Afamefuna Nwokedi, Principal Counsel and Group Head, Stillwaters Law Firm: Viewpoint

Afamefuna Nwokedi, Principal Counsel and Group Head, Stillwaters Law Firm

Viewpoint: Afamefuna Nwokedi

Early in 2017 the federal government of Nigeria began a reform process for commercial entities by setting up the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC). Its immediate aim is to improve Nigeria’s ranking in the next edition of the World Bank’s “Doing Business” report by at least 20 positions, up from its current position of 169 out of 190 countries. Further ahead, the PEBEC aims to ensure Nigeria ranks within the top 100 countries by 2019. A 60-day National Action Plan was established, with the principal aim to make and implement reforms to ease the regulatory processes of doing business in the country.

At the end of the 60 days more than 31 reforms were made across the priority areas, the most notable being the introduction of an online business registration filing system at the Corporate Affairs Commission, which aims to reduce the number of days required to register a company in Nigeria from 10 to two.

The process of obtaining relevant permits and licences in the construction sector has also benefitted from major reforms. Among the new developments, fees and architectural designs can now be uploaded on an electronic platform for application status tracking.

Reforms in the power sector seek to improve time-lines for connecting businesses to the grid. The Nigerian Electricity Regulatory Commission (NERC) has already issued a draft order to reduce the time for new connections to the national grid from 198 to 61 days. In addition, the NERC has issued an official order to reduce the number of procedures required for connections to the national grid from nine to five.

To accentuate the importance of micro-, small and medium-sized enterprises, reforms have been introduced to ensure they have access to credit at cheaper rates. These include the creation of an online platform for the National Collateral Registry, which allows for searches of secured interests on moveable assets. In addition, the platform can also be used for registrations, amendments and cancellations of financing statements by lenders. The National Assembly is also currently working to pass priority bills to ease access to credit for many smaller enterprises.

Other key reforms were introduced in the real estate sector. The target aim of the reforms is to reduce the number of days required to register property from 77 to 30. Notable among these is the merged requirement for the stamping of a deed of assignment agreement as part of the final registration process for land owned by the states, with other important reforms still pending.

With regards to oil and gas, the passage of the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill by the Senate envisages a major overhaul of the sector. Two new companies – Nigeria Petroleum Assets Management Company and National Petroleum Company – are to be established, and five new commercial and governance organisations will be set up to replace the existing Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation and the Department of Petroleum Resources. Once passed into law, the new bill will establish a more efficient governance and institutional framework for the oil and gas industry.

Attention has also been given to reforming trade across borders, as all imports into Nigeria must now be placed in pallets for quicker physical examination. Only one point of contact now exists between officials and importers, which is under the coordination of the Nigeria Customs Service. Measures have also been taken to accelerate pre-export documentation. The goal is to reduce export and import timeframes by up to 50%.

The reforms in immigration are aimed at improving visa processing times and the experience of travellers. A visa-on-arrival procedure has been introduced, including the e-submission of applications to the Nigeria Immigration Service email address. Nigerian embassies around the world are also now required to issue business and tourist visas within 48 hours.

It is hoped that if well implemented, these reforms will achieve the desired result of making Nigeria a friendly environment for existing and potential businesses.

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Afamefuna Nwokedi

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