Chineme Okafor in Abuja
The federal government has said disclosing the real owners of oil gas, and mining assets in the country through the Beneficial Ownership register will help it to deal with cases of corruption, illicit financial flows and tax avoidance in the sector.
The Minister of Finance, Budget and National Planning, Mrs. Zainab Ahmed disclosed this in at a roundtable on Beneficial Ownership Register in Nigeria organised by the Media Initiative on Transparency in Extractive Industries (MITEI) and the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).
Through the NEITI, Nigeria would unveil the beneficial ownership register on December 12, as part of its commitment to the principles of the global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI).
EITI had made December 31, 2019, the deadline for all member-countries subscribed to its principles to establish the beneficial ownership register as part of an updated reporting requirement.
Ahmed, however, explained that the lack of transparency had been a long-standing issue in the extractive industry globally. She noted anonymous companies which have the ultimate or beneficial owners hidden, have been used to enable corruption, tax evasion, money laundering and other illegal activities in the sector.
She said: “In Nigeria, we have experienced significant challenges in managing sector corruption, leading to significant loss of revenues, security challenges, and eroding public trust.
“The reality has served as a sobering wake-up call and resulted in a move towards establishing measures and standards that mandate the disclosure of the beneficial owners of such anonymous companies, and the coordinated development of a national public register in the extractive industries and beyond.
“These steps are in line with government’s priority area focused on fighting corruption and improving governance and moving towards an open, transparent, and citizen centered approach to policy-making and implementation,” Ahmed added.
The minister also pointed out that as a member-country of the EITI, Nigeria made a long-standing commitment to ensure transparency in its extractive sector.
This, she added was further reinforced under the Open Government Partnership (OGP), which the country committed, and which strengthened NEITI’s commitment to develop the beneficial ownership register.
The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), she said in this regards, also resolved to undertake a review of its laws to ensure disclosure of beneficial owners of companies in all public companies.
According to her: “Nigeria is therefore amongst the countries taking bold steps towards the use of public beneficial ownership registers as a critical policy-making tool in the fight against corruption, particularly in resource-rich sectors such as the extractive industries.”
Furthermore, Ahmed harped on the importance of the register, saying: “Through the establishment of such a central register, we will be better able to follow monies linked to tax evasion, corruption, drug trafficking, money laundering and terrorism financing.
“The resulting impact would be increased transparency, improved revenue collection and a reduction in corruption.”
In the lead paper he presented at the roundtable, the Executive Secretary of NEITI, Mr. Waziri Adio, stated that the national beneficial ownership register would be an all-inclusive document.
He also explained that the laws establishing regulatory agencies in Nigeria empowered them to make byelaws and policies binding on stakeholders, hence, the expectation that covered entities would have no excuse to avoid disclosing company ownerships at it relates to them.
Similarly, the acting Registrar-General of CAC, Azuka Azinge, said the requirements for beneficial ownership register were adequately provided for in Sections 119, 791 and 868 of the Companies and Allied Matters (Repeal and Re-enactment) Bill 2019.
Represented by Peter Nyaw Gai, Azinge stated that when issues concerning the bill are sorted out, a proper legal framework or foundation for implementation should have been laid for the enforcements.
He added: “Beneficial ownership is currently not only in the front banner of the global space but an absolute necessity to ensure transparency and accountability, integrity of financial system and check corruption, money laundering and financial terrorism.”
Also, in his remarks, the National Coordinator of MITEI, Mr. Bassey Udo, said beneficial ownership register would open up the industry to public scrutiny and accountability.
Udo said: “We believe when our God-given minerals are honestly mined by people we know and their proceeds equitably used for the purposes that God gave to us, we will have less strife; there will be jobs for our people; our schools will have happy teachers and books; our hospitals will have drugs for the sick, while other infrastructures engenders national economic growth and prosperity.”