Driving global exports for much-needed foreign exchange is dependent on the productivity and competitiveness of Nigerian businesses. As such, the establishment of the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) couldn’t have come at a better time. In an interview with The Spark, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, SSA to the President on Industry, Trade & Investment and PEBEC Secretary, expounded on the impact the Council is making in creating an enabling environment for businesses in Nigeria.
By Sharon-Ann Adaigbe
The Driving Force
She walks up the stairs with a smile on her face, right on time to begin the interview. We rise to exchange pleasantries and when she begins speaking, it’s clear that beneath her calm exterior lies a geyser of passion and wisdom.
Dr. Jumoke Oduwole is a woman who is at the forefront of promoting national development through business environment reforms. Her impact reverberates through many industries, and is particularly felt by SMEs.
She serves as the Senior Special Assistant to the President on Industry, Trade and Investment, in the office of the Vice President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.
She is on the VP’s economic team, and in that capacity serves as the Secretary to the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) and as coordinator for the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat which implements the mandate of PEBEC.
Before this, she was a Senior Lecturer at the Faculty of Law, University of Lagos. She joined the academia after leaving a career in investment banking, fueled by a desire for more socially impactful work.
Leaning forward in her chair, she opens, “I have always been interested in societal impact and that is why I changed careers from banking to academia where I worked for about 11 years. Then, this opportunity to serve the nation came up and I gladly came on board.”
PEBEC and the Focus Areas
For the first time in the Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (ERGP), the Ease of Doing Business intervention is catered for within the country’s economic masterplan.
“This means that we are able to speak to competitiveness and to encouraging SMEs as an Administration – whether it is for export promotion, investment promotion or removing bureaucratic bottlenecks”, Dr. Jumoke Oduwole explains.
The Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) spearheads reforms that align with the ERGP in the promotion of an enabling business environment for Nigeria. The Council is chaired by the Vice President, with the Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment as the Vice Chair.
Other members of the council are the Minister of Finance, Minister of Transport, Minister of Foreign Affairs, Minister of Interior, Minister of Information, Minister of Power, Works and Housing, Minister of Budget and National Planning, Minister of Tourism and Culture as well as Minister of Environment.
The Head of Service and the CBN Governor are also Council members. PEBEC primarily focuses on processes and people, leveraging the use of technology to remove critical bottlenecks and making it easier, faster, and more transparent for people to do business in Nigeria.
To achieve this, there are specific areas that the Council has focused on, and Dr. Oduwole explains how this came about.
“The Council has a dual mandate of removing bureaucratic bottlenecks and improving the perception of Nigeria at home and abroad.
To do this effectively, we are led by feedback from the private sector since they know the real pain points. The World Bank ranking serves as a good matrix for measuring our progress.
They track 10 indicators, but because we take a systemic approach and prioritise, we don’t focus on those indicators alone.”
Feedback, surveys, and discussions with focus groups are some of the tools that help highlight the particular reforms that PEBEC ought to prioritise in any given year.
The approach is clearly working. “The sub-Saharan region has been a top reforming region globally and Nigeria is definitely a part of that story,” she says with a smile.
Nigeria’s Accomplishments in Country Competitiveness
Explaining PEBEC’s accomplishments further on fostering an enabling business environment, she goes on, “Nigeria moved up a total of 24 places over the last 3 years in the World Bank’s Doing Business Index (DBI) because of this administration’s systemic approach to making engagement with Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs) faster for SMEs.
We worked on reforms within specific indicators which we knew would high deliver impact for stakeholders.”
The successes of PEBEC cut across multiple sectors and stakeholders. For example, would-be small business owners often found the process of getting started a bit cumbersome.
Now, with PEBEC’s reforms, one can reserve a business name in 4 hours and register a business in 24 hours, all online. This is as a result of automation that has been deployed by the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
Some other reform that SMEs can appreciate, to mention a few, include reforms around the ease of paying and filing taxes; ease of connecting to the national grid in collaboration with the National Electric Regulatory Commission (NERC) and the DISCOs (Distribution Companies); and access to credit through loans that are backed by movable assets with the National Collateral Registry, which is under the Central Bank of Nigeria.
“We now have three credit bureaus in Nigeria, and this gives people the opportunity to track their credit history and negotiate better terms with financial institutions. As a result, Nigeria’s credit environment is now rated 6th in the world.”
As the saying goes, “many hands make light work”. The task of carrying out major reforms on a sub-national level is no mean feat and requires input from many stakeholders. Dr. Oduwole explains how collaboration and partnerships have made the work take off.
“The Ease of Doing Business initiative is a national project. In 2017, the Honourable Minister Dr Okechukwu Enelamah and I made a presentation to the National Economic Council (NEC), which is also chaired by the Vice President, to introduce PEBEC’s system to the state governors. They unanimously agreed to adopt the model at the sub-national level.”
As a result, PEBEC began working with all the state governments to make sure that the reforms were implemented at the state level. “We spent a lot of time going around regions, visiting some states and hosting representatives from others. The approach allowed for a lot of peer-learning as well.”
It’s worth mentioning that Nigeria is one of 11 countries ranked at the sub-national level by the World Bank, with Lagos and Kano being the two states tracked.
“Appraising oneself is different from being appraised by the private sector, particularly when other countries are listening in. Last year, there was a sub-national report on ease of doing business in Nigeria and based on the collaborative work we had commenced, all the states participated for the first time. The result showed about 32 states improving their ranking, which was a direct validation of PEBEC’s efforts. It is also interesting to note that all the states that improved on the Ease of Doing Business ranking had their governors re-elected. I think that is clear validation from the private sector which translated across board”.
