By: Kayode Odunaro
The business world is the front driver of any economy. Ordinarily, it is the terrain of the private sector with government playing mostly regulatory roles in developed economy. In an economy such as ours in Nigerian, the public sector often play a significant role until recent privatization and commercialization of major government own businesses.
However, even when government is disengaging from frontline participation in business it has primary interest in the success of business enterprise as booming business ordinarily translates to employment, increased revenue for government and good life for the people. So government must do all within its reach to encourage businesses to thrive and grow.
One area of this encouragement is the area of legislation. Businesses have to operate within the confines of laws. From the elementary side of buying and selling, provision of services down to the manufacturing and extractive business, businesses operates within the confines of laws. And in our democracy, the legislature is responsible for making and amending laws for the smooth operation of business and protection of the interests of the people.
It was in this light of fulfilling this function to the business community and Nigerian people that Rt. Hon. Dimeji Bankole and the leadership of the House of Representatives agreed to interact with business leaders at Transcorp Hilton, Abuja in the last week of June.
This legislative business interface came under the platform of Alhaji Bamaga Tukur led African Business Roundtable (ABR) and was attended by former Speakers of the House, Alhaji Ghali Umar Na’Abba, Alhaji Aminu Bello Masari and the entire leadership of the House as well as leadership of committees of the House.
On the business side, the Managing Director of Shell Development Company, Mr. Basil Omiyi, the Group Managing Director of Diamond Bank, Mr. Emeka Onwuka and Professor Pat Utomi were among the over 500 business leaders in attendance.
Rt. Hon. Bankole set the tone of the interactive session by outlining the new impetus of the House to ensure effective representation, legislation and oversight. He recalled that the renewed commitment to its core mandates has led to such unprecedented phenomenon as the return of N450 billion unspent budgetary allocation from 2007 Budget and the discovery of “16 secret account” not captured in 2008 Budget proposal, which together with the House asking relevant questions pursuant of it oversight function in critical areas of Power, Oil, Capital Market etc signposted a new House ready and willing to work for the people and business.
Bankole posited that for the growth of the economy the House need inputs from the business community in form of position papers, facts and figures to help in legislating for business to ensure profitability and adequate return on investment. He regretted that too often, business gurus are cocooned in their boardroom without letting the legislature know which areas laws can be made or amended to keep business booming adding that the forum is a way of redressing the situation.
With the floor now open for a questions and answer session on issues of business law and lapses in regulatory practices, it was indeed an engaging session where the business community were taken through the nitty-gritty of law-making by Hon. Ita Enang, the House Chairman of Rules and Business Committee. But beyond just introducing a bill for possible passage, Hon. Enang told the business leaders that for speedy and assured passage of bills the business community have to lobby for their bills as is done in any parliament adding however that this does not in any way connotes monetary inducement but a process of presenting unassailable facts and positions in favour of passage of such bills.
On the issues raised of the House Committee on Capital Market and that of Banking and Currency investigating the activities of those sectors by both leaders of shareholders’ associations and stockbrokers, Hon. Ahmed Aliyu Wadada, the Chairman of the Capital Market Committee stated that the investigations would continue as a way of bringing sanity to the financial sector to check such practices as late issuance of share certificates, non listing of shares subscribed to and return of funds to shareholders without interest on their money by banks after their Initial Public Offers.
Relatedly, the Speaker raised the issue of the success or otherwise of the Banking Consolidation in the sense that the projection was for the consolidated banks to be energizer of the almost comatose real sector as well as play a role in the management of the country’s foreign reserves. “We were told that after the banking consolidation, the bank will be big and have enough money for onward lending to the private sector.”
Almost two years after, not much of the expectation has happened with the banks still cocooned in the business of buying and selling shares, financing trading or services without any meaningful impact on the real sector. Bankole called for a holistic approach to the issues and promised that the House can be relied on to weigh in with requisite legislations that the financial sector may need to resuscitate the critical sectors of the economy.
The business community also unanimously asked for review of the Companies and Allied Matters Act which they opine as outdated. It was actually suggested that there should be periodic review of the law to take into consideration new realities of business operations.
Both Mr. Omiyi of Shell and Professor Utomi welcome the initiative and the approach of the Bankole-led House to their role in a democracy. While calling for such regular interaction, Omiyi suggested further and regular interactions on the basis of various sectors in the economy while Professor Utomi would want to see a situation in legislation to compel executing, regulatory or licensing agencies to do their Job within stipulated period.
At the end of the session, Bankole who was overwhelming commended for being upstanding to over 3 hours to conduct the session counseled the business leaders to move beyond the era of aloofness in the legislative process and called for partnership and collaboration in ensuring pro-active, pro-business and pro-people legislations. Indeed from this initiatives and warm reception of the business leaders, the Bankole-led House is set to perform its roles in line with the constitution in relation to the economic growth of the nation.
Chief Kayode Odunaro
Special Adviser (Communications) to Hon. Speaker
House of Representatives