Original Author: Katherine Wikrent, Senior Learning Officer at Open Government Partnership
Beneficial ownership transparency (BOT) is one of the key tools Nigeria is using to fight corruption and financial crime in shell companies. Among other benefits, BOT increases the transparency of public procurement, as it helps disclose the identity of the final owners of companies who are awarded public contracts. Since joining the Open Government Partnership (OGP) in 2016, Nigerian civil society, citizens, the private sector, academia, journalists, and government have banded together to improve the transparency and fairness of the public procurement market through BOT. This serves as an example of an effective, principles-based partnership that is country owned, inclusive, focused on results and transparent - the key to achieving long-term, sustainable progress.
The Nigerian Extractive Industries Transparency Initiative shared that BOT has been a win-win situation for government, businesses, and citizens. A fairer market increases competitiveness and cost savings that can improve the quality of goods and services citizens use every day. In a country where an estimated US$15.7 billion illicitly leaves the country’s financial system every year, the transparency of beneficial owners can transform the quality of citizens’ lives, from better public schools, to improved water access, and even safer highways.
Nigeria used the OGP platform to achieve key milestones in their BOT journey. At the London Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016, President Muhammadu Buhari pledged to develop a public register of beneficial owners. Shortly after, Nigeria formally joined OGP and began developing their first action plan. Thanks to the engagement of civil society organizations and their lobbying efforts, Nigeria included a commitment to establish a public, BOT register for the extractives sector. This register, launched in 2019, opened data about companies that were previously unavailable to the public. It now serves as a building block for the central registry being instituted per Nigeria’s current action plan and will soon provide easier access to even more robust company ownership data needed to hold government and businesses accountable. This register is a key win for fulfilling the promises of the newly-amended Companies and Allied Matters Act (CAMA) bill. This bill, passed in 2020, updates the regulation of the operation of businesses.
Nigeria’s cross-sectoral approach to BOT has been vital in achieving this progress. Their inclusive process helped build high-level support, get the right actors to the table to make things happen, and capitalize on the unique strengths of each stakeholder group. Through its OGP membership and funding provided by the OGP Multi-Donor Trust Fund, hosted by the World Bank, the Nigerian government fostered political will and stronger collaborations within key government institutions like the Presidency and National Assembly. A key relationship has been that between civil society, the Ministry of Justice, and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), an autonomous body responsible for regulating Nigerian companies and that is leading the implementation of a BOT commitment in the current action plan. The Ministry of Justice and CAC keep civil society voices present as they jointly enforce the CAMA bill. In mid-2021, the CAC began holding focus groups with current and potential users of BOT data. In these sessions, government officials, civil society, the private sector, and the media shared feedback and ways that reforms in this area can be as sustainable and impactful as possible.
The Nigerian government has also built up trust and closer collaboration with key non-government allies. CSOs like Civil Society Legislative Advocacy Center (CISLAC), BudgIT and the Public and Private Development Centre (PPDC) have played a role throughout the BOT reform process, including developing the BOT reform components of the CAMA legislation as it was progressing through the National Assembly. Proactively involving civil society has been an important means of ensuring better long-term outcomes.
At the same time, Nigeria has strategically used key national events to foster greater cross-sectoral ownership of the work and promote mutual transparency and accountability, such as the 2021 Open Gov Week event that brought together the Ministry of State, Budget, and National Planning (MSBNP), the CAC, the private sector, the World Bank, and the UK Foreign & Commonwealth Development Office. The support of domestic champions has been integral in advancing BOT, such as President Buhari, whose backing of open government work has provided the necessary political will to move forward this ambitious set of reforms. Two other key allies, the Minister of Finance, Budget & National Planning, Zainab Shamsuna Ahmed, and the Minister of MSBNP Clem Ikanade Agba, have been integral in advancing related policy areas including fiscal transparency and open contracting.
The country has also used international platforms to advance its domestic goals. Earlier this year, Nigeria became an official member of the Beneficial Ownership Leadership Group, a group of global BOT leaders initiated by the Government of the United Kingdom and now co-convened by the OGP and Open Ownership. This membership reflects Nigeria’s commitment to implementing best practices in BOT and positions the country as a leader in the region and beyond.
Nigeria’s progressively-inclusive BOT approach under the current government has had encouraging results. The focus now is establishing institutional mechanisms to ensure a lasting legacy of cross-sectoral collaboration and pave the way for future BOT reforms beyond the 2023 elections. Nigerian stakeholders plan to continue advancing BOT and broader anti-corruption reforms after the elections to reach their long-term goals of public integrity, greater transparency, and heightened accountability. Their next steps include developing a strong supreme audit institution, using open contracting to ensure fairer public procurement processes, developing new anti-corruption mechanisms for extractives, and creating more protections for civic space.