Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah - the spark youth empowerment platform in Nigeria

The Line of Duty: Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah

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The changes being championed by the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) are reverberating throughout the socio-economic climate of the country, as attested to by several private sector stakeholders.  In a conversation with Sharon-Ann Adaigbe, the Honourable Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah, speaks about the positive impact that creating an enabling business environment has had so far, and what Nigerians can look forward to.

 

By Sharon-Ann Adaigbe

From Private Sector to Public Servant

Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah - the spark youth empowerment platform in Nigeria

The Honourable Minister, Dr. Okechukwu Enelamah sits as Vice-Chair on the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council. He has been responsible for the Industry, Trade and Investment portfolio in the Federal Cabinet, something he has done for about 4 years.

Being part of the team driving the PEBEC’s  mandate has come as a follow-up to many years of leadership in the private and public sector. Dr. Enelamah has always carried a deep-seated interest for matters of governance and service.

“I have always been interested in nation-building and governance – what it takes to build a better country. Prior to this position, I was very involved in a lot of the public-private think tanks such as the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.

Also, in my own industry, we had tried to engage not just the government locally, but also foreign governments on issues pertaining to promoting investments. It was against that backdrop that I was invited to join the cabinet of the current government.”

 

The Importance of an Enabling Environment

When asked about the motivation that brought the PEBEC into being, the Minister speaks passionately about the collective burden shared by citizens in wanting to see a better country.

“I returned fully to Nigeria in 1998 to start Capital Alliance Nigeria and I joined the National Economic Summit Group (NESG). Upon my return, Vision 2010 was just wrapping up and the need for an enabling environment was a recurring theme.

If you had asked the private sector about the one thing they needed the government to do for them, creating an enabling environment usually ranked high amongst other things. So when I was asked to join the government, particularly when I was given the Industry, Trade and Investment portfolio to look after, it was clear to me what Nigerians wanted from us. His Excellencies, the President and Vice President, who chairs the Economic Management Team, also believed this was a priority and that it was important we focused on this.

In a bid to formalise the approach to addressing this as a priority of the administration, the President established the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC), with His Excellency the VP as Chair of the Council as directed by the President, and me as Vice Chair. The goal of the Council is to reduce the bureaucratic bottlenecks to doing business in Nigeria and move Nigeria upwards on the World Bank’s global competitiveness index.  The Enabling Business Environment Secretariat was also created to implement the mandate of PEBEC, which Dr. Jumoke Oduwole was appointed to oversee .”

Tangible Reforms

It’s very important that the impact of the government’s activities cascades down to the people, and positively affects the standard of living of the average Nigerian. Dr Enelamah spoke on just how tangible PEBEC’s reforms are.

“I just came from a stakeholders’ forum that took place in Lagos. One person spoke about the small claims court, which is a court set up for small and micro enterprises to settle disputes without going through the bureaucracy of the conventional court system, which can be a long process and equally expensive.

The whole objective therefore, is to help people settle disputes in a way that is not cumbersome.

At this forum, I heard testimonials of the successes of the small claims court, which made things real for me. People are allowed to represent themselves and they try to wrap every case up within 60 days.

We also had the judge in charge of this give a report to the people on the cases they had successfully closed. These were very impressive numbers, but even moreso, the accountability and sense of responsibility I witnessed is outstanding.”

Speaking about the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) and the Companies and Allied Matters (CAM) Bill, which is now before the President for assent, Dr Enelamah stated that there are a number of provisions which will make it progressively easier to register businesses, incorporate companies, and file returns for companies in Nigeria.

Recent reforms delivered, driven by automation, already make it possible for a business owner to incorporate a business within 24 hours, reducing overall costs significantly.

Pausing on just those two, it is important to highlight that these changes came about by the motivation of PEBEC and collaboration with several ministries, departments and agencies.

“I have learned that Nigerians are actually not opposed to rendering service to their fellow citizens; it is just that what gets measured, gets done.

Just the fact that there is a defined  initiative, and that the country is paying attention is motivating people to work. I have seen exemplary performance from these partners, and I do believe this is where the new Nigeria will come from – engaging the citizenry and working together to build a better country.”

 

Connecting with Stakeholders

It is clear in conversing with the Honourable Minister that the work done by the PEBEC cannot be effectively carried out without partnerships and collaboration on different levels.

“Engagement with stakeholders is core, and central to what we are doing. We have to use multiple mechanisms to achieve this. One of the more important mechanisms today is technology, and that informed the delivery of an initiative called reportgov.ng, which is an app and web-based portal that enables citizens make complaints about any issue they encounter when dealing with government agencies and get a response within 48 hours. It’s something people need to know about.

We are also trying to attract private players as partners, because PEBEC is not about the government – it is owned by all of us. That is why some of the team in EBES are seconded from the private sector and other organisations. The whole idea is that when they come in, understanding what the issues are, they are able to contribute to problem-solving. They also retain their relationships in these organisations in such a way that we can get first-hand information on the impact of the reforms.”

 

Challenges

Every great initiative faces challenges and the Minister did not shy away from speaking about these.

“The first one  I will highlight is communication and engagement with the stakeholders.  We have found that it is one thing to have good intentions and implement them, but the beneficiaries must also be aware they can receive the service and be seen to have received the service.

As a secondary consideration, that also ties into the World Bank Ease of Doing Business Ranking because what is assessed are improvements that have actually been validated by the private sector.

This means we must engage if we want the changes we have worked on to be enjoyed by the citizens and reported, which is why initiatives like the stakeholders’ forum and this publication are so important. We must get the word out.

Another challenge is that we collectively need is to develop a culture of service. If we deal with the attitude of inertia by understanding that what gets measured gets done, and more people are accountable while engaging with those receiving the service, I think we will find a new habit of service excellence.

Our vision is that we want to see Nigeria become one of the most attractive countries in the world for doing business and for attracting investments.”

 

Looking Forward

We say in the ministry that we need structural change and policies, and contrast those with monetary and fiscal policy.

If you look at the real economy in terms of how you diversify away from the non-oil sector, all those things require systemic and systematic change. Some interventions are simply bound to take more time.

If you look at the infrastructure in general, we need more roads, more power and we must get on with those things in a way that even if the problems are not solved today, they will be solved in the medium to long term.

We acknowledge that there are things that will take time, but we also know there are things we can deal with now – particularly issues whereby amending or improving laws and rules will result in better services to the people.

An example of this is the CAM Bill which I spoke of earlier, and the Omnibus Bill, will cover a wide-range of issues that affect businesses and business owners in a negatively way. I think we should look at this as an approach that can continue and become our way of life for the next several years.

 

A Day in the Life…

There is desk work and fieldwork – a typical work day in Abuja and a typical work day on the road. As the Minister, I deal with the affairs of the ministry itself, which have to do with policy.

I also oversee the agencies that work with the ministry and I have about 18 of them: CAC, SON, BOI among others. All these organisations have their Chief Executives; so really, it is more about providing the support they need, with synergy and coordination by the ministry, which I lead.

There is a lot that has to do with policy or government intervention, depending on the material that comes to my desk.

We also have to hear from the people and respond to their needs. Then, of course, there is the cabinet, which is where we actually make policies at the meeting once a week.

We also have to engage with the various stakeholders outside of Abuja as well, because like someone said, as the Minister of this portfolio, I am the Chief Commercial Officer, Chief Investment Officer and the Chief Marketing Officer of the country.

One of the things I said to myself when I took up the role was that we have to operate an open-door policy, and so we remain willing to listen and  responsive. We focus on advocacy, through speaking engagements also, so the story gets told and people know what we are doing.”

Unwinding…

The Honourable Minister is clearly a man who believes in balance, and in spending time with family and friends.

“There are other interests in life. It’s important to spend time with friends and family. I also pastor a church, so I’m active there. Every Sunday, I probably have to deliver a message and I have to prepare for that. I am also a part of various networks and engagements that go on.

All these, I think, pull together to make sure one is a better person. I think the trick is being holistic and true to oneself. When you enjoy rendering service, even though it can be stressful, you don’t find it boring or unpleasant.

It doesn’t matter what challenges are thrown your way, it’s a high honour to be asked to serve one’s country. In almost the same way, it is a high honour to minister to people on Sunday and speak to them about God and godliness. It is a humbling and important responsibility; so once you look at work that way, you can enjoy it.”

 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published in The Spark Magazine. Find the magazine here to read other articles

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