…we must, first, unhinge a conservative mindset. Many argue that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” do not readily lend themselves to discussions around our domestic politics, essentially because in the Nigerian case there are few values or principles worth conserving. And so, not much that a liberal mindset might rail against.


Last week, President Buhari signed into law revisions to the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA). And the spiel around this, especially amongst those who would still have us believe that this government is the much-advertised solution to Nigeria’s myriad of problems, was much. In fact, the press release from the Presidency announcing the signing went ahead to list the major gains to the economy of the revised Act. Largely, all designed to ease doing business in the country, the new Act removes a rosary string of existing barriers to setting up business in Nigeria.

You would be forgiven the sense, from reading much of the material that then went on to discuss this “major reform effort”, that for local businesses, the path is uphill from now on. Yet, this is one reform that has been long in the tooth. Thirty years, to be precise. Even if we were to presume that the new CAMA would lend a fillip to domestic businesses, can we forget how much damage the time it has taken us to revise it has wrought on domestic output? It helps to remember that for every business that the old law constrained, the economy was that much poorer.

There is, of course, the question of how contemporaneous the new law is. But this is readily met by an economy committed to constantly changing its processes and procedures in order to both reflect changes in its reality, and better even, to anticipate such changes. In large part, at least for matters related to the economy, this challenge is met by unburdening our laws of the responsibility to drive change. And transferring much of this to the rule making that only a strong regulatory environment can provide.

But this means that we must, first, unhinge a conservative mindset. Many argue that the terms “liberal” and “conservative” do not readily lend themselves to discussions around our domestic politics, essentially because in the Nigerian case there are few values or principles worth conserving. And so, not much that a liberal mindset might rail against. Yet, the strongest emotive appeal that may be made to a mob of Nigerians is to haul the red meat of an assault on our traditions and culture at them. This conservatism is as much at the heart of religion’s pernicious hold on the popular imagination as is poverty’s role in driving the poor and helpless towards those who would promise them a reward in the hereafter for committing atrocities here and now.

Unsurprisingly, under the peculiar economic circumstances favoured by the incumbent administration, the central government’s debt burden has ballooned, even as the economy’s capacity for innovation and production have shrivelled. This same aversion to reforms, this conservatism, is evident in the government’s attitude to price discovery.


It is also a conservatism that afflicts the Buhari administration. None can deny, for instance, that in the years since coming to office, the administration has been beholden to dirigisme as its governing principle. The problem with the nanny state is not just that it is projected by its adherents as all-knowing, and near omnipotent. It is that, in our case, we have seen it drive a project of government centralisation that has weakened subnational governments, even as reforms are globally driven by the belief “that a central authority should have a subsidiary function, performing only those tasks which cannot be performed at a more local level”.

Unsurprisingly, under the peculiar economic circumstances favoured by the incumbent administration, the central government’s debt burden has ballooned, even as the economy’s capacity for innovation and production have shrivelled. This same aversion to reforms, this conservatism, is evident in the government’s attitude to price discovery. Here, it has done its utmost to control prices across the economy ― the pump-station price for petrol, the price of money (both foreign exchange and interest rates), etc. Arguably, every time push has come to shove, the Buhari government has yielded some ground on this fixation, freeing the pump-station price of petrol as its books sprung massive leaks, for instance.

It may yet budge on the price of the naira and higher electricity tariffs. But none of this will be out of conviction. As the balances on government’s books turn a bright red, and its debt service obligations become more onerous, those who would lend it the monies to bridge these gaps demand such changes. So, notwithstanding last week’s new law, and the many excited activity from the office of the vice president around improving the ease of doing business in the country, the Buhari government is far from a liberal one.

Even so, taking a sentence off The Economist’s commentary last week on Argentina’s recent agreement with its creditors, “If the government is to restore growth, attract investment, curb inflation and pay creditors as promised it will need (a better) plan”.

Uddin Ifeanyi, journalist manqué and retired civil servant, can be reached @IfeanyiUddin.