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Presidential Executive Order on Ease of Doing Business: How Effective?

The Executive Order on the promotion of transparency and efficiency in the Nigerian business environment (the Order) is one of the three Executive Orders issued on 18 May, 2017 by the then Acting President of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, Professor Yemi Osinbajo, SAN. The Order, like its contemporaries, was deployed by the Federal Government as a speedy means of regulating business and policy in the country.

The first part of the Order focuses on transparency and requires all Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), to publish a complete list of all conditions for obtaining products and services within the MDA’s scope of responsibility, including permits, licenses, waivers, tax related processes, filings and approvals. The timeline for the implementation of this directive was 21 days from the date of the Order, i.e June 8, 2017.

The Order provides for default approvals where a relevant agency or official fails to communicate approval or rejection of an application within the time stipulated in the published list. Any such applications for business  registrations, certification, waivers, licenses or permits not concluded within the stipulated timeline of the MDA will be deemed approved and granted. The Applicant would then be entitled, within 14 days of the expiration of the MDA’s timeline, to apply to the Minister in charge of such grant for a certificate or document evidencing the grant. This directive was to take immediate effect. The Order also seeks to improve the entry experience of Visitors by compelling Consular Offices of Nigerian Embassies and High Commissions to issue or reject with reason, ordinary tourist and business entry visas to Nigeria, within 48 hours of receipt of valid application. The Order makes it mandatory that a comprehensive and up to date list of requirements and procedures for obtaining visa on arrival, including estimated timeframe,  be immediately published on all immigration-related websites in Nigeria and abroad, including Embassies and High Commissions, and at all Ports of entry into Nigeria.

The Order also made provisions regulating activities in the Ports. All relevant MDAs at the airports were to within 30 days of the issuance of the Order, merge their respective departure and arrival interfaces into a single customer interface while all agencies physically present at seaports were to harmonise their operations into one single interface station domiciled in one location in the Port and implemented by a single joint task force, within 60 days of the Order. These respective timelines meant compliance was to be achieved not later than June 17, 2017 and July 17, 2017 respectively. Very importantly, the Apapa Port was to resume 24 hour operations by 17th  June, 2017.

It is more than six months since the issuance of the Order and there are  indications of compliance by various MDAs. Some Nigerian embassies have since the Order published up-to-date requirements and timelines for visas on their websites. Security checks have also been harmonized at the Murtala Muhammed International Airport in Lagos as multiple security counters have been removed. The Nigerian Ports Authority has taken steps to enforce the Order by strictly scrutinizing entrants to the Ports to prevent touts and unauthorized entrants, enforcing display of identity cards and banning off duty personnel from the Ports. However, some agencies such as the Nigerian Customs Service have cited security concerns as their basis for noncompliance with the requirement of harmonizing procedures with other agencies. The resumption of 24 hour operations at the Apapa Port seems an uphill task due to the parlous state of the infrastructure essential to its achievement.

Despite the myriad of challenges, one thing is certain: the full implementation of the Order will bring about a more transparent and remarkably enabling business environment. The only question that remains to be answered is “when”?

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