President Buhari
President Muhammadu Buhari

By Chineme Okafor in Abuja

The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on Friday said it was pleased with President Muhammadu Buhari’s recent statement that federal government will push for full disclosure of beneficial owners of companies doing business in Nigeria’s extractive industry.

NEITI stated in a statement from its Director of Communications, Orji Ogbonanya Orji that its appreciation of such commitment from the government was with high expectations.

The statement was released in Abuja. It said the pronouncement by Buhari on Thursday at an anti-corruption summit in London was in line with its position as contained in its maiden policy brief on ‘Beneficial Ownership Disclosure’.

Buhari had said: “We welcome the new 2016 EITI standard, in particular, the requirements on beneficial ownership and the sale of the government’s share of production.”

He further declared: “Nigeria will establish a transparent central register of foreign companies bidding on public contracts and buying property. We welcome the proposal by developed countries to work together to improve the access of developing countries to beneficial ownership information for use in public contracting.”

NEITI explained that such commitment would strengthen the government’s on-going reforms in the oil, gas and solid minerals industry.

It said in in its new policy brief, it identified the presence of anonymous companies as a threat to Nigeria’s economy and national security, thus calling on Buhari to champion policies and laws mandating public disclosure of the real owners of companies operating in all sectors in Nigeria, especially those in the extractive sector.

“NEITI as the agency responsible for the implementation of the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative in Nigeria is quite encouraged by the speech delivered by President Buhari in London committing Nigeria to implementation of beneficial ownership disclosure,” said the statement.

It explained that it was equally delighted with Buhari’s pronouncement that he will establish a public register of the beneficial owners of all companies operating in Nigeria.

“NEITI views this development earlier canvassed in its policy brief as a major step in the right direction.

“This is because such a register will provide valid information and crucial facts on beneficial owners of companies involved in exploration, production, trading, import, export, and provision of other services in the extractive sector,” it added.

It said apart from its immense benefits to the economy and national security, the beneficial ownership disclosure has practical implication for increasing government revenues, reducing the incidences of corruption, money laundering and cutting off funding from drug lords and terrorists.

Quoting from the content of the policy brief, the statement said: “Even when not always illegal or misused, secret companies are hardly in the interests of developing countries, anonymous companies are used to deny countries of valuable revenues through tax avoidance, and sometimes outright tax evasion.

“Then, the shroud of secrecy around them is used not only to mask possible corrupt relationships with government officials but also to obscure probable links to money laundering, drug trafficking.”

NEITI equally applauded a similar pronouncement by Buhari on open contracting data standard which allows for disclosure of data and documents at all stages of contracting process.

It explained that the principles of open contracting data standard were consistent with the position of the global EITI standard on contract transparency which all member countries including Nigeria are encouraged to embrace.

“For us in NEITI, the President’s reaffirmation of Nigeria’s commitment to the principles of the global EITI could not have come at a better time than now that Nigeria through NEITI is repositioning its operations to move from the emphasis on transparency and accountability to how implementation of EITI can translate to direct impacts in terms of poverty reduction and improved quality of life for the citizens,” added the statement.