It was a historic day for Nigeria on Thursday as the Beneficial Ownership Register for the extractive industries was unveiled in Abuja.
Apart from the United Kingdom, Netherland, Denmark, and Ukraine, the Executive Secretary of the Nigeria Extractive industries Transparency Initiative (NEITI), Waziri Adio, said, Nigeria is the only country in Africa, Asia, and the Americas to achieve that historic milestone.
The Executive Secretary described the register as a pilot to the ones to be operated by the Department of Petroleum Resources (DPR), the Mining Cadaster Office (MCO) and the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC).
While the DPR, MCO and CAC Registers, which contain ownership information of all the companies operating in Nigeria are in progress, the NEITI Beneficial Ownership register will fold into these larger registers when they are ready.
A beneficial owner in respect of companies in the extractive sector are the natural person(s) who directly or indirectly ultimately own or control the corporate entity of the asset.
"Knowing who-owns-what, especially in a sector given to opacity, is a significant development. It is also a win-win. It is good for resource-rich countries like ours. It is good for the citizens of such countries. And it is good for legitimate businesses.
"Ownership transparency advances the frontiers of transparency and accountability in more than symbolic ways. It is a practical and potent tool that countries can use to tackle the potential ills that hidden ownership usually mask, such as tax evasion, corruption, conflict of interests, illicit financial flows, money laundering, and even drug and terrorism financing.
"When these ills are reduced or eliminated, resource-rich countries will have more resources to invest in the welfare of their citizens and in physical infrastructure needed for individuals and businesses to thrive," Mr Adio said.
He said most legitimate businesses also stand to benefit from knowing who they are doing business with, from reduced exposure to reputational risks, from having a level-playing field, and from improved trust in their operating environment.
Allaying fears about the register, Mr Adio said it is for the good of businesses as it is for the good of countries, civil groups, the media, and individuals.
On how the register will work, Mr Adio said at the touch of a button, anyone with internet access can find out, for free, the owners and the ownership structure of extractive assets that are in production in Nigeria.
Register covers NEITI audit only
He said entries in the register cover assets within the scope of the NEITI audits, adding that free electronic register will find the owners of about 270 licenses in the mining sector, and 61 assets and 56 companies in the oil and gas sector.
The register, he said will be continuously updated as more information becomes available and will periodically be upgraded to allow for better user-interface.
He said starting with the NEITI Beneficial Ownership Register is important considering that the oil and gas sector is not only historically known for opacity and distrust, but also the livewire of the country's economy.
"The register aligns with the anti-corruption mandate of the President Muhammadu Buhari administration. It aligns with the spirit of the Open Treasury Portal unveiled by the President just this Monday.
"It is in fulfilment of the commitment that President Buhari made at the London Anti-Corruption Summit in 2016. And it is in fulfilment of Nigeria's commitment under the Open Government Partnership and to the EITI," Mr Adio said.
The EITI Standard (2016) requirement is that by 2020, all implementing countries must ensure all oil, gas and mining companies applying for, or holding a participating interest in an exploration or production oil, gas or mining license or contract must publish the names of their real owners.
EU countries are to have BO registers by January 10, 2020 before being integrated into one database by March 10, 2021.
Also, the identity of the asset owner must include the name, nationality and country of residence, while companies must publish further details such as the date of birth, national identity number, and residential address.
Any politically exposed persons holding ownership in oil, gas and mining projects must also be publicly identified.
The unveiling was witnessed by several civil society groups and development agencies, including representatives of DFID/FOSTER, Trust Africa (Ford Foundation, MacArthur Foundation and OSIWA, NRGI, the EITI International Secretariat, OGP Secretariat, Open Ownership, CISLAC, BudgIT, DPR, MCO, CAC, extractive companies, CSOs.