Interview: Laoye Jaiyeola

How can the government and the private sector work together to encourage inclusive growth?

LAOYE JAIYEOLA: Collaboration between the private and public sector is critical to foster sustainable economic growth, and NESG’s purpose is to facilitate dialogue between government and business. Our objective is to create an environment in which businesses can thrive. In some ways, engaging with the government has become more complicated over time. Beyond the executive office, we must work with legislators in the National Assembly to ensure effective laws. As a federation, states are independent and critical actors in the nation’s development. The private sector has had to learn – and continues to learn – how to balance the various levels of government engagement.

Regarding NESG’s interaction with the federal government, we work primarily with the National Planning Commission (NPC). The head of the NPC is Vice-President Osinbajo, who also chairs the National Economic Council. In conjunction with the NPC, we have created policy commissions through which we engage with Parliament. These policy commissions are designed to facilitate a conversation between the private sector and the government in an effort to improve the business climate. Each commission focuses on a different sector or theme, and is comprised of individuals from the business community, civil society and government.

To what extent can lower oil prices act as a catalyst for the diversification of Nigeria’s economy?

JAIYEOLA: Unfortunately, when oil prices were high, Nigeria did not take the difficult but necessary steps to diversify its economy. With lower oil prices, the country must face the reality that business is not as usual and that diversification is no longer a luxury but a necessity. The Buhari administration was elected to act on the promise of fighting corruption and reducing inefficiencies in the economy, both of which can help reduce Nigeria’s reliance on oil. One example of the government’s progress thus far is the Treasury Single Account, which is designed to improve the transparency and accountability of public finances by centrally collecting revenues due to the federal government or any of its agencies.

Many companies in Nigeria are often hindered by the web of licences and permits required to do business. This also creates an environment conducive to corruption. We believe the removal of some of these requirements would unlock the potential of certain segments of the economy. In many ways, the drop in oil prices could be a blessing in disguise for Nigeria and help improve the foundation of its economy.

What are some of the primary obstacles to conducting business in Nigeria?

JAIYEOLA: Corruption raises the cost of doing business in Nigeria, and it is ultimately the consumer who bears the burden. If Nigeria can demonstrate a meaningful reduction in corruption, foreign investors will increasingly view Nigeria as an attractive destination. We believe that the number of opportunities for graft can be reduced by liberalising the economy and lessening the number of required permits and licences. This is the case at both the federal and state level.

How has the recent transition of power created a sense of momentum in Nigeria?

JAIYEOLA: The success of the 2015 presidential elections has had a positive impact. Prior to the elections, many Nigerians were worried. People relocated for fear of instability, and businesses were drawing up contingency plans in preparation for political volatility. However, Nigeria ultimately enjoyed a peaceful transition of power – it was the first time an opposition party democratically beat an incumbent party in 16 years. The success of the election instilled a sense of pride and momentum throughout the country.