PRESIDENT Muhammadu Buhari Thursday explained that the recently passed Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020 (CAMA) would enhance transparency and corporate accountability in the fight against corruption.
Buhari spoke in a video message presented at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) 2020 Virtual Leaders’ Summit on the sidelines of the 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA75) in New York, United States.
”Since the inception of our Administration in 2015, the Government has been committed to changing international and domestic perceptions regarding Nigeria’s commitment to fight corruption and foster good governance,” he said.
”We focused on the task of dealing head-on with this destructive monster, which led to us joining the Open Government Partnership and making reform commitments such as to establish a public central register of beneficial owners of corporate entities.
He said the Government has since made significant progress in implementing tougher anti-corruption measures, including the recent assent to the Companies and Allied Matters Act, 2020.
”The Act provides a legal framework for the implementation of Beneficial Ownership Information Disclosure in Nigeria,” the president said.
”Being an OGP member-country has helped Nigeria learn from other countries tackling similar challenges, and to build a coalition to support these reforms across the private sector and civil society. It has also aided our journey towards building citizens’ trust in government.”
He told the Summit that it had become clear that governments cannot solve all the challenges of the pandemic alone, stressing it was only through open governance and working with citizens that nations can succeed.
”We face a significant contraction in the global economy in 2020; the world is facing the unprecedented twin challenges of managing the health and economic impacts of the pandemic,” Buhari said.
”In these times, citizens worldwide are seeking more information, engagement, and support from their governments,” he added.
The Nigerian leader pledged that his administration would continue to use its OGP membership to ensure that open government approaches strengthen the pandemic management, adding that the Nigerian government would sustain consultations and engagements with citizens through Civil Society Organisations and the organised private sector on COVID-19 response and recovery plan.
According to the President, ”these consultations are in line with the effort of our administration to encourage public participation in government policies and programs.
”Our recovery package includes support to businesses, to vulnerable communities, and expansion of public works. Our aim is to make all these efforts more effective by making them open. ”
President Buhari recounted that soon after joining this partnership, Nigeria had the privilege of being elected to the OGP Global Steering Committee.
As a leader in the OGP Steering Committee, President Buhari acknowledged that Nigeria has learnt from both government and non-government counterparts on international best practices.
”I am also glad that Nigeria’s pioneering sub-national Open Government Partnership Model has become one of the leading examples driving the expansion of the Open Government Partnership Local Programme.
”Nigeria will also champion the tenets of the Open Government Partnership through our leadership role in regional institutions.”
He said the government aimed to expand the partnership on the African continent by continuing to play a leading role in the International Steering Committee.
”As we look forward to celebrating 10 years of the existence of the Open Government Partnership next year, it is my earnest wish that all countries in the world will adopt Open Government principles and help democracy live up to the expectations of citizens having a voice at and beyond the ballot box, ” he said.
Meanwhile, Femi Falana, human rights lawyer, and Chidi Odinkalu, former Chairman of National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) have said that CAMA contains dangerous provisions that would allow for gross violation of fundamental human rights.
According to The PUNCH, Falana and Odinkalu argued that the new law gave too much power to the Registrar General of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), which can easily be used to arbitrarily clamp down on civil society organisations.
They spoke at a virtual town-hall meeting, with the theme, “CAMA 2020: Regulation or Repression?” co-organised by European Union-ACT, Open Society Initiative for West Africa, Working Group on Civil Society Regulatory Environment, Socio-Economic Rights and Accountability Project, and the CAC.
Falana, in his remarks, faulted Section 389 of the law that empowers the CAC to suspend the Board of Trustees of an organisation in crisis and appoint an interim committee to manage its affairs.
Describing the section as a violation of the rights to freedom of association, he argued that the CAC should allow organisations to manage their internal crisis in line with their constitutions.
“The organisation has been registered with its constitution; the Registrar General of the CAC has no power to throw away the constitution incorporated with the organisation,” he said,
“Once you have registered the constitution of an organisation and it has provided for Board of Trustees, it has provided for accountability mechanisms, you must respect such provisions of the organisation’s constitution that has been registered.
He noted that it would be dangerous to allow the law to be operational before all its “dangerous provisions” are pointed out.
According to Falana, another offensive provision of the law is Section 842, empowering the CAC to take over the funds in the bank accounts of an organisation in crisis.
The SAN said it was tantamount to “obtaining money by false pretence.”
Falana also condemned Section 831 of the law, which, he said, empowers the RG of the CAC to forcefully merge two organisations.
Furthermore, he described as most offensive, Section 851 of the law, which empowers the CAC to set up an Administrative Proceedings Committee, headed by the RG of CAC, to resolve internal disputes in an organisation.
“The Administrative Proceedings Committee will be headed by the Registrar General of the CAC; so, he is going to be the accuser, the prosecutor and also the judge to decide who is wrong or right. He is also going to be empowered to impose penalties on any organisation who fails to file returns. These powers are draconian,” Falana said.
In his remarks, Odinkalu described Part F of CAMA 2020 as a “mish-mash” of borrowed laws from the United Kingdom, hastily copied without the safeguards in the English law.
Also speaking, the Country Director of Amnesty International in Nigeria, Osai Ojigho, said NGOs were already adequately regulated, stressing that the intervention by the CAC was needless.
But the representative of CAC RG, Nidiya, maintained that there was no room for abuse because the Board of Trustees of an organisation will only be suspended after a Board of Inquiry set up by the CAC would have looked into their crisis and made recommendations to the CAC.
“Our own thinking is that at the Board of Inquiry level, all issues of human rights would have been taken care of because the Board of Inquiry will not just arrive at a decision without giving the parties the right of fair hearing,”Nidiya said.