By Omoh Gabriel
There is usually the belief that investors avoid Nigeria due to lack of infrastructure. This has led government and many well meaning Nigerians to always focus their thoughts on building infrastructure. While it is true that infrastructure facilitate investment, it also aids economic development. The greatest challenge facing the country in terms of foreign direct investment is the obsolete nature of Nigerian laws that do not conform to 21st Century economy.
Investors have long complained of the lack of sanctity of contract and respect for property right in Nigeria. Nigeria instead of attempting an overhaul of the legal and judicial system to make Nigeria investment- friendly, they rather focus on what they have been made to believe is the problem.
When the Nigerian telecommunication space was opened to private sector investors, many were deceived by the report the World Bank gave to them. But MTN, Econet as Airtel was called then, took the risk.
Despite the gloomy picture of lack of infrastructure, telecom companies are making profit from their investment. It is the same story with the oil companies and many others that have invested in Nigeria. The Senate President, Dr. Bukola Saraki seems to have understood the economic bottleneck the nation is facing and last week, promised the business community that the Eighth Senate of the Federal Republic of Nigeria will tackle the problem.
Delivering a speech titled: ‘Macroeconomic outlook for 2016 and legislative perspective’ at Lagos Business School Breakfast Club end of the year dinner, Dr. Saraki told the august gathering of key business operators in Nigeria that the 8th Senate is at an advanced stage of carrying out one of the most far-reaching legislative reviews ever embarked upon by the legislature in Nigeria with the Doing Business Development project which is aimed at eliminating obsolete business regulatory laws that have outlived their usefulness and in their place, provide adequate legal, institutional and regulatory mechanisms to drive a new modern economy.
He said: “Prior to this, we have strategically utilised formal and informal meetings with key stakeholders including the NBA, the SEC, RMFAC, the ICPC, FIRS and many other relevant agencies of government and critical industry leaders, with a view to using gathered information as a critical tool to fashioning out what will make Nigeria a favourable investment destination. For the 8th Senate, we can no longer accept the placement of Nigeria at 169 of 189 countries on the global ranking of business competitiveness.
Therefore, the task of modernising the Nigerian economy and providing the regulatory environment for ease of doing business is for us a task that must be done in order to set the stage for meaningful economic growth. As operators, we need your partnership on this important assignment to ensure that your concerns and views are adequately captured.”
The question to ask Dr. Saraki is: Will the review be comprehensive enough to include property right, land use act and sanctity of contract? Will the National Assembly pass laws that will fasttrack the judicial process of seeking redress on commercial and trade disputes? Globally, investors are interested in places where return on their investments is high. Nigeria certainly qualifies as investors have found out that they reap higher benefit if they invest in Nigeria. The few that have done so have found this to be true. Yet, Nigeria is not a haven to foreign investors.
There must be reasons why they shy away from Nigeria. Many investors out there who speak privately to Nigerians at investment fora are quick to point out that in Nigeria, there is no sanctity of contract and property rights are not clearly defined. Most foreign investors see this as the most inhibiting factor that scares away would-be investors. They are not worried about the lack of infrastructure as is always claimed by those who explain away the Nigerian situation.
Shell, Mobil, Chevron, MTN, UACN and others know too well the infrastructural deficiency in the country, yet they invested and are reaping the benefits. The truth is that both local and foreign investors are wary of investing in Nigeria because the state and its agents have no respect for property rights and sanctity of contracts.
They are worried that if they invest in Nigeria, their investment can be taken over by the state. The termination of Lekki Concession agreement by Lagos State Government, the taking over of private banks by the Sanusi-led CBN, the revocation of the concession granted to Bi-courtney are examples of such impunity that scare investors away from Nigeria.
Property rights, according to Professor Pat Utomi, constitutes a major part of the constitutional arrangement that makes an economy advance. Now, until this entity called Nigeria has a philosophical understanding of what property rights means, Nigeria is not going to make any major economic progress. To say the least, investors are scared and skeptical about Nigeria because there is impunity and property rights are not guaranteed.
Will the Saraki-led Senate give Nigeria legislations that will resolve all of these? Nigeria will be a better place to do business if the laws to be reviewed are carried out quickly and include the review of the land use act and a well defined property rights is enshrined in the country.