OrderPaperToday – Convener, Women In Extractives (WIE), Faith Nwadishi, and former President of Petroleum and Natural Gas Senior Staff Association of Nigeria (PENGASSAN), Dr Brown Ogbeifun, have insisted that Nigeria must proceed with the implementation of an open beneficial ownership register despite privacy and security concerns.
The register, when operational, will unmask and provide information on the real owners of companies in Nigeria especially those operating in the oil and gas sector.
Faith Nwadishi in a chat with OrderPaperNG said that the advantages of having such information outweighs any concern surrounding privacy and security, stressing that it will help to curb corruption in the extractive industry.
On the journey on beneficial ownership so far, Nwadishi said: “Generally and globally, beneficial ownership implementation is a challenge but with the political will displayed by the government, and considering that it is one of the commitments for OGP (Open Government Partnership) and a compulsory requirement for the EITI (Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative) by next year, Nigeria is already putting things in place.
“Unfortunately, we do not have any law backing us to do that (implement beneficial ownership policy). The review of the CAMA (Companies and Allied Matters Act) is important to capture components of beneficial ownership. We must call on the National Assembly to re-introduce the bill and fast-track it because we cannot go to OGP or EITI to talk about beneficial ownership when we do not have an enabling law.
“Beneficial Ownership is important because our extractive industry is very robust and due to corruption, beneficial owners are not known. I think the body language for beneficial ownership in Nigeria is a good one.”
Speaking on privacy and security concerns, she added that: “In Ukraine, where there is a beneficial ownership register, you can access information anywhere from the World. The same happens in the UK. Beneficial Ownership is not a local data but for international use. These petroleum assets are not private assets; they are public assets before somebody acquired a part of them.
She however admitted that “definitely, people will use it for other purposes, you cannot rule that out. It happens all over the world,” stressing though that “if you do not want to be involved in public business, stay away from public business. If you acquire a public asset for private use, the public should know what you are using it for. The companies that will generate interest are this type of companies and not fully private businesses. Only Publicly Exposed Persons (PEPs) will complain but the advantages outweigh the disadvantages of saying you are putting someone at risk. It is a germane concern but there is only an outrage when you use public funds to acquire private assets.
“Beneficial Ownership registers do not have personal data like phone numbers, email addresses, or anything that will trace you to the person’s home”.
Nwadishi’s sentiments were echoed by Dr. Brown Ogbeifun who said the country cannot shy away from the register as it is an important tool for promoting accountability and economic growth.
“I agree that there are concerns but we cannot consistently run away from our responsibilities by hiding under the issues of insecurity of those behind the companies. We have gotten to a situation in this country where foreigners use our people as fronts. At the end of the day, the money that is supposed to remain in Nigeria is repatriated back to the real owners in a foreign land.
“If your business is not strewed in secrecy and cabalism, there is no reason why you will not want to be transparent with what you are doing. We have the Freedom of Information Act, does it seclude anybody from being open? It is only fair that we know who to hold accountable in this country,” Ogbeifun submitted.