Still on collaboration, PEBEC’s work with the National Assembly led to another massive win – an overhaul of the Companies and Allied Matters Act.
“The Act had not been overhauled in 29 years (since 1990). A re-enactment is currently awaiting assent from the Executive, and the private sector is quite keen on this legislation.
The Bill was owned by the Corporate Affairs Commission, but a lot of law firms worked on it. The National Assembly had the Senate Business Roundtable working on it, and the Nigerian Bar Association – Section on Business Law (NBA-SBL) played an active role.
We also had other key players like the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE), FMDQ, and of course the Ministry of Industry, Trade and Investment.”
Dr. Oduwole is also quick to acknowledge the efforts of the public servants who are equally important stakeholders in the process of reform.
“They work very hard. It is not easy to effect change institutionally, nor is it easy for the reforms-champions to convince their colleagues about change.
Recently, we had the 2nd PEBEC Awards just to acknowledge their support, hard work and humility to change, to learn and to teach us because they are the real custodians of the work that is done.
We have seen great collaboration across board, not forgetting the private sector and the media as well. I think the one thing that PEBEC drives is the spirit of collaboration to Nigeria and with Nigerians, as well as friends and partners of Nigeria.
Everyone is pulling together in the same direction to deliver the results that we all want to see. This helps PEBEC achieve our mandate, and we are very grateful for that.”
A Team that Works
Internal cohesion is critical, given the enormity of PEBEC’s mandate. With all that has been accomplished, it is clear that the PEBEC team is a high performing one. She explains.
“Some of the team members are experienced hands from the private sector while some are very young Nigerians that just finished the National Youth Service Corps. 85% of the team are under 36 years old – a mirror of Nigeria’s population.
They joined the team with so much energy, intelligence, drive, a strong commitment to the country, and quick learning ability because they are all working in a space that is unique. They are young Nigerians with integrity, working with public servants, civil servants and the private sector at a very high level.
They are also humble, hardworking, and determined, with great work-ethic. They really want to see an impact in the country from the work they’re doing.”
Her penchant for mentoring and impact is evident as she speaks about being a boss and a stickler for excellence.
“I am extremely proud of the team, and it has been a pleasure working with them. I think I am a pretty tough boss but I always tell them that when they leave the Secretariat, they are going to be amazed at the muscles, work ethic, determination and resourcefulness they have developed because the job trains one to be adaptable.”
The Reportgov.ng App and Website
As PEBEC works on the reforms, it is clearly necessary to have a means of tracking that the reforms are actually being implemented by way of a feedback channel. Reportgov.ng is that channel that supports consequence management and resolution.
“The Reportgov.ng website (formerly www.pebec.report) has been operational since 2017 and was recently rebranded and launched as an App. It was the outcome of a hackathon where about 60 Nigerian techpreneurs competed in teams of four, and the winning application was developed. Reportgov.ng gives the private sector a voice, and is backed by the presidential directive that every MDA has a 72-hour timeline to respond to issues raised on the portal.
“The data is really what we are after. If we find out that a particular office has delays, or a particular office is doing really well, we are able to find what is making them efficient or inefficient. We ensure we use these reports, and are especially able to be effective when the private sector is courageous enough to lay complaints. It is not a whistle-blowing portal, and that speaks to our intention to create a partnership with the private sector in making these reforms take root.”
Dr. Oduwole and her team are not just effective and driven but also ambitious. When asked about projections for the year, she confidently spoke of PEBEC’s plans.
“We plan to be sub-100 by the end of this year, October 2019. We gave ourselves that target in 2016, saying that we wanted to be sub-hundred after about 4-5 years. We felt that it was important to signal to ourselves and the public our commitment to this intervention.”
It is encouraging to see that, with reform provisions such as electronic filing and virtual board meetings, Nigeria is now catching up to some innovations that the rest of the world had since moved on to.
With the amount of work and travel that goes into implementing reforms across the country, one wonders if Dr. Oduwole has any time to unwind.
“I’m not sure there is much unwinding in Abuja because we work really hard at all hours. However, we enjoy what we do so we don’t consider it to be stressful. It is very interesting work to do.
I go home to Lagos every weekend to spend time with my family, manage my energy and make sure there is balance. But I really love what I do; I really like it when we are able to see the impact of what we do and when people notice – even without knowing the amount of work that has gone in to achieve the reforms.”
The conviction in Dr. Oduwole’s voice is evident as she speaks about why the work PEBEC is doing matters. “The reason we do what we do is because we believe in the Nigerian business’ success story. Roughly 90% of the registered companies in Nigeria are MSMEs and they employ 80% of the workforce. They also contribute about 48% of the nation’s GDP. It is important for the government to support them in all they do.”
She closes by hammering on the importance of supporting small businesses, something she takes as a personal mission. She refers to the lovely multi-coloured jacket she’s wearing as proudly made in Nigeria.
“As Nigerians, we all have to support and patronise our MSMEs. They truly are the unsung heroes of our economy. There is so much potential within the business space, and all Nigerians want is an enabling environment in which they can thrive.
That is the commitment this Administration has made to Nigerian businesses. It’s a journey and there’s definitely still a lot to do, but we are committed to continuously striving to make Nigeria an easier place to do business.”
Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles