On Thursday, the 25th of May 2017, the Tony Elumelu Foundation participated in the Presidential Policy Dialogue organised by the Lagos Chamber for Commerce and Industry (LCCI). The event was an opportunity for members of the private sector to interact with the Acting President, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, who was represented by the Minister for Trade and Industry, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah. In an emerging economy like ours, such engagement between the public and private sector cannot be overstated: it provides a platform for citizens to access their political leaders, compelling the latter to address concerns around security, employment, and the economy (amongst others).
Research suggests that there is a direct relationship between the frequency of such sessions and the extent to which government can formulate policies that are most relevant to the people. Particularly, the needs of the private sector often depend on such opportunities for businesses to highlight persistent challenges and issues in need of urgent government intervention.
As expected (Nigeria is now in its second year in a recession), the conversation mainly centred around the lack of a conducive and enabling business environment. Participants were vocal about inadequate infrastructure especially power, stifling regulations, prohibitive taxes and the need to prioritise economic diversification to end the boom and bust cycles that characterise oil dependent economies like ours.
At the Tony Elumelu Foundation, we have first-hand data that we have collated through periodic surveys to our entrepreneurs that reveal the constraints that exist for SMEs. Our studies also reinforce our belief that without government support to create an enabling business environment, the impact of even our best efforts to train, fund and mentor entrepreneurs and grow their enterprises will remain muted.
In response to their concerns, the Minister for Trade and Industry, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, acknowledged the central role the private sector plays in job creation and economic growth – the private sector creates most jobs, not government – and admitted that Nigeria faced challenging times. The minister reiterated the government’s commitment to building a diversified and inclusive economy, while sharing highlights of the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP).
Dr. Enelamah acquiesced that for these plans to transform the economy, they must be backed by implementation, and assured the audience that the current administration was committed to execution.
He continued, explaining that while hard infrastructure was critical, soft infrastructure like the business environment and the policies regulating it, cannot be ignored. Recognising the role of non-physical infrastructure, the federal government established the Presidential Enabling Business Environment (PEBEC) to improve the ease of doing business in the country. Amongst its achievements, PEBEC has reduced the registration period for new businesses and eased the procedures for entry into and exit out of the country.
To build on these reforms, the Vice President has issued executive orders to increase transparency, efficiency and productivity in the business terrain. To institutionalise and codify these improvements, the FG plans to develop bills that will be passed into laws, to ensure this progress is sustained.
In terms of what to expect, the Minister hinted at new policies that are being drafted to increase local production and value addition in areas where Nigeria enjoys comparative advantage – tomato, palm oil etc. He added that to increase investments, the government will begin targeted discussions with 50 selected local and international investors to develop local capacity.
For instance, General Electric (GE) which has recently won the concession for the construction of two narrow gauge rail lines in the country, has committed to hiring and training local engineers during the life of the project, as well as building a new university. He encouraged participants at the event to anticipate a better second half of his administration’s first term as the impact of the reforms begin to manifest.
The Tony Elumelu Foundation engaged with the Minister, and commended him for his efforts in improving the business environment because more than any organisation, we are best positioned to understand the importance of an enabling environment for the private sector. We shared with the Minister some of the challenges our Nigerian based entrepreneurs continue to face even as they try to export their goods. We emphasized that it is important these issues are addressed if small businesses are to contribute to Nigeria’s efforts at export diversification.
Overall, the event was relevant to the work of the Foundation, as the enabling environment for business is one of the key pillars of our policy and advocacy unit. Our $100 million initiative to identify, fund, train and mentor 10,000 entrepreneurs in the next decade can only be successful if government formulates and implements enabling policies. Anything less, the potential impact of our entrepreneurs on the economy will be undermined.
As our Founder, Tony O. Elumelu, always says ‘Entrepreneurs are the lifeblood of Africa’. Thus, they ought to be provided with all the support that they need. The private sector, especially small businesses are the engine of economic growth.
We encourage the Minister to implement the laudable plans he shared with us, and in his own words ‘walk the talk’. The Foundation remains committed to working with governments across the continent to empower and support African entrepreneurs – the lifeblood of the new African economy.