There is still much more to do to ease the business climate

    Going by the ‘2018 Investment Climate’ report by the United States’ Bureau of Economic and Business Affairs, corruption and inconsistent regulations are not only still pervasive in Nigeria, they serve as impediments to business investment. The report further reveals that the country’s market potential remains unrealised due to poor judicial system, inconsistent regulations, insecurity and lack of transparent tender processes culminating in investors finding the environment difficult to do business.

    It is disturbing that such an unsavoury report is coming when the present administration claims that its policies, especially those targeted at improving the business environment, are yielding huge dividends. It is instructive that government’s Executive Orders One, Two and Three are primarily designed to make the business environment more friendly but questions remain about their impact. Beyond the recent World Bank Ease of Doing Business Report, which affirmed that Nigeria moved from 169th to145th position, 24 positions better than the 2017 ranking, are the daily realities enough pointer that the business environment has improved?

    Even before the report, proofs abound that not a few public officers who are supposed to ensure a seamless implementation of government policies with a view to improving the business environment in the country at all levels are mired in corruption and sundry abuses. The contracting systems in government and oil and gas sectors leave much to be desired. Bribes are freely given and taken to get permits and licences, move files, get bails, and drive without molestation from police, among others. In a damning report last year, the National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) said that about N400 billion was spent on bribes annually in Nigeria.

    In its ‘Corruption in Nigeria, Bribery: Public Experience and Response (2017 Survey)’, the bureau claimed that this was a rough estimate of bribes paid to public officials in Nigeria. The survey was conducted as part of a technical assistance project on corruption which was funded by the European Union (Support to Anti-Corruption in Nigeria) and implemented by the NBS, in partnership with UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC). The NBS research confirmed that corruption is getting worse as against the public belief that the current administration has succeeded in largely reining in that major threat to governance in the country.

    According to that report, the police and the judiciary won the gold and silver medals in the corruption scale in the country. The situation has not changed since then. The country has not fared better in the annual ratings by Transparency International (TI). Although graft is not the only impediment to a good investment climate, it is a major inhibiting factor, and fuels the lack of transparency alluded to in the US State Department report. Meanwhile, the report also pointed to inadequate power and transportation infrastructure, high energy costs, an inconsistent regulatory and legal environment, insecurity, a slow and ineffective bureaucracy and judicial system and inadequate intellectual property rights protections and enforcement, among others.

    These are obvious encumbrances to a good business climate, and it bears no repeating that they have made doing business in this clime a most harrowing experience. These factors have not only led to the forced exit of many companies and businesses from Nigeria, but have torpedoed the emergence and stunted the growth of many. As the largest economy in the West African sub-region, it is in our economic interest to take the report as another wake-up call. What is required is the will to pursue these smart and business-friendly reforms.

    All factors considered therefore, there is need for the current administration to do much more if we must reposition our economy and put our people to work.