By Anthony Isaac
The Federal Government on Thursday unveiled the much awaited Beneficial Ownership register for companies and assets in Nigeria’s petroleum and solid minerals sectors.
The register which is part of Nigeria’s committment to global Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) was unveiled in Abuja by the Nigeria Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI).
The electronic register (bo.neiti.gov.ng) contains names of owners of extractive assets in production in Nigeria and covered by NEITI audit reports.
It covers owners of 270 mining licences; and 61 assets and 56 oil and gas companies.
A complete register of all assets in production or not, is expected from the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR) and the Mining Cadastra Office (MCO), while the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) is expected to put in place a beneficial register for all companies operating in Nigeria.
Speaking at the unveiling of the Beneficial Ownership portal, Executive Secretary of NEITI, Mr. Waziri Adio stressed that the portal was not designed to witchhunt anyone or businesses, pointing out that organisations running legitimate businesses have nothing to fear.
Adio disclosed that the register/portal can accessed for free, maintaining that the portal would be updated and upgraded periodically.
He said: “Knowing who-owns-what, especially in a sector given to opacity, is a significant development. It is also a win-win. It is good for resource-rich countries like ours. It is good for the citizens of such countries. And it is good for legitimate businesses.
“Ownership transparency advances the frontiers of transparency and accountability in more than symbolic ways. It is 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.
“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 are, 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.
“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 noted that Nigeria was the only country in Africa, Asia, the America with a beneficial ownership register that was operational and open as only countries such as the United Kingdom, Netherland, Denmark, and Ukraine were presently running such a register.
In his goodwill message, the Chair of NEITI’s Civil Societies Steering Committee, Mr. Kola Banwo said while the portal represented an opportunity for Nigerians, it must be used responsibly for public good.
On his part, Dr. Michael Uzoigwe of FOSTER, a DFID funded programme for oil sector reform, urged journalists and civil society actors to use information contained in the portal to advocate for reforms in the sector.