Ojiaku Kalu

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*