By Michael Eboh
The Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative, NEITI, Wednesday, began the unveiling of the real owners of mining, oil and gas companies in Nigeria, starting with the revelation of the actual owners of 270 licences in the mining sector, and the owners of 61 assets and 56 companies in the oil and gas sector.
Speaking at the unveiling of the extractive sector Beneficial Ownership, BO, Register for Nigeria, Executive Secretary of NEITI, Mr. Waziri Adio, disclosed that the register, which would be free for anyone to access through electronic means, would continuously be updated as more information becomes available and would periodically be upgraded to allow for better user-interface.
The beneficial ownership register can be accessed at ‘bo.neiti.gov.ng.’
According to Adio, knowing who-owns-what, especially in a sector given to opacity, is a significant development, a win-win. good for resource-rich countries like ours, good for the citizens of such countries and is good for legitimate businesses.
He explained that ownership transparency advances the frontiers of transparency and accountability in more than symbolic ways.
Adio added that the beneficial ownership register was a practical and potent tool that countries can use to tackle the potential ills that hidden ownership usually mask, such as tax evasion, corruption, conflict of interests, illicit financial flows, money laundering, and even drug and terrorism financing.
He said, “When these ills are reduced or eliminated, resource-rich countries will have more resources to invest in the welfare of their citizens and in physical infrastructure needed for individuals and businesses to thrive.
“Legitimate businesses, and most businesses also stand to benefit from knowing who they are doing business with, from reduced exposure to reputational risks, from having a level-playing field, and from improved trust in their operating environment.
“So let me say this upfront: this beneficial ownership register is not against businesses. Rather, it is for the good of businesses as it is for the good of countries, and it is for the good of civil groups, the media, and individuals. So there is nothing for anyone, especially anyone engaged in legitimate businesses, to be jittery about.
“In a short while, the beneficial ownership register for the extractive sector in Nigeria will go live. At the touch of a button, anyone with internet access can find out, for free, the owners and the ownership structure of extractive assets that are in production in Nigeria. These are the assets covered within the scope of the NEITI audits.
“In this free electronic register, you will find the owners of 270 licences in the mining sector, and the owners 61 assets and 56 companies in the oil and gas sector. The register will continuously be updated as more information becomes available and will periodically be upgraded to allow for better user-interface.”
Adio further stated that the soon-to-be introduced beneficial ownership registers by the Department of Petroleum Resources, DPR, and the Mining Cadastral Office, MCO, are in progress,and would be more comprehensive because they will contain ownership information of all extractive assets, whether producing or not.
Also in progress, according to the NEITI boss, is the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, beneficial ownership, register, which would have ownership information of all the companies operating in Nigeria.
He declared that the register aligns with the anti-corruption mandate of President Muhammadu Buhari administration, adding that it aligns with the spirit of the Open Treasury Portal unveiled by the President this Monday.
He added that it was in fulfilment of the commitment that President Buhari made at the London Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016, and a fulfilment of Nigeria’s commitment under the Open Government Partnership and to the EITI.
He said, “The NEITI BO register is a precursor to these larger registers that are still being built. The NEITI register will feed and fold into these larger registers when they are ready. So this is a pilot, if you will. It is a pilot starting from a sector that is historically known for opacity and distrust, but also a sector that is increasingly opening up and is still the livewire of our economy.
“It is hard to think of a better place to start. And starting with the extractive sector has positive signalling effect: if Nigeria can enthrone ownership transparency in its extractive sector, it sure can in other sectors. Additionally, this pilot will allow us the strategic opportunity to learn, adapt, iterate, then go to scale.
“As you know, the campaign for ownership transparency is a global one. In fact, BO Transparency is one of the hottest issues across the globe at the moment. EITI-implementing countries are expected to start implementation of BO disclosure by 1st January 2020. EU countries are expected to have BO registers in place by 10th January 2020 and the BO registers in EU countries are expected to be integrated into one database by 10 March 2021.
“As at today, however, very few countries have BO registers that are operational and open. Nigeria is thus joining the elite league of a handful of countries with open BO registers, such as the United Kingdom, Netherland, Denmark, and Ukraine. Nigeria is the only country that I know of in Africa, Asia, and the Americas to be in this league.
“This is thus a historic moment. The delicious irony of today’s event should not be lost on us: the country that is usually derided as the poster-country for corruption and opacity is now a trailblazer in openness. This is a moment all Nigerians should be proud of.”