Politicians, govt. officials blocking efforts to reveal owners of Nigeria’s extractive firms — NEITI

Photo credit: Bloomberg
Photo credit: Bloomberg

The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI) on Wednesday accused politicians and top government officials of frustrating efforts to expose the real owners of companies in Nigeria’s extractive industry.

Beneficial ownership is the Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative (EITI) principle requiring persons who, directly or indirectly, ultimately owns or controls the corporate entity and assets in extractive industry to disclose their full identity to the public.

Although Nigerian laws do not convey specific obligations for beneficial ownership disclosure, the NEITI multi-stakeholder group (MSG) in 2013 volunteered to join 11 other EITI-implementing countries to pilot reporting in the oil, gas and mining sectors.

NEITI said it was convinced beneficial ownership disclosure would push the frontiers of transparency and accountability in the extractive industry along with other benefits to the country.

But, NEITI Executive Secretary, Waziri Adio, said efforts to enforce the principle in the industry has largely been frustrated by operators through long delays and outright refusal to complete the required documents.

“When government officials and politically connected individuals seek to profit from a country’s mineral assets, they do so using fronts and ownership structures that do not provide sufficient information about the true identities of the natural persons behind the title,” Mr. Adio said.

“The lack of transparency allows influential officials to use their positions to extract maximum rent from a country’s mineral resources with minimum or no benefit to the citizens,” he stated.

Mr. Adio was speaking through the director of communications, NEITI, Ogbonnaya Orji, at the Round-table on Oil Industry Reforms organised by the Africa Network for Environment and Economic Justice (ANEEJ).

To frustrate the benefits of beneficial ownership disclosure, the NEITI scribe said owners of some of the companies refuse outright to complete and return templates provided for personal details, while politically exposed persons and senior government officials use surrogates as fronts.

Besides, he said most owners of corporate entities fail to produce information on other companies they own, since they perceived beneficial ownership as attempt to witch-hunt.

Where information on such companies are provided, Mr. Adio said there were discrepancies with information filed in the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).

Other challenges include violation of the confidential agreements with companies in publishing names of beneficial owners; difficulty reaching owners of the companies for updated contact details and absence of statutory obligation to disclose the identity of business owners.

NEITI said an update on compliance with the principle showed 40 out of the 44 companies covered by the 2012 oil and gas audit report returned the completed beneficial ownership templates they were issued.

Out of the number, 10 of the companies were wholly-owned subsidiaries of publicly listed international oil companies (IOCs), while 30 others were firms affiliated to Nigerians requiring cross checking of their owners’ details with the CAC for accuracy and reliability.

Under the solid minerals sector, the transparency agency said out of 65 companies covered by the report, three were publicly listed companies, with 22 either not reporting at all or made very scanty disclosures about their owners’ identities.

To check abuses, NEITI said government should establish a legal framework on ownership disclosure in the country, and ensure beneficial ownership reporting started with the extractive sector, based on NEITI’s reports.

“Ownership disclosure should be incorporated in the Petroleum Industry Governance Bill before the Senate,” NEITI said. “The executive should engage the National Assembly and civil society to put pressure on beneficial ownership disclosure.”

Other remedial measures include better automation of records, while bidders for extractive industries operating licenses and contracts concessions, production arrangements and other agreements should be required to declare the beneficial ownership of the shares in the bidding companies.

Executive director, ANEEJ, David Ugolor, noted NEITI’s commitment to the pursuit of beneficial ownership in the extractive industry.

He said the round-table was an attempt to see how civil society groups could contribute to actualize the idea, to avoid the mistakes of the past.

“We are also interested in how to take the issues usually generated by NEITI audit reports forward. We are aware that the attempt by successive administrations to pull through with the PIB has been unsuccessful,” Mr. Ugolor said.

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