Civil Society Organisations working in the area of accountability and fight against corruption have urged President Muhammadu Buhari to sign a crucial bill that will enhance transparency and accountability in Nigeria.
Speaking at a press conference in Abuja on Monday, Auwal Rafsanjani, said missing the opportunity to sign the Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) Repeal and Re-enactment bill has grave consequences for Nigeria and its fight against graft.
“If CAMA Bill is not signed this week, a decade of work will be lost and irreparable diplomatic, economic and reputational damage inflicted,” he said.
Mr Rafsanjani, who is the executive director of the Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC), spoke on behalf of nine other organisations.
The legislation, which was passed by the House of Representatives in January, following earlier passage by the Senate in May 2018, is considered by experts as an important tool for business reforms and transparency.
The Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), the government agencies regulating companies in Nigeria, hailed the legislation at the time as “one of the biggest piece of legislative review in the history of the National Assembly”.
Enumerating further benefits of the bill, the CSOs said it will provide a legal foundation to beneficial ownership discourse in the country.
“If passed, it will lead to the establishment of the electronic web-based beneficial ownership register in Nigeria. The ultimate goal is the establishment of a comprehensive database of REAL OWNERS behind the management of private companies operating within Nigerian jurisdiction.”
However, since transmitting the bill for presidential assent, the CSOs said the presidency has kept the legislation in the cooler.
Recalling that President Buhari had promised the world of beneficial ownership register during the July 2016 Open Government Partnership in London, the CSOs said reneging on that commitment will affect the image of Nigeria and that of the president.
“One of the commitments has been the establishment of a Public Central Register of Beneficial Owners of companies. Three years after this bold commitment, we stand before the Nigerian public and the international community empty handed with no beneficial ownership registry in sight!”
Mr Rafsanjani cited what he called “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.
“Further, 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, Buhari’s anti-corruption credentials will receive yet another blow if he fails to act on CAMA.”
He said the call to assent to the legislation becomes imperative to avoid the important transparency bill going the way of another bill, Proceeds of Crime Act (POCA), which was not assented to till the time lapsed.
“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.”
Mr Rafsanjani called for a probe to unravel “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.”
Another activist, Chido Onumah, said signing the bill would boost the Nigerian government’s anticorruption campaign.
“The signing into law of the CAMA bill will be a boost for the anti-corruption war. We require such sunshine laws to ensure that those who loot the treasury have no hiding place.
“The CAMA bill will also tackle the issue of money laundering. This and the whistle blower protection law which is still at the policy level are important laws that will enhance the fight against corruption in Nigeria,” said Mr Onumah, who is the coordinator of the African Centre for Media and Information Literacy (AFRICMIL).
Attempts by this reporter to inquire the status of the bill from the presidency was on successful.
A spokesperson for the president, Mr Femi Adesina, said such issues would be best tackled by Mr Buhari’s National Assembly liaison, Etta Enang.
Hours of attempts to speak with Mr Enang were unyielding as the former senator did not answer calls and did not respond to text message sent to him hours four hours before filing this report.