By Angela Atabo
Stakeholders at a two-day workshop on Thursday in Abuja called on the Federal Government to establish a register for public and private companies operating in Nigeria.
They said that the proposed “Beneficial Ownership Register’’ would check corruption as it would stop individuals from using illegal business entities to circumvent due processes in government.
The workshop on “Summary of Research Findings on Beneficial Ownership in Nigeria’’ was organised by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC) to validate the report of the research.
A stakeholder, Dr Dauda Garuba, said the register would also curb money laundering in the country.
Garuba, who is the Technical Adviser, Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), explained that beneficial ownership referred to the real owner of a company as against the legal owner “who is the face of the company’’.
He said that the scheme was part of the national anti-corruption strategy adopted to combat corruption in the country, adding that it was expected to unveil the true identity of companies doing business in Nigeria.
According to him, knowing who owns what was critical to transparency in the business environment, particularly as it relates to attracting investors.
Garuba said that the register would enable the country to establish a level-playing field among competitors and promote healthy competition.
“It will also ensure that people are not taking undue advantage of the government by virtue of the fact that they are placed in positions of authority to, attract to themselves, what they do not deserve in business transaction.
“This will aid to fight corruption, especially in the area of people who have been involved in conflict of interest.
“For instance, we have had so much about people who by virtue of their opportunity of being in government have registered all sorts of companies.
“They use those companies to take contracts from government as well as being the direct beneficiaries of such contract processes.
“What this does is that it kills competition and skips out genuine highly devoted and hardworking investors because you are denying them the opportunity of doing business in Nigeria,’’ he said.
Garuba warned that if the trend continued in Nigeria, businesses would not get anywhere.
“You can be rest assured that the same person who used his own position to divert contract to himself also stand the chance of not implementing or poorly executing it.
“It also leads to the point that you don’t even have where to take the case to because he is probably going to be the same person that will be sitting over the decisions of such reports ,’’ he said.
Garuba said the essence of the Open Government Partnership signed by President Muhammadu Buhari was to have in place a system in the anti-corruption fight that enabled the government to identify real faces behind businesses.
He said that beneficial ownership was not just a Nigerian project but a strategy or concept designed internationally for good governance.
Mr Uche Igwe, Communication Adviser to the Open Government Partnership Secretariat, said that the implication of the implementation of beneficial ownership in Nigeria was that corruption would begin to ease.
Igwe said that Nigeria was committed to have an open register as reiterated by the president, adding that the process was underway.
“As I speak to you, the review of the Companies and Allied Matters Act is ongoing.
“The thinking is that the data that Cooperate Affairs Commission requires from anybody aspiring to open a company will include beneficial ownership data.
“This progress for me is one of the steps that need to be taken for Nigeria to eventually have an accessible open beneficial ownership register before the end of the year.
A Board member of CISLAC, Hajia Hadiza Kaingiwa, said that the group was the corresponding organisation for Transparency International, and that beneficial ownership project was being implemented in three African nations – Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya.
She said the workshop was aimed at accessing the findings of beneficial ownership in Nigeria in order to bridge the gaps and enhance transparency in the system.