Abuja — Following the controversies trailing the enactment of Companies and Allied Matters Act 2020 (CAMA), President Muhammadu Buhari yesterday said the law would boost the fight against corruption in Nigeria, explaining that it would enhance transparency and corporate accountability.
The president has also pledged that Nigeria would continue to assist Guinea-Bissau in any way possible, saying "a peaceful and prosperous Guinea-Bissau is a win for West Africa and for Africa."
Buhari spoke in a video message he presented at the Open Government Partnership (OGP) 2020 Virtual Leaders' Summit on the sidelines of the ongoing 75th Session of the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA75) in New York, United States.
CAMA has generated huge controversies since the president recently assented to it following the introduction of sections authorising Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC) to regulate activities of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) in case of internal disputes, particularly relating to financial misdemeanor.
Human rights lawyer, Mr. Femi Falana (SAN), and a former Chairman of the National Human Rights Commission, Prof. Chidi Odinkalu, among others, had on Wednesday, attacked the new law, saying many of its provisions would allow for gross violation of fundamental human rights.
Falana and Odinkalu had argued that the new law gave too much power to the Registrar General (RG) of the Corporate Affairs Commission (CAC), which could 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 (SERAP), and the CAC.
But the Registrar-General of CAC, Alhaji Garba Abubakar, had said the law should be allowed to operate first and given "benefit of the doubt; and if there are challenges we will address them by way of amendments."
However, the president, who said his administration had been committed to the fight against corruption since he assumed office in 2015, added that it was the development which compelled Nigeria to join Open Government Partnership (OGP).
He said his recent assent to Companies and Allied Matters Bill was one of the expressions of the country's commitment to anti-graft war.
A statement by the president's spokesman, Mr. Femi Adesina, said the president remarked that joining OGP had helped Nigeria to learn how other countries have been tackling similar challenges.
He said: "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.
"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.
"Since then, we have made significant progress in implementing tougher anti-corruption measures, including my 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 in his submission on COVID-19, highlighted the threat posed