By Charles Kumolu, Deputy Editor
President Muhammadu Buhari’s anti-corruption fight may not be what critics desire, but it is definitely on track. With traction and direction that seek to reduce graft to the barest level, anti-corruption remains central in this dispensation.
But plurality of opinion exists regarding the successes recorded so far. While there may never be unanimity on what has been achieved, the inputs of all and sundry are critical to curbing graft in Nigeria.
In the last six years, the Buhari administration has worked more closely with the US, the UK, and various Middle Eastern countries to seize and repatriate assets of public officials suspected to have been purchased with illicit funds.
Nigeria’s leading anti-corruption agency, the Economic and Financial Crimes Commission (EFCC), is believed to have become more active.
It has launched a series of investigations into former high-ranking public officials.
Properties acquired through several corrupt means had also been retrieved from convicted public office holders, individuals and companies.
Sunday Vanguard recalls that the Federal Government, had, in 2016, at both the London Anti-Corruption Summit and the Open Government Partnership Initiative, the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC),expressed commitment at applying the Beneficial Ownership Register (BOR) in the fight against graft.
The BOR was put in place as part of Nigeria’s commitments to more transparent and accountable governance.
CISLAC, also known as Transparency International-Nigeria (TI-N) with support from the Tax Justice Network – Africa (TJNA) has been following up on its implementation.
It has also been monitoring developments after the Beneficial Ownership (BO) disclosure commitment of the Federal Government of Nigeria at both the 2016 London Anti-Corruption Summit and the Open Government Partnership Initiative.
This informed the discussions around the importance of BOR in the war against corruption at a briefing titled: ‘The Anti-Corruption Potential of The Beneficial Ownership Register,’ convened by CISLAC in Lagos.
At the event, Executive Director, CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, said transparency of ownership and control of companies, partnerships, trusts and other legal entities that can hold assets and open bank accounts is critical to the ability to determine where illicit funds are moving to and who is moving them.
He explained that:”Nigerian government has marked significant progress in the implementation of the beneficial ownership transparency as indicated by the signing of the Companies and Allied Matters (Amendment) Act 2020 and ongoing process towards the establishment of a central register for disclosure of all corporate entities in the country that would subsume and complement the beneficial ownership register for extractive sector companies already established by NEITI in December 2019.”
Rafsanjani added that while the rapid uptake of beneficial ownership is significant, the quality, accuracy and utility of the data for its intended purpose of curbing Illicit Financial Flows (IFFs) are dependent on the right legislative framework being in place and the data conforming to the beneficial open data standards (BODS).
He also identified” enforcement ability to ensure that information is placed on the publicly accessible platform and modalities to verify declared information and false declarations, which should result in robust penalties,” as other challenges.
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“Let us be clear that beneficial ownership and the more general issue of money laundering is not onlya Nigerian or African problem. But as long as inefficiency and the lack of political will to sanitize our systems persist, consequences in the form of terrorism financing, transnational organized crime, tax evasion and illegal Menrichment of politically exposed persons will prevail.”
“We thus seek advocacy for identifying a verification process that ensures people in the official registerare authentic- that is, they are who they say they are, authorized- that is those persons have agreed to be involved in a legal entity, and that all the registered data is valid.”
Also, the CISLAC bosss aid the process should be a fully automated information technology system with human supervision that will have access to relevant data, held by national and foreign authorities for cross-checking and advanced analysis and could be managed by NEITI, or another body that has experience with data analytics, such as financial intelligence units or tax authorities.
”We must deploy an approach that clearly defines roles and responsibilities of various relevant stakeholders in defending the system or preventing misuse,” he added.
Also speaking, the Registrar-General and Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), Alhaji Garba Abubakar, said Nigeria has started implementing the Beneficial Ownership Disclosure since January 3, 2021.
According to him, the process was delayed till 2021 from 2016 when President Muhammadu Buhari made commitments to the anti-corruption summit in London, due to the absence of a legal framework to back it up.
“The Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) 2020 was reenacted and it now provides for mandatory disclosure of persons with relevant control. The CAC is the agency responsible for giving effect to the provisions of this new law.
“Since January 3, the CAC has deployed an electronic register that covers all aspects of our registration services, and this includes the disclosure of beneficial owners,” Abubakar said.
Abubakar said from January 3 till date, every company registered with the CAC has been mandated to disclose its beneficial owners at the point of registration, and whenever there is any change in the information or at the point of filing of annual returns.
“For a new company registered on January 3 , the information is available. You can view that information at no cost.”
He said for companies registered earlier than that date, legacy companies, the disclosure will start from their next financial annual returns, and that depends on the financial end of the year of each company.
“The whole essence of this is to entrench transparency and support the anti-corruption initiatives of government, such that as a citizen, if you have reasons to believe that the information in the portal is not a true reflection of the ownership of the company, then you can escalate this information and report to relevant agencies for investigation,’’ he noted.