The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) is to constitute a coordinating committee on beneficial ownership implementation in Nigeria, the Executive Secretary of NEITI, Ogbonnaya Orji said on Thursday.
Orji said this while addressing a forum of government agencies, companies, civil society and the media on beneficial ownership implementation in the extractive industry in Nigeria.
He explained that NEITI was encouraged by the volume of work so far done by relevant government agencies and civil society on beneficial ownership reporting in the country.
“NEITI will work out a joint coordination initiative with Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), Mining Cadastre Office (MCO), Nigeran Financial Intelligence Unit (NFIU) of the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), civil society, media and other anti-corruption agencies to help track beneficial owners of extractive assets in Nigeria”, Orji said.
Orji’s statement followed the revelation that different government agencies have made progress at their various organizations in the development of reporting systems on beneficial ownership in the country.
Nigeria, he noted, has two commitments to beneficial ownership reporting consisting of compliance to the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) principles and standards, and response to the commitments made by Nigeria to the Open Government Partnership (OGP).
Beneficial ownership disclosure, Orji said, has become very important in view of the serious dangers that secret ownership of companies poses to individual countries and the global community.
“Crimes like tax evasion, illicit financial flows and terrorism financing which are associated with or facilitated by secret ownership, frustrates national development, increases poverty in developing countries and threaten the national security of even powerful nations”, Orji said.
The Executive Secretary made reference to the report by ONE – an international anti-poverty organization – that developing countries lose up to $1trillion a year from such activities, noting that the figure was seven times more than the total aid and foreign debt that flow into these poor countries.
“The Thabo Mbeki report on illicit financial flows estimates that Africa loses up to $50 billion a year from some of these activities, with Nigeria accounting for the lion share of these losses, and the extractive industry accounting for 93% of total illicit financial flows from Nigeria is a case in point”, he said.
The Registrar-General, Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Abubakar Garba disclosed that the Commission has commenced collection and disclosure of beneficial ownership information from January 3, 2021 following the passage of the Company and Allied Matters Act in November 2020.
“Every information on persons with significant control of companies is now available online on the Commission’s website to members of the public free of charge and in line with Nigeria’s commitment to the global EITI and OGP. This is the least we can do to support transparency and fight against corruption”, Garba said.
On the integrity of information on the register, Garba explained that his Commission is working to integrate beneficial ownership information into the national identity database to ensure valid and correct information.
He also noted that once information is publicly accessible, the public will be able to find out if there are errors.
The Executive Director, Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), Auwal Ibrahim Musa (Rafsanjani) in his goodwill message commended NEITI and other stakeholders that have contributed to the progress made so far on beneficial ownership disclosure in Nigeria.
Rafsanjani noted that the enactment of Company and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 has provided legal backing for the beneficial ownership transparency, but warned that “we must not, however, rest on our oars, as the register is not an end in itself, but a means to an end as the law is not enough to guarantee compliance.
“It is only a first effort in the fulfillment of the commitment to strengthen anti-corruption reforms and corporate accountability”, he said.
Also addressing the forum from Oslo Norway, the EITI Policy Director, Ines Marques informed the audience that about 20 EITI implementing countries have undertaken legal reforms to facilitate ownership transparency, while 30 others have publicly disclosed some beneficial ownership information through EITI reporting.
“Beneficial ownership information has been used to avoid corruption and loss of revenue in the extractive sector, prevent corruption and illicit financial flows, enhance revenue collection, improve the investment climate in the extractive sector and most importantly increase public trust and accountability,” she said.
Marques advised Nigeria to integrate information on beneficial ownership into government processes and citizens should take advantage of the initiative and use the data for accountability purposes.
Interest groups at the event outlined various initiatives being deployed towards beneficial ownership reporting in Nigeria.
During the event, the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) took participants on a tour of the portal it has developed showing the oil and gas assets and their beneficial owners.
NFIU went a step further to demonstrate who it uses financial transactions to track real owners of extractive assets.
On its part, the Mining Cadastre Office said its register was at an advanced stage and would soon be publicly accessible.
Participants at the forum agreed that an inter-agency meeting should be held regularly by regulators, anti-corruption agencies, civil society, and the media to evaluate the implementation process.