there are some state functions. States sometimes give business permits.”
So coordination is critical. “In each given year, we have the national action plans which are accelerators that we will work on for 60 days; but we have an annual cycle each year. So by October/ November, we would have discussed with MDAs on the reforms we want to work on for the year; the costs, the time and the speed. And then we’re working on people, processes and infrastructure to a large extent.”
She explains further: “So you have to map it out. For instance, if you want to work on starting a business, you’ll work with the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC); you may also work with FIRS because you may want businesses to get their TIN. You may want to partner with Central Bank so that there is a link between the collateral registry, and business registration portal. We use a lot of technology for automation and digitization, because that’s another shot cut to transparency.”
On the progress that has been made, she says: “We have 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.
“We were also the coordinating agency on the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) re-enactment. There was a 30 years hiatus during which agencies tried to collaborate and they needed a coordinator. So we worked with CAC, which is the anchor agency, and with a number of private sector organizations, SEC, the Stock Exchange and other stakeholders, including over 40 law firms and the Ministry of Justice’s legal drafting team. We also worked on business facilitation bill, which has been passed by the National Assembly and is awaiting transmission to the President for his assent. We’ve been working on the bill since 2018. I’m on the committee on the finance bill, with my team also sitting on its subcommittees.
We have worked very closely with the judiciary in 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 excited about the innovative idea of domesticating ease of doing business ranking. “We released our first Nigeria’s Indigenous ease of doing business report in 2021, which saw Gombe in the first position, followed closely by Jigawa. It captured the enabling environment as perceived by the private sector. We would be releasing the second reiteration immediately after the election.”
The PEBEC models have been replicated across most states, with most states having set up active ease-of-doing-business councils chaired by the governor (Nasarawa) or the deputy governor (Kaduna) or Secretary to the Government, the commissioner of finance or a high-ranking government official. In each state, a reform champion works with a PEBEC template and models. A World Bank $750 million three-year facility has been secured for each state that meets certain ease of doing business requirements to obtain soft loans, administered on a performance-for-results basis.
The Stanford University, University of Cambridge and University of Lagos-trained academic 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).
Her academic expertise is in the area of International Economic Law. Prior to her career in academia, she worked in Investment and Corporate Banking at FCMB Capital Markets and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc.
She serves as a Trustee on the APC Professionals Forum as well as the Mandela Institute for Development Studies (MINDS). She was recently invited to serve as a Governance Advisor to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) Governance Lab in recognition of her role as a champion of innovation in governance.
In 2020, she was selected as one of 15 female African leaders who formed the inaugural cohort of the Amujae Initiative of President Ellen Johnson-Shirleaf. She is a 2013 Archbishop Desmond Tutu Fellow of the African Leadership Institute. From 2013 to 2015, Professor Oduwole was Prince Claus Chair holder in Development and Equity at the International Institute of Social Studies, The Hague, in honour of the late Prince Claus of the Netherlands. She was co-President of the Stanford Nigerian Alumni Association (SNAA).
She holds a bachelor’s degree in Law from the University of Lagos and an LL.M from Cambridge University, UK where she was a DFID-Cambridge Commonwealth Trust Scholar. She holds a master’s degree in International Legal Studies and a doctorate in International Trade and Development from Stanford Law School, USA.
There is also a political side to Dr. Oduwole, who is Special Adviser to the President on Ease of Doing Business, is the Economic Adviser to the All Progressives Congress (APC) Presidential Campaign Council.
Married to Tunde, the mother of two 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.
She expresses her optimistic about the prospects of accelerated economic development in Nigeria thus: “We don’t say this enough but, Nigeria as a country has so much going for us. The population of 200 million should not be seen as something negative but actually a huge blessing. Our geographical location is good. We have a coastal line and are placed geographically as a trading nation. We have an abundance of natural resources in the ground. We have a huge amount of arable land. We have a huge size of over 900,000 square kilometres. We have a dynamic young people in our tech, creative and agricultural/agribusiness sectors. Indeed, we have a very entrepreneurial people.
“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, criticising, 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.”