Business Registration Made Easy

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    By Ojiaku Kalu

    At the end of March, I ran into three young men recently graduated from
    university. They were on the NYSC’s scheme.  Their conversation that
    morning of eve of their passing-out-parade from the mandatory national
    youth service scheme was how they would love to create an enterprise and
    together grow it to significance in the nation’s business community –
    especially with strident advocacy for entrepreneurship and self-reliance
    among Nigerian youths. I wouldn’t have interfered in their close-chest
    deliberations but for discovering they were sharply different in their
    ethnicities as they were in appearance. While one is a Fulani from Sokoto,
    the other two were Igala, and Igbo. I was literally being served a perfect
    ‘unity in diversity’ – which is by the way, the very essence of the
    national scheme and for which Yakubu Gowon is esteemed.

    Although the now inseparable friends had varied in religion and
    socialization, they had ultimately bonded on the platform of student
    unionism back on campus. Upon learning this and more through their
    conversations, I was sold on their quest to earn a legitimate living
    through venture team-up. But actualizing their dream of business
    partnership was the core of their task – as their voices quivered with
    concern over what they termed ‘difficulties in registering a business in
    Nigeria’. Like these youngsters, many Nigerians are unaware of what it
    takes to register a new business in their country.

    Fascinated by the raw desire of those young Nigerians to stay together
    despite their heterogeneous backgrounds and the now growing emphasis on
    geopolitical zone and religion, I verbally joined their conversation and
    pledged my support to their dream by getting for them and other business
    upstarts, the right information from relevant government agencies. So this
    piece summarises my findings at CAC – the agency of government charged with
    the formation/registration of new businesses in Nigeria, in fulfilment of
    that pledge of mine to the business neophytes. Afteral, as a university
    teacher and journalist, my primary preoccupation is to steer the public
    aright.

    The political history of Nigeria still reverberates with the watershed of
    2015 in which the citizens ‘conspiring’ for a change in their government,
    voted          overwhelmingly at the polls. Indeed, several changes have
    since been recorded in the nation’s polity and corporate governance
    following that paradigm shift.  For instance, the need to improve Nigeria’s
    rating on the international *Ease of Doing Business* ladder was a prime
    agenda of the then incoming government; and has since its inauguration
    three years ago, become a national crusade. Based on this therefore, the
    hard processes that use to characterize registration of new businesses and
    for which my young friends were afraid has since become history; because
    government has of recent made some pragmatic changes in this regard to
    alleviate the previous longstanding hurdles.

    The sole responsibility of registering a business in Nigeria rests with a
    government agency called the Corporate Affairs Commission [CAC] with its
    head office in Abuja and its branch offices located in every state capital
    in Nigeria. And it is now convenient and cheap for people like my young
    friends to do business registration without travelling out of their
    locations.

    This is made possible with the recent complete decentralization of the
    Commission’s operations which make their services at par with the head
    office,  The Commission stays open to the public from 8.00am – 7.00pm every
    week day in Abuja, Lagos, Kaduna, Kano, Enugu and Port Harcourt offices;
    while the Help Desk further handles all sorts of telephone enquiry and
    complaints via the dedicated lines and e-mail.

    Presently, founding a business in Nigeria simply starts with a person or a
    group of persons choosing a desired business name and approaching the CAC
    for its availability on their platform. Approval for reservation of a name
    shall be completed within 6 [six] hours upon submission of request. If such
    a name is available for registration, the Commission approves and reserves
    it for the promoter(s) for a period of 60 days within which the process of
    formal registration is expected to get underway. Completion of every type
    of registration is achieved within 24 hours of filing application.

     I also learnt from stakeholders that the Commission has uploaded the names
    of all registered Companies, Business Names, Incorporated Trustees as well
    as those undergoing registration on its website. The information is updated
    daily to enable members of the public to confirm the name, registration
    number and date of registration for every Company, Business Name and
    Incorporated Trustees at no cost. This initiative is meant to reduce
    instances of name denial and also make name search process much easier and
    cheaper.

    Current guidelines for all registration processes are available on the
    Commission’s website – which contains the required forms and documents that
    the registration seekers must provide and also the various fees payable as
    filling fees or stamp duty where applicable Of recent, the Commission has
    consolidated all its registration forms – a new form [CAC 1.1] has been
    introduced to replace the several forms hitherto for registration. Apart
    from the convenience of having all the information in one document, the
    consolidation has drastically reduced registration fee; especially as it
    has to do with certified true copy [CTC]. Before now, it was compulsory
    that promoters of a business name engage the services of either a CAC
    accredited agents (Lawyers, Accountants and Chattered Secretaries) to
    register such a company on their behalf. But in the new order, anybody
    register
    their business with Commission directly by themselves provided they have
    valid identifications such as the permanent voter’s card, international
    passport, national identity card, or driver’s license.

    This new order ensures that expenses incurred by business registration
    seekers are reduced. Besides this, all the fees charged by the Commission
    for its services have been reduced by half for the small and medium-size
    businesses; and 25% reduction for the big businesses. This was done to
    encourage small businesses and support government efforts on ease of doing
    business.

    Barr Olufemi Ajala, Lead Counsel at Integrity Chambers, lauded the
    Commission for the reforms. According to him, many of the hassles
    previously experienced by prospective business subscribers have now been
    eliminated through information communication technology (ICT) into the
    system. By this, CAC having deployed the new company registration portal
    [CRP] ensures that customers now enjoy unfettered virtual transaction
    through its user-friendly portal.

    The lawyer revealed that prospective customers can now achieve their
    business registration bids by logging in on a 24-hours basis to this new
    portal and pay the prescribed fees via such e-payments platforms like
    Verve, Master Card, Visa etc from the comfort of their homes, offices or
    just about any location and still achieve their target as if they were
    physically present at the CAC offices.” Also, most business owners have
    hailed the new company registration portal for simplifying the business
    registration process as time-saving.

    Further inquiries revealed that in order to get the optimal benefits of the
    Companies Registration Portal and ease the process of company registration,
    the Commission has integrated the portal with the Electronic Stamp Duty
    Portal of the Federal Inland Revenue Service (FIRS). It was disclosed that
    the e-stamping system has cancelled the physical submission of documents to
    FIRS for assessment and manual stamping at the various Stamp Duty Offices
    across Nigeria.

    The Acting Registrar-General of CAC, Lady Azuka Azinge has disclosed that
    once the stamp duty is paid through an e-platform, customers fill in the
    application form and the Memorandum and Article of Association on the CRP.
    “They are then required to download, complete and sign registration forms
    as well as the Memorandum and Articles of Association. “Upon such
    execution, the documents are then scanned and uploaded through the document
    upload interface together with all relevant documents including the means
    of identification of the individual subscribers. Of interest is that
    proficiency certificates hitherto required for certain class of
    registrations have been removed.  This has made registration of such
    entities much easier and less cumbersome; and has also resolved conflict
    and disagreements among new business subscribers.

    To ensure seamless operation of the portal and zero downtime, the
    Commission has fully outsourced the hosting of its main database and
    operating software to *Main-One Data Centre* in Lagos. This is to ensure
    99% uptime and efficient registration services on a 24/7 basis” she said.

    Mallam Yakubu Ahmed, a former Kano-based lawyer, praised the development
    while recalling his average three round trips per week to the FCT to
    execute his clients’ briefs at the Commission.

    The Commission is constantly seeking ways to enhance chances of new
    businesses wanting formal registration – especially those in the small
    scale category through sensitization at various forums..

    The interest of existing and prospective customers are constantly upheld –
    with a view to promoting flexibility, the Commission has undertaken a
    comprehensive review of the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) to
    bring it at par with global best practices in Company Regulation and
    administration. The Senate has passed the Amendment Bill which is currently
    before the House of Representatives for passage before Presidential assent.

    According to some longstanding patrons of CAC, one of their concerns has
    been the possibility of a customer losing his records at the Commission
    without trace – due to the large volume of documents it has handled from
    its inception. In a reaction to this concern, and in order to ensure the
    integrity of its database and provide for easy retrieval of the
    registration record for ease of access by staff and customers
    electronically, the Commission has embarked on rapid digitalization of all
    the legacy records into suitable electronic formats.’’ The on-going
    digitalization of legacy records when completed, will serve the convenience
    of CAC’s customers and stakeholders; and would enable the general public
    carry out searches and due diligence electronically. Once completed, real
    online services can be conveniently extended to post registration services.

    *Kalu is Acting Registrar of Corporate Affairs Commission*