Beneficial Ownership Register; Nigeria’s Grand Strategy Towards Unlocking Fiscal Transparency, — By Abubakar Yusuf.
The Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC in it’s bid to consolidate the ongoing reforms and innovations had step up the Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR), that was hitherto hidden under complex arrangements.
With renewed hope under the leadership of President Bola Ahmed Tinubu the Beneficial Ownership Register BOR was unveiled to the public, where entities and everyone can view records of share holders of companies online free of charge.
This was aimed at amongst others to supporting anti corruption efforts in Nigeria and the world , with the debut of Beneficial Ownership Disclosure (BOD), seamlessly through the Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR).
This was against the backdrop of surreptitious control , corruption, terrorism and crimes and the need to regulate through the Beneficial Ownership Disclosure (BOD), which led to the convening of the 2016 Anti corruption summit by the previous administration of President Muhammadu Buhari.
With the World Bank intervention, first in Africa, through a multilateral peer review/study tour, and the practical ideas on access to information from the register, and to also report discrepancies.
With inactive platform without update, daily penalties for defaulters and assessment, hence brought the idea of Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR), in the country.
The commission through collaborations with agencies, made publicly available CAC Register, with information on registered entities with active status to avoid corruption, accurate and regular financial returns, payment of taxes, identification of original and designated offices, shops, nos, original owners and locations, as well as house nos provided on the register using the (BOD).
The positive development and consideration as well as policy rejig brought about the need to ascertain the status of Know Your Customer (KYC), that was perenialy abused, inactive status with the aid of Banks, with uninterrupted transactions was reversed to active and accessible.
Also to enhance the ease of doing business locally and internationally, the Beneficiary Ownership Register (BOR) was not only debuted , but ensured transparency and accountability in the public space.
In his speech at the occasion, the Registrar General, Corporate Affairs Commission CAC, Alhaji Garba Abubakar said identifying Person With Significant Control Register also known as Beneficiary Ownership Register (BOR) will address the illicit financial flows within and outside the Nigeria, and also create enabling environment for investors and business owners to thrive genuinely.
He remarked that Nigeria’s public central Register of Company Beneficial Ownership Information had alot of potentials towards addressing both political and economic stability, capable of detaching the country from the current economic recession occasioned mainly by translucent transactions.
Garba who maintained that with the commitment to fighting corruption and fall out to anti corruption summit in 2016, along with the Renewed Hope on Beneficial Ownership Transparency, when it was stated that Nigeria was committed to establishment of a public central register of company beneficial ownership information, implementation of bilateral arrangements that will ensure law enforcement in one partner country has full and effective access to the beneficial ownership information of companies incorporated in the other partner country, and joining the pilot initiative for automatic exchange of beneficial ownership information.
With renewed assurance to the global community that Nigeria is committed to signing the Open Government Partnership initiatives, the commission toe the line of setting up the Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR).
Matching words with actions , the commission in May ,2023 as a demonstration of the commitment, out of the 43 countries that attended the Summit, Nigeria was one of the only six countries that promised to establish public central registers of true company ownership amidst global concerns on the misuse of companies and other corporate arrangements, to hide the proceeds of corruption and evade tax.
Other five countries were Afghanistan, France, Kenya, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom .
The Commission also embarked on the initiative immediately after the London Summit, as Nigeria progressed its commitment to the principles of Open Government Partnership (OGP) by a formal expression of intent to join the OGP.
This was in addition that Nigeria was confirmed as a participating country by the OGP Secretariat on 27th July 2016.
“Prior to this, the Inter-Governmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) had, in 2014, recommended Nigeria for membership of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF) .
“The bases for the recommendation were stated to include the extent of Nigeria’s implementation of Anti-Money Laundering and Counter Financing of Terrorism (AML/CFT) measures, involvement in GIABA work and high political commitment to advancing the implementation of AML/CFT regime of acceptable international standard.
Implementing the various commitments to transparency in both public and private sector governance required reforms to both the legislative and enforcement frameworks.
Thus by 2018, the Commission was already partnering with Open Ownership (OO) , OGP and the World Bank to achieve the necessary reforms. In August 2020, the most significant hurdle was crossed. The Companies and Allied Matters Act 1990 was repealed after three decades and a new Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA 2020) was signed into law . The new Act contained the required statutory framework for Beneficial Ownership (Persons with Significant Control (PSC)) Transparency.
“The imperatives of transparency in beneficial ownership was further underscored by the former Vice President, Professor ‘Yemi Osinbajo, GCON on 14th July 2020 at the Africa Regional Webinar on Combating Corruption and Illicit Financial Flows held to commemorate the 20th Anniversary of the Independent Corrupt Practices and Other Related Offences Commission (ICPC). On that occasion, the Vice President had stated as follows –
“For us in the developing world and especially in Africa, breaking the wall of secret corporate ownership is crucial because secrecy around corporate ownership is implicated in our underdevelopment. Although anonymous companies are not always illegal, nevertheless secrecy provides a convenient cover for criminality and corruption”.
With this strides, the next stage in implementation of the commitments was to develop the necessary technological solution and enforcement framework. Still working with OO, OGP and World Bank, the Commission was able to put together the Persons with Significant Control Regulations (PSCR).
“The PSCR detailed the reporting obligations for reporting entities; the information to be reported; the timelines for reporting; the application of the Regulations to State Owned Enterprises (SOEs), Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs), Foreign Companies exempted from registration; and the sanctions (administrative and criminal) for infractions. The PSCR was approved by the Former Minister of Industry, Trade and Investment, Otunba Richard Adeniyi Adebayo.
The implementation which had since commenced since the launch of the Person with Significant Control Register, marked the final step in the implementation of the country’s commitment seven years ago to establish a public central register of company beneficial ownership information.
The two day program held in May , 2023 which attracted the World Bank and Nigeria’s Federal Ministry of Finance, with supports of funding for the development of the Register, as well as the participation of the Open Ownership for the technical support that was provided at no cost.
Through demonstration, the solution which featured a public facing search portal (htttps://bor.cac.gov.ng) that enables the general public access to beneficial ownership information on relevant incorporated entities in Nigeria.
Any of several search parameters may be used on the search portal. The parameters include:
• Entity name
• Entity registration number
• Name of the PSC (first name, surname or full name)
However, the information provided to the general public does not include Personally Identifiable Information (PII) like National Identification Number (NIN), complete date of birth, residential address, phone number, etc.
“This was in compliance with the National Data Protection Regulation (NDPR) issued by the National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA).
“The solution also features an enterprise service bus for data exchange via the Application Programming Interface (API), which enables data sharing with competent authorities, security agencies and authorized organizations (local or international).
“The information in the PSC Register is available and accessible at no cost to the general public. With the introduction of the Register, any person can easily ascertain who owns what in Nigerian companies and limited liability partnerships. The expectation is that the Register would greatly enhance the fight against corruption and criminality by facilitating investigations by law enforcement agencies into the true ownership and control of companies and limited liability partnerships; supporting Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) in promoting citizens’ participation in public accountability and governance, as well as strengthening the capacity of the media to perform their traditional roles as watchdogs of the society.
Users of the Register are also encouraged to report any incorrect information observed in the Register to the Commission using the report interface on the Register”.
The unveiling of the initiative was witnessed by; Representatives of Ministers of Trade and Investment, Budget and National Planning, Country Director, World Bank, Shubham Claudhuri, Sanjay Pradhan, CEO,IGP Support Unit, Tom Townsend,CEO, Open Ownership, Wilson Banda, Registrar and CEO, Zambia Patents and Companies Registration Agency, Government Officials, among other stakeholders.
The commission also embarked on both local and international awareness on the introduction and implementation of Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR), with town hall meetings held in Abuja, the nation’s city, Lagos , Portharcourt and Kano to sensitize both customers and collaborations with sister agencies to kick the ground running, which secured the commission international recognition.
During the anti corruption summit organised by the World Bank , the commission showcased the efficacy of the new program(BOR), to the world leaders as promised during the launch of the program in the United States.
It led to the migration from analogue to digital operations in full scale and planned deletion of about 100,000 defaulting entities by the commission.
With the new platform (BOR), Nigeria had not only become a safe haven for business transactions and ease of doing businesses, but stable clime for business improvement.
Yusuf , Is A Public Affairs Analyst, Writes from Abuja on email@example.com.