Kasim Sumaina in Abuja
President Muhammadu Buhari, Thursday in Darka, Senegal, flagged-off ‘who-owns-what’ campaign, which according to him, is one of a range of tools being utilised in the fight against corruption.
The President, while delivering his speech at the event, disclosed that the objective of the conference, which is to bring together government representatives working on beneficial ownership reform to showcase best practices from the African region, discuss challenges, and provide peer learning and exchange of experiences, is very critical at this period when transparency is paramount in natural resource governance.
He informed that, the need for greater transparency in the ownership of corporate entities, the campaign to know ‘who-owns-what’, was essential to the growth and development of the country.
He added that, “Although anonymous companies are not illegal in many jurisdictions and could exist for harmless reasons. But, has also been established that they could be vehicles for corruption, tax evasion, illicit financial flows and even terrorism financing.”
The President, represented by the Minister of Mines and Steel Development, Alhaji Abubakar Bawa Bwari, noted that, “As a country that depends on oil for up to 90 per cent of its foreign exchange earning and about 85 per cent of its total revenue, Nigeria recognises the dangers that secret ownership of extractive industry assets pose to its economy.
The minister, in a statement in Abuja, by his Media Aide, Ishaku Kigbu, said, “We realise that subjecting the identities of the people who own and control these assets to public scrutiny is an important step towards transparent and accountable governance of this very important sector.”
According to him, “It is a great honour and privilege to be present here and to address you at this very important conference on beneficial ownership transparency on the theme, “Opening up Ownership: Africa
“My profound appreciation goes to His Excellency, Macky Sall, President of the Republic of Senegal and the government and the people of Senegal for hosting this conference, and for their notable hospitality since our arrival.
“The government and people of Nigeria extend their profound support for this conference and for our collective resolve to establish beneficial ownership transparency in Africa.”
Bwari, said, “Nigeria joined other countries at the anti-corruption summit in London in 2016 to support the establishment of a public register of beneficial owners of companies within the Open Government Partnership.
He explained that at the EITI summit in Jakarta last year, Nigeria also joined 45 other countries to further commit to and develop practical steps to the establishment of a public register of beneficial owners in the extractive sector.
“Noting that beyond these recent multilateral and multi stakeholder actions on ownership transparency, it is important to point out that Nigeria has for some time been conscious of the need to disclose the identities of owners of its mineral assets.”
He revealed that, in its first EITI report covering 1999 – 2004 published in 2005 (about 13 years ago), the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative recommended that there should be a “publicly accessible list of companies prequalified for licence bids, including information about beneficial share owners and shadow directors.”
“As I speak, Nigeria is on course to establish a beneficial ownership register by January 1, 2020 but we recognise that such a register is only useful if it is implemented alongside publicly accessible registers in other jurisdictions.
“As recent events have shown, ownership transparency in one country is only useful if other jurisdictions do not become sanctuaries for those who want to hide their crimes against the countries where they do business.
Continuing, the minister revealed that, following the commitments that have been made at various global forums on beneficial ownership reporting, Nigeria has taken concrete steps towards statutory beneficial ownership disclosure and establishing a public register of beneficial owners.
Adding that, in compliance with EITI requirements, Nigeria began publishing ownership information in its EITI country reports but this information is produced within the scope of existing legislation which was not intended to reveal the identities of the real owners of companies in the extractive sector so it is therefore limited in scope.
“Nigeria has proceeded to address this limitation by proposing and taking action on legislation that contains specific requirement for beneficial ownership disclosure. A second (proposed) legislation has been drafted for the petroleum industry. This legislation contains more extensive requirement for beneficial ownership disclosure.
“EITI member countries therefore have greater incentive to implement ownership transparency and Nigeria stands with these countries in the commitment to establish a public register of beneficial owners of companies.
“We believe that a multilateral and multi-stakeholder strategy is a very effective tool for achieving the objectives that every country seeks from a publicly accessible register of beneficial owners of companies operating within their territories.”
Moreover, “Countries whose economies depend largely on revenue from natural resources are more vulnerable to the threat of secret ownership, and recent incidents like the Panama Papers have no doubt amplified the threat that secret companies pose, and hence the urgency of global action.
“We therefore need collaborative strategy to break the intricate network of ownership structure usually employed by these sort of people. We must take advantage of other global platforms for openness which advance disclosure policy in the ownership and control of companies operating in various countries,” he said