Members of civil society groups in the country have urged the federal government to implement its policy to expose Nigerian politicians who hide their identities to conceal corruptly-acquired wealth.
They made the call on Wednesday, August 9, 2017 in Abuja, at a multi-stakeholder dialogue on “Supporting Beneficial Ownership Transport Champions in Nigeria” organised by Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Centre (CISLAC).
“Beneficial Ownership’’ is a legal term for specific property rights which include use and titles in equity belonging to a person even though legal title of the property belongs to another person.
A stakeholder, Dauda Garuba, said politically-exposed persons deliberately created network of companies to hide their identities toward acquired wealth which further increased the risk of corruption in non-fortified economies.
He cited the example of the Malabu Oil scandal involving the award of Nigeria’s richest oil bloc by a sitting minister of petroleum resources to a company belonging to him.
Garuba said that the award was at a grossly undervalued fee because the real company’s ownership was not disclosed.
“This concept is a growing interest across local and international scenes for corporate beneficial ownership information disclosure.
“This interest, beyond seeking to expose conflict of interest among public office holders, also derives from the need to trace criminals who hide their identities behind corporate structures to defraud the country.
“This can be done through corruption, tax evasion, undue favouritism, money laundering and illicit financial flows.
“The unprecedented revelations in the `Panama Papers’ involving many politicians around the world and Nigeria with offshore companies in tax havens, have reinforced global attention on the potential and real dangers of anonymous companies,’’ he said.
Garuba explained that the new concept aimed at driving corporate business transparency and accountability to boost Nigeria’s economy and strengthen its integrity and reputation by pro-actively dealing with perceived challenges.
Mr Uche Igwe, a Consultant to the Open Government Partnership (OGP) Nigeria Secretariat, said that the government needed to do more to tackle the issue of fraud among public servants.
Igwe said that there was hardly a politician without a fraud history, adding that most civil servants had companies in disguise without their real names as the owners.
He said that most times, the public officers use their companies to award government contracts to themselves, and that only few of them connected with what they did legitimately.
He said the beneficial ownership transparency when fully applied in Nigeria, would serve as a tool for strengthening the fight against illicit wealth, tax evasion, money laundering and terrorism financing.
Igwe stated that the policy would also provide a level-playing field for businesses, reduce corruption, increase revenue generation and lift the veil of obscurity that clogged accountability chain.
“Openness is the biggest antidote to opacity; we need to open our system as to do away with corruption,’’ he said.
On his part, executive director of CISLAC, Auwal Rafsanjani, who was represented by Adesina Oke, director, legal services of the group, said the meeting was aimed at making a case for transparency in Nigeria.
This, he said, would rebuild confidence of foreign investors and improve Nigeria’s reputation as a reference point for transparency and accountability in business, among other things.