Normal business transactions at the headquarters of the Corporate Affairs Commission, CAC, in Abuja was on Monday brought to a standstill for several hours following a protest march by lawyers and other customers over alleged poor service.
The lawyers, along with members of the Institute of Chartered Accounts of Nigeria, ICAN, and Chartered Institute of Secretaries of Nigeria, CISN, during the protest called on President Goodluck Jonathan to order the immediate sack of the management of the corporations for alleged incompetence.
One of the protesting lawyers, Oniche Osakwe, who spoke on behalf of his colleagues, accused the Registrar General of CAC, Bello Mahmud, of not doing enough to resolve the crisis that resulted in loss of valuable data from prospective applicants for business registration in the past two months.
“For more than two months, normal services in CAC have been deteriorating,” Mr. Osakwe said. “Contrary to information in the CAC website that applications for reservation of business name and business incorporation would be completed within three hours and three days respectively, its takes a minimum of two months.
“CAC claim is not in tandem with the reality on the ground. The truth is that nothing is working in CAC. There is total collapse of their internet connectivity service. Valuable data are lost, creating confusion in the system between lawyers and their clients. The claim that CAC was upgrading its system to a bigger one is false.”
He said applications for name search availability sent to the CAC system more than two months ago were still pending approval. He explained they decided to embark on the protest march following the enormous pressures they have received from their clients based on claims by CAC management that the system was working.
“Often, people are asked to make multiple applications for filings as a result of loss of data. Nobody is able to say what is really wrong with the system. Asking people to pay money to re-apply for availability after their previous applications were lost amounts to extortion. We have spoken against it. But, our resolve to protest today was to demand that the entire management of CAC be removed to enable the system be sanitized for efficient services,” Mr. Osakwe said.
But, the Registrar General of CAC, Bello Mahmud, blamed the difficulties encountered by customers in the last three weeks on the refusal of the service provider and vendor to the corporation, who refused to upgrade the registration platform with modern operational software.
The demand followed a protest march on Monday outside the premises of the corporate headquarters of the CAC in Abuja by the lawyers and other customers who claimed normal business transactions, particularly business name incorporation other services provided by the Commission have been stalled since August.
Blaming the crisis on lack of understanding and activities of those he called mischief makers, the Registrar General, who spoke with PREMIUM TIMES in his office in Abuja, acknowledged the challenges in the CAC system, saying it was as a result of the transition from the old software to a new one.
“CAC is proud to say that it is one of the few public institutions that give the best service to its customers,” Mr. Mahmud said. “We acknowledge there are challenges in the system, but it is as a result of the transition from the old software.
“For a long time, CAC management has not been comfortable with the software used by the vendor, which started working since 2004. Since he (the vendor) refused to modify the system, we opted for a total upgrade to the modern software, to enable us serve our customers better.
“Two days after the Federal Government announced CAC was transiting to a new system by October 1, 2014, the vendor decided to shut the system down for 14 days contrary to the existing agreement with him. The shutdown is what created the backlog of applications that the lawyers are protesting about.”
He said since the software vendor refused to upgrade the platform over these years, CAC decided to pay him off and terminate the contract, while a new software from the government has since been installed to enable people register their companies from any part of the world with ease.
Though Mr. Mahmud said the new system did not contain an e-payment module, he assured prospective customers that his management was making extra efforts to clear the backlog latest by the end of Tuesday to allow the system to continue to run without hitches.
“CAC has started using the new software received from government. Full services have been restored. As I am talking to you, the software can register companies within 24 hours. What is left now is the software that would enable the Commission implement e-payment, which would be put in place before the end of the month, latest before October 2, to allow customers pay and obtain CAC services from anywhere with ease,” he said .
He denied allegation of loss of CAC data by the lawyers, saying the only period customers had difficulty accessing the system was during the two weeks the vendor shut the system down and people were asked to come with their receipts and re-apply.
But flaunting several copies of applications for businesses he filed on behalf of his clients, Bassey Etukudo of Legal Temple and Templars said the CAC management was economical with the truth over the matter.
“I have copies of these applications since July 13, 2014. Having waited for over 60 days, the application expired and I was asked to re-apply. But the system rejected the fresh application. If CAC had a back-up system, there should not be the issue of the system not recognizing the same applications it earlier approved. Since then, I have re-applied for more than three times with the same response. Yet, we are under pressure from clients for inability to get the registrations completed,” Mr. Etukudo said.
Another lawyer, Chidi Dim, said prior to the crisis, CAC was able to generate registration certificates. But since the introduction of the new system, the quality of certificates issued have been sub-standard.
He said this has worsened the country’s image in the eyes of prospective investors, particularly from outside the country, whose applications from business registration have not been approved more than two months since they were filed.
“This is unacceptable to most lawyers, because they have come under serious pressures from their clients,” Mr. Dim said. “The only way out of the crisis is for the Registrar General and his management to resign from office. We call on the President to intervene and save the country the embarrassment before foreigners,” he said.
But a representative of the software service provider, DTI, Mathew Idoni, blamed the CAC management for the crisis, accusing it of refusing to pay debts owed the company.
“When a debtor does not want to pay his debt, when the person being owed wants to leave, what he does is to take what belongs to him till they decide to pay,” Mr. Idoni said.
“The problem with CAC is that they do not want to pay their bills, but they are using their power to put another system there. In that case, we decided to leave, but we did not want to leave with our tail between our legs. We wanted to leave with our dignity.
“(Segun) Aganga (Minister of Trade and Investment) even announced that he was going to go live with the new system. If they have developed the new system and is not working, let them call us back and let everything return to normal.
“They owe us money. They know the truth. They owe us over $78million. Last month, we borrowed money from Diamond Bank to pay salaries, and we paid $4million as interest for that. I owe my workers a responsibility to pay their salaries.
He denied that DTI refused to update the software and the system as CAC claimed. “They wanted to put up software, but they don’t know that what was put there was not just software. It was a customised solution, especially for that system.
“If they want to solve the problem, they should call us back and we sit down and everybody treats everybody with respect and we iron out the issues and everything would be fixed.”