Gbenga has made a very important comment with respect to the work of PEBEC and importance of win-win engagements. In reviewing key policy areas that impact not just Yaba but all startups in Nigeria, it is important to be very aware of the key steps the government has taken in these areas, the achievements made (no matter how minute), the progress needed to be achieved and key metrics that we need to see to show that there are indeed improvements in these steps.
Important Things to Note:
What do we mean by Government: The Government is not just Abuja, it is Alausa, Agodi, etc. Often times we focus on the federal level when there is significant influence and impact with respect to not just the federal government but in particular sub national governments i.e. state and the local government on the growth, progress and development of "Yaba". So as we are looking northwards, we must also seek to improve local government engagement.
On Taxation: The government is legally required to collect over 40 taxes from Businesses. Only about 9 of these are Federal taxes. Most of the others are from State and Local Government. It is easy for Startups to hide under the shadow of co-working spaces and Hubs within Yaba but when they start to set up their own physical shops they will become more targets to tax authorities particularly with the increased drive on tax collection and with the knowledge that a number of Startups within the area receive funding support from local and international sources. Key improvement areas required specifically for tax are Reducing taxes paid by StartUps; Removing duplicate taxes across the three (3) tiers of government; Publishing all required taxes online particularly at the state and local levels; Development of an online/mobile tax assessment/calculator tool to enable knowledge of tax due (i.e. what am i meant to pay, to whom and when/how frequently); Ensuring Point of Sale collection for all taxes with immediate receipt issuance particularly for state and local taxes; and Instituting tax incentives for sectors like Technology.
The Role of NASS: The role of the National Assembly in impacting Policy cannot be underemphasised. There are quite a lot of critical issues that cannot be resolved without the involvement of NASS. A very good example is funding. There are two major bills right now around Access to Finance that require passage. For all the tax issues listed above, most of the ones around reduction and rates cannot be facilitated without NASS ascent. Here again engagement is crucial.
Information: How conversant are we with the exact policy issues? To engage with government, you need to be very aware of what they have done and not done and who is already doing something and engaging them in that space. While the Yaba entrepreneurship ecosystem is tech focused, the issues faced regarding policy cut across all key sectors some of which these startups seem to improve and scale. For a status of the work of Pebec through the Enabling Business Environment Secretariat (EBES), here is the 60 day report. Actually, my other issue around policy is information dissemination. How many people know some of these improvements/results achieved to date. So many people are still unaware that you can now search for a business name online.
Technology: I honestly think that some of the practical issues are very clear and the frustration for startups and entrepreneurs is that the challenges e.g. searching for a business on CAC online were so simple to address, it defied logic on why it took ages to address. There was a hackaton that took place recently by PEBEC to get solutions on some issues around improving the business environment through tech. It will be useful to find out what the outcome of this effort was and what support is/can be given. Also, is there a way for an active support with EBES work. Can there be a voluntary support from this community to strategically support EBES with the development of techology tools to improve policy making, advocacy, implementation and monitoring?
Engagement through Research and Partnerships: This is the key for me to make progress in the development. I think (please correct me if i am wrong) there is a perception that Yaba can exist and scale without Government at all the three tiers. It cannot. Some ideas have not been able to go beyond prototype because of public sector approvals required. There are edtech solutions which require FME approval to impact most Nigerian students but this is not forthcoming. Like it or not, given the way our government system is structured, the effectiveness of technology particularly in key social sectors like education and health require significant policy maker/regulator engagement. For effective policy advocacy and results, there is a need to engage with all the different stakeholders as required. Something we realised at FATE Foundation is that effective engagement for policy advocacy has to involve data and partnerships i.e. your advocacy has to be on the basis of factual data/information and insights into the exact causes you are advocating on and also ensuring partnerships with result driven groups/coalitions. In 2015, we embarked on working on Tax Advocacy since that was the number one issue our entrepreneurs have. After a lot of work to dissect the exact issues around taxes, we set out to look for platforms already pursuing engagement in that space because we do not want to do it alone and came across a Tax Coalition that was funded by a DFiD programme called ENABLE, had the National Association of SMEs involved and also had Tax Consulting support from Deloitte. Although the timeline seems to be a long one, one of the successes made to date is finally getting the listening ear of FIRS with respect to federal government taxes and eventually some waiver concessions for certain timelines. This journey is still a long one that will eventually take the Coalition members to the National Assembly but one of the key things that has worked for engagement that engagement is for the work shown to indicate how improvements in tax policies for small and growing businesses particularly startups will help to improve the revenue being generated from taxes in the long run essentially a win-win.
You need champions within this regulatory space and some of this can be through Dr. Jumoke Oduwole in EBES/PEBEC, the Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council which Iyin Aboyeji is part of, also through the MSME Council and definitely through the Nigerian Economic Summit Group.
If the policy lever is right, most of the other key issue areas will experience significant improvement whether it be research & innovation, talent or funding. However, this part is the one that also requires serious commitment, doggedness, focus and willingness to work and engage with people who are very different from our regular Yaba pool. It can and should be done, otherwise, without Policy, the ecosystem will never scale to achieve it's potential.