TEXT OF A PRESS CONFERENCE ON BENEFICIAL OWNERSHIP REGISTER IN NIGERIA
1st of July, 2019:
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen,
We are gathered here to call on President Muhammadu Buhari to assent to the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Repeal Bill that was passed by the 8th Assembly and is now before the President. This legislative framework will provide a legal foundation for the implementation of Beneficial Ownership disclosure. If signed into law by President Buhari, it will lead to the establishment of the electronic web-based open Beneficial Ownership register in Nigeria. The ultimate goal is the establishment of comprehensive database of REAL OWNERS behind the management of private companies operating within Nigerian jurisdiction. If CAMA Bill is not signed by President Buhari this week, a decade of work will be lost and irreparable diplomatic, economic and reputational damage inflicted on Nigeria.
We recall that President Buhari made commitments to strengthen anti-corruption reforms and join the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in May 2016 during the Anti-Corruption Summit in London in a bid to deepen institutional and policy reforms. One of the commitments in Nigeria’s Country Statement issued by President Buhari at the summit was that ‘Nigeria is committed to establishing a public central register of company beneficial ownership information.’ Three years after this bold commitment and two years of implementation of OGP, there is still no Beneficial Ownership register.
While legitimate corporate businesses have an integral role in national development, the involvement of Politically Exposed Persons (PEPs) who conceal corruptly acquired wealth through the complex networks of companies deliberately created to hide their identities has further increased the risks they pose to non-fortified economies. The Siemens, Halliburton and Malabu oil scandals, to cite a few high-profile cases, had a net impact on revenue leakages that was unbearable for the country’s finances and the citizens’ economic well-being. Sadly, Nigeria is a global champion in the lack of transparency, shady deals and corporate scams, frequently involving elected politicians, public officials, individuals linked with the defence sector and other so called ‘elite.’
A simple signature on CAMA would have enormous benefits.
Beneficial ownership register will address Nigeria’s obligations towards
- Financial Action Task Force (FATF) whose efforts aim at promoting policies and standards that insulate global financial systems from acts of money laundering and the financing of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction (Article 24 & 25)
- Nigeria’s obligation under the United Nations Convention against Corruption (UNCAC)
- the global Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative (EITI) implementation of the beneficial ownership standards in extractive sector before the 31st of December, 2019 deadline for Nigeria.
Above all, every Nigerian will profit as stolen public wealth will be exposed!
Permit me to outline that there are damning implications of not signing the law. In the absence of CAMA, we risk the suspension from the EITI initiative where Nigeria has always played an important global role and adjudged one of the best EITI countries. Furthermore, Nigeria is already under pressure from the United States, European Union and other important partners for weak compliance with anti-money laundering legislation, anti-terrorism financing and illicit financial flows. Sanctions will follow if rapid improvement is not achieved RIGHT NOW! In addition, President Buhari’s anti-corruption credentials will receive yet another blow if he fails to act on CAMA.
We have just missed a huge opportunity to leap forward in the fight against Nigeria’s stolen wealth. The failure to enact the Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA) has inexplicably jeopardised the asset recovery effort, which the Executive champions with great vigour. Many international partners and domestic stakeholders have been horrified to observe the opportunity lost as hundreds of millions of US dollars are awaiting to be returned to Nigeria by the international community. Without POCA, there is no framework to do that in an accountable and transparent way.
I urge us to investigate who has sabotaged the signature of POCA, which has deprived Nigerians of perhaps billions of US dollars in returned assets from abroad and also within Nigeria.
In addition, we need to act on investigation and prosecution of cases where Beneficial Ownership has been disclosed and where concerned individuals have not been able to explain the source of their wealth. Panama papers revealed 110 Nigerians, many of them active politicians. Here we have Beneficial Ownership that has proven unexplained sources of wealth of mind-blowing proportions. How many of these individuals have been investigated, prosecuted and convicted, years after evidence has been provided?
Let us be crystal clear. Concealing of beneficial owners costs lives of our fellow countrymen as terrorists use international financial systems to sustain their operations. Without transparent ownership of Nigerian and international companies operating within the Nigerian jurisdiction, we will not be able to stop the bleeding from illicit financial outflows, which costs us annually around 15.7 billion US dollars, according to Global Financial Integrity Report.
As long as wrong incentives and dysfunctional supervision dominate our national financial systems, consequences in the form of terrorism financing, trans-national organized crime, tax evasion and illegal enrichment of politically exposed persons will prevail. CAMA and the Beneficial Ownership register is one of the indispensable mechanisms that has a potential to make a real difference.
We, therefore, call on the President to live up to the expectations of well-meaning Nigerians in fighting corruption by signing the CAMA Bill into law to give a boost to the commitment to fighting corruption and reassure Nigerians that the reason for which he was given this mandate in the first place in 2015 was for the fact that we believe that he will stay true to his words and curb corruption in Nigeria. If CAMA is not enacted, we need to investigate who is sabotaging the anti-corruption agenda!
God bless us all, God bless Nigeria!
- Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC)/Transparency International-Nigeria
- African Centre for Leadership and Strategic Development
- Zero Corruption Coalition (ZCC)
- National Procurement Watch Platform (NPWP)
- African Centre for Media & Information Literacy (AFRICMIL)
- Open Alliance
- Centre for Democracy and Development (CDD)