Remarks by the Vice President, Federal Republic of Nigeria, His Excellency, Prof. Yemi Osinbajo San at the Ease of Doing Business Stakeholders’ Engagement Forum at the Nigerian Export Promotion Council (NEPC) Hall, Abuja on November 7, 2017:
I must congratulate the PEBEC team and the reform leaders in particular for this important milestone in the journey to making Nigeria one of the most attractive destinations for business in the world.
It is so exciting listening to Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, to hear how we had moved up so many steps. I thought that if we are going to move at all, we would move up a few spaces, but frankly moving 24 steps in a short-term in my view was just absolutely incredible. I want to thank all of you for the very hard work that you put into this.
You have heard the details of the planning and implementation and I must say it’s quite impressive. But the subtext is for me perhaps more important, and it is about good people with the right skills, collaboration, implementation strategies especially removing discretion, attention to detail and consistently doing things properly. I think the subtext is really what we should watch because, we have moved 24 steps now, but what does it take to remain in a constantly vertical sway? Constantly moving up and consolidating and remaining where we are.
That’s what I refer to as the subtext; the good people with skills and collaboration, implementation strategy especially ensuring we are able to remove discretion. I will talk about a few of those items I have mentioned beginning with good people.
We’ve had the good fortune of working with some of the very best of Nigerians in the Public Sector and many of them are from the Private Sector. Everybody is from the private sector, so you come into government and you do your bit.
Dr. Okey Enelamah, the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, Yetunde Sadiku of NIPC, Segun Awolowo of NEPC, and the reform leaders who you’ve just listened to. The smart, extremely talented people, self-motivated professionals, these are extremely good people, they have the right skills.
But you know the real heroes are the agencies trying to move the sometimes monstrous bureaucracies that they have to work with. Immigration is one, the Comptroller General, Babandede is here, the CAC which was formally headed by Bello Mahmoud, and now Lady Azinge.
These are huge agencies that have been used to not working efficiently but now have to work efficiently, and it is extremely difficult and challenging to have these individuals who have to do their best to these agencies forward.
Having said that, question is, what happens when these persons are no longer where they are? What happens when you don’t have this excellent mix of individuals? This is really the challenge; how to ensure we are able to create a system that works all the time, whether or not those who occupy it are self-motived, extremely talented, should we not be able to find a system that works all the time? It is just a system that is set right, has the right attitude and everybody understands what to do, and if you don’t do it, there are consequences. Those are the challenges we have to deal with going forward.
Collaboration is crucial, just as an example of high-level collaboration is the Legislature who are members of PEBEC. They had 60 days to pass two crucial pieces of legislation; the Secured Transactions in Moveable Assets (The Collateral Registry Act) 2017, and the Credit Reporting Act 2017. Those were two important legislature we needed to pass, in order to give the right impression and to ensure people actually had access to credit, especially small businesses. And they achieved this within the time frame.
If you know how difficult it is sometimes, the relationship between the Executive and the Legislature, then you would understand what an absolute miracle that was. The important thing is that working together with the Executive and Legislature means we can deliver on our promises to the people of this country. Going forward, we are going to have to pull together and do the right thing.
Yesterday, I was speaking at the Legislature Summit and I said concerning the time it takes to pass the budget, we all have to be interested in the timing. We can’t just sit down and say “well, what’s going on, let’s just see how it goes.” We are all participants in this enterprise called Nigeria, we have no choice.
If it takes 5 – 6 months to pass the budget, and on the Executive side, another 3 – 4 months for the procurement processes, an entire year is lost. Those of you in private sector and not in government, have a duty to hold everyone to account. There is no way you’re going to spend 9months of the year on processes, and then expect to see a significant turnaround in the economy.
We really need to collaborate and part of that is the pressure you are able to bring to bear on functionaries in the government to ensure that they do their bit.
Collaboration with the States is another very important example; for instance, we found that with working with Kano and Lagos on ease of obtaining construction permits, registration of property etc., it was important for the Federal Government and those two States to work to achieve the results that we got and we worked together and achieved those results.
That kind of collaboration is not the sort of thing that you often see; very frequently, States are often trying to assert their own autonomy, Federal Government is on its own doing its own business. I think that we are beginning to see how everyone recognizes now, that we simply have to work together.
That’s why when the Federal Government found out that the States were not been able to pay salaries, and had been unable to do so for months before we came into office, we realized that this is one country and one economy, we had to ensure that we bailed out all the States and gave budget support to ensure that they continued paying salaries and doing their businesses.
We need a new tribe of Nigerians in the public sector, in the private sector and everywhere
The collaboration at that point is helpful in establishing the kind of atmosphere that we’ve seen that has enabled the sort of collaboration that we are seeing. We have to do more of that to achieve the ends that we expect.
Resolving commercial disputes – this is very important, and I think Kola made the point very graphically, where he pointed out that funds had to be domiciled in remote locations to avoid being stuck in Nigeria.
That is a major problem and it is not just a problem for funds. For example, while I served as Attorney General in Lagos between 1999 and 2007, we had a problem with housing. We just realized that people were building fewer houses, especially in the middle-income range. Why? People were investing their money in stocks and shares and weren’t building houses as they should.
In the past, people would build houses and just rely on the rent, some for their retirement and others as investment opportunities. So we discovered that wasn’t happening anymore. Why? It was because after paying 2-year rent to the landlord, you are under no further obligations. If you don’t pay anymore you can go to the magistrate court and be stuck for a number of years. At the of the day in some cases, the landlord would have to find you another accommodation and even pay to get you out of the place because you could hold him there forever.
So, we realized, that we had to find a different route; we were stuck with our magistrate courts that were slow. We did all we could to make them faster, then we started what we call the Citizens Mediation Centre. They were able to resolve rent disputes within a short time frame. So they were processing cases much faster; about 8,000 cases a year whereas the magistrate courts were not even able to process 1000 cases in a year.
We must find innovative ways around this; we may need constitutional changes to be able to get our dispute resolution mechanism to work effectively. We have been working on that with the Judiciary and the Legislature, and I think that we really need to advance that as quickly as possible.
It is entirely possible today within our administration of justice system, to hold up a case for however long you want. If I owe a debt, for instance, if I owe a bank, I may decide not to pay back the debt. I can go with any type of action and then appeal all the way, take an interlocutory appeal at the Supreme Court. So we have a real problem with our adjudicatory process and we have to resolve it by collaboration between the Executive, the Legislature and of course the Judiciary and I think the private sector needs to come in too.
So, I think that it is something that we should work on and we should just keep our focus on.
Now, the implementation strategies and especially removing discretion is crucial. The experience of the gentleman with the drone is the sort of problem we have to deal with – Customs Officers, Immigration Officers, all other officials of government who constantly, either for rent-seeking purposes or just by lack of understanding of the process, make life extremely difficult. We have to remove discretion because the more discretion people, the more opportunities they have for rent-seeking and all that; and we have to really look at all of our agencies especially in the airports.
One of the things that I certainly would do is to sit with agency heads and take a look at what we can do, and looking at the processes ourselves and ensuring that you can actually say that moving from point A to B you are not going to get harassed and if you do, this is what you are supposed to do.
It is a problem across bureaucracies, it is not just the Customs or Immigration, it is an attitudinal problem and we just have to keep working and try to change the sorts of attitudes that make this possible and holding some people to account.
It is a process that we are committed to and I am sure that you will see progress as we go along. Part of what you are seeing today at the airports and other places as you go around is on account of the fact that we have stayed focused and we are holding people to account.
Two things I noted when the panelists were speaking: one was what Kola said, “we can’t entrepreneur ourselves out of bad governance and policy” the other is what Sadatu said, “we are all involved in the business of government.”
That is interesting because they were really both speaking about the same thing but from different points of view. The point really is that no one especially the private sector, whatever they want to do, they cannot do it without the active collaboration of people working in government or without the government doing its own bit and without the right kinds of policies.
So really, what this speaks to is that we must work together; it is a reformed ecosystem that we need to have. We need a new tribe of Nigerians in the public sector, in the private sector and everywhere. Just listening to the reform leaders, David, Nneka, and Soji, there is really no difference between how they reason and how Tunde Ajala, Mayowa, Sadatu or even Tolu the moderator, they are all speaking the same thing and want to achieve a Nigeria that works for everyone.
The problem is we can’t form this ecosystem and remain focused for long enough, that is the problem. We don’t recognize that it doesn’t take the entire country to make a change, only a few people working together consistently can make a change; we don’t need everybody to make a change.
For me, this is a great lesson I learned from this particular PEBEC exercise on the Ease of Doing Business that it doesn’t just take everybody to make a great change. But we can only involve those people in the ecosystem who are interested in the change. I think we really need to bring in more people into the reform process, those who will make suggestions and criticisms that are important to changing the whole attitudes and policy and all that we need to do to make a difference to not just policy, but all that we need to do to make life easier.
Our objective is to ensure, that very soon indeed you will not have to be considered a superhero (to borrow Angel’s characterization) by doing business in Nigeria.
I want to just again thank you all for a great participation, especially the panelists for such excellent insights.
Thank you all very much.