Ibrahim Abdullahi is the Special Adviser to Governor Abdullahi Sule of Nasarawa State on Investment and Economic Planning. In this interview, he x-rays how the industrialization drive of the governor is attracting huge investments and promoting the economy of the state. Cheke Emmanuel reports
How has the industrialization drive of the Abdullahi Sule administration attracted investors to Nasarawa State?
It has been a credible journey from the onset. Governor Abdullahi Sule promised the people of Nasarawa State that he will industrialize the state and how do you industrialize the state; you need to increase investment inflow to reduce over reliance on government as well as create competitive economy. How do you do this? It is by putting in place, the right policy framework. He started his work on ease of doing business in order to remove all the bureaucratic bottlenecks to give indigenes free access to property registration.
Thankfully, the previous administration, fashioned out an investors’ friendly platform called Nasarawa Geographic Services (NAGIES) and ours was to build on that to make sure that our property registration and procedure for acquisition of land and property in Nasarawa State is a smooth one.
To improve that processes at NAGIES, the procedures have been streamlined, so that the governor signs Certificates of Occupancy as quickly as possible. The second thing is obtaining resident permit at our NUDB before now used to be very chaotic because of the long procedures then. We tried to simplify it as well as the process of acquiring land property or business registration.
What are the things required to make the economy of the state to thrive?
Any economy will thrive when it hits a critical mass of individual thriving businesses. If this answer is underwhelming, consider that Nigeria has struggled to attain it. While many successful businesses currently operate here, Nigeria’s business environment is still considered tough by global standards.
Of course, policymakers at all levels led by the Federal Government have made deliberate efforts to address this, most notably through the Presidential Enabling Business Environment Council (PEBEC) chaired by the Vice President, Yemi Osinbajo. While PEBEC’s success is well-documented, Nigeria has risen 39 places to 131st on the World Bank Ease of Doing Business rankings in the last five years, less attention has been paid to sub-national achievements in the area of doing business.
For a long time, this would probably have suited Nasarawa’s narrative given the state’s mixed fortunes in previous attempts at ease of doing business reforms. For instance, the World Bank records of sub-national ease of doing business reform efforts in Nigeria show that the average time taken to register a business in Nasarawa reduced from 29 days in 2010 to 19 days in 2018, while the cost dropped from 81 per cent to 30 per cent.
At the same time, Nasarawa was one of four Nigerian states that recorded a decline in its aggregate business environment rating on the World Bank sub-national index. That now looks very much like a blip as the state has surged ahead of its peers in many reform areas. Much of the progress made is due to the inauguration of the Nasarawa Enabling Business Environment Council (NEBEC), which has helped the State to stand out for all the right reasons.
We do not have to look far for inspiration for Nasarawa’s turnaround; PEBEC’s success has been instructive. For one, the state employs a similar approach to business environment reforms. NEBEC is empowered by the State Executive Council and is embedded into the state’s medium-term development plan, the Nasarawa Economic Development Strategy (2019-2023), the same way PEBEC was linked to the National Economic Council (NEC) and enshrined in the National Economic Recovery and Growth Plan (2017-2020).
Yet, NEBEC also made a vital tweak based on the PEBEC experience, adapting the approach used by Dr. Jumoke Oduwole, Special Adviser to the President on Ease of Doing Business, NEBEC appoints state champions for individual reforms to maximize delivery efficiency. Similar to PEBEC, Nasarawa’s approach to business environment reforms is closely related to the World Bank global ease of doing business framework, in that the state tracks the same reform areas highlighted by the World Bank and uses similar measurement criteria.
The indicators the bank uses are highly standardized. For instance, the ease of securing a construction permit is measured by calculating the official number of procedures required, the days it will take, and the official fees. Although anecdotal experiences may vary from the assessment, this approach is useful for Nasarawa as it gives a clear and objective framework for implementing business environment reforms, while allowing the state to compare and learn from best practice.
There is little doubt that the reforms recommended by the World Bank are essential for the business environment; decades of economic research support this. First, there is the positive long-term correlation between Gross Domestic Product (GDP) per capita and the World Bank’s country rankings. Second, and more specific to Nigeria, a landmark World Bank Enterprise survey in 2014 revealed that three in ten SMEs consider access to credit – one of the indicators tracked in the rankings—as the primary impediment to doing business in Nigeria. Rather than measuring credit access directly, the World Bank emphasizes the existence of formal credit bureau and collateral registry laws.
This approach is driven by global data which shows that firms are nine per cent less likely to identify access to finance as a major constraint in economies where a credit registry exists. The next is government establishment because our continually emphasized that government establishment to be very strict and efficient.
To be very smooth, the governor has introduced with care call the Nasarawa State Governance and Result Efficiency Mechanism. The World Bank approach is a useful guide, particularly in terms of identifying important frameworks (based on a large body of international evidence) and low-hanging administrative reforms that can improve the ease of doing business in Nasarawa State.
Where do you think Nasarawa State will be in few years to come given these efforts being made by the present administration in the state?
It is our hope that Nasarawa State will highly be competitive economically. We are working hard to see that Nasarawa State becomes one of the top competitive economic states in the country. We will work and continue to pursue the long term vision for the state. If we do that, we are going to lay the foundation and for subsequent administrations to come and build on it. Then that will become the fulcrum of the sustained development of our people.
In any success story, there are always challenges. What are the challenges faced in implementing these policies?
The challenges we are facing in implementing these policies is that, Nasarawa State being a civil service state, we are not used to having a private sector economy but it is not a bad challenge, it has being a good challenge, really working with our people and making them understand the vision of the governor and other good things he has for the state. So, it has been a good challenge as I said but most of the challenges we face are just the everyday challenge but the governor has been very supportive leading from the front. So, we have very minimal challenges in terms of people wanting to invest for the economic development of the state.
How did these policies come about?
One of the things the governor did after he was sworn-in was that he invited the Ministries Departments and Agencies (MDAs) and had an interaction with them where he got to know about the MDAs and what they were doing apart from what was presented to him on paper to hear from them one-on-one and to market his vision. So far, we are really encouraged by the high level of support we have received from the MDAs and we will continue to improve to make sure that we do more. The governor set very high targets to the MDAs and thankfully they are meeting up and we hope that we will continue to sustain the momentum.
There are key projects going on in the state such as the cargo airport in Kwandare and the Farin Ruwa Hydro project. What impact do you think these projects will make on the economy of the state?
You know that every project has its impact. For instance, the governor has been adjudged as someone who is exceeding all expectations. By continuing with these projects, has proved the spirit of continuity in governance. This governor within the short time in office has completed most of the projects that were initiated by the previous administration. There is no doubt that the Cargo Airport, when it becomes operational will increase economic activities in the state.
We will have the opportunity of cargo airplanes flying into the state to convey products in and out of the state. It will also create job opportunities for our people. It means more jobs for our people.
The airport project will also improve our infrastructure because when there is a major development in an area, more development comes invariably. You can see that government has embarked on the constructio of Sisinbaki road to create access to the Farin Ruwa waterfalls just to improve viability of that project. So, these are projects of high economic impact and when they are completed, you will see changes in the lives of these communities.
As a Special Adviser to the governor on Investment and Economic Planning, what is your advice to the implementers of his economic policies?
I work with them every day, so we advise ourselves, we have bigger a picture in mind, we have the governor’s vision at heart and every day, we work together to ensure that we achieve success. My advice to every citizen of Nasarawa State, including the people outside the government is that they should support the governor, so that together, we can achieve the desired impact for Nasarawa State. The success of this administration is not just the success of Governor Abdullahi Sule alone; it is the success of all the people in the state and the future generations. So, I call on everyone to join hands with the governor to make sure that we improve the lives of the people in Nasarawa State. That is the only thing we can do for our people.