THE Federal Government is moving ahead with its plan to improve the ease of doing business in Nigeria as it recently slashed the period required for the perfection of import and export documentation papers from two weeks to between seven and ten days for export documentations and a maximum of eight days for import documentations.
This is a timely intervention that can still be improved upon to ease and boost import/export business in Nigeria. The new measures are a direct response to demands from many quarters for government to ease the nation’s business environment. The Senior Special Assistant to the President on Trade and Investment, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, who announced the new measures during a recent investment sensitisation work- shop in Lagos, said they became necessary to correct Nigeria’s low ranking on the Ease of Doing Business Index.
Nigeria is seen across the world as a very difficult country to do business. According to the presidential aide, pragmatic steps are now being taken, starting with key stakeholders in the maritime subsector of the economy, to reform areas that are hindering businesses in Nigeria. These areas include the Customs and Immigration formalities, especially the training of officials manning the nation’s borders.
We commend government’s efforts in this respect. We can only hope that the measures will be faithfully and efficiently implemented. These measures must, however, be complemented with the provision of requisite infrastructure and effective administration of laws and regulations. Evidence abounds that it currently takes a very long period to process even the simplest business documentation in the country. For instance, a few years ago, “Doing Business”, a World Bank flagship report ranked Nigeria 169th out of 189 economies it surveyed in its ease of business ranking. African economies like Rwanda, Benin Republic, Zambia, Kenya, South Africa, Ghana, among others, fared better than Nigeria in all the key indices. The survey was based on seven parameters: access to credit, dealing with construction permits, trading across borders, electricity sup- ply, enforcing contracts and resolving insolvency. In all of these, Nigeria ranked at the bottom end of international comparisons.
Also, a 2016 Price water house coopers (PWC) interview of foreign companies operating in Nigeria high- lighted four critical concerns that they identified as challenges to their operations. These include corruption, inadequate infrastructure, low skills level and macroeconomic uncertainties.
In many World Bank reports in recent years, frustration with business documentations in the import and export value chain received copious mention. The situation is believed to be responsible for the sharp drop in Nigeria’s external trade, according to a report by a London-based thinktank, Chatham House.
The new measures are a fulfilment of President Muhammadu Buhari’s promise to reduce the difficulties confronting businesses in the country. In February 2017, the Federal Government approved a national action plan put together by the Presidential Enabling Environment Council (PEEC) to lead its reform projects and provide a conducive atmosphere for transaction of businesses in Nigeria.
The enforcement of the new timelines is very important for the restration of the confidence of businesses that are interested in coming into the country. It is imperative that Nigeria continues to remove the difficulties hindering businesses in the country, to make our economy more investment-friendly.
Power, roads, transportation, water and the attitude of Nigerians working in government business offices should be improved upon, not only to attract businesses into the country, but also to improve their chances of surviving and flourishing. At this time of growing unemployment and general economic depression, the importance of providing a good environment for businesses to thrive cannot be over- emphasised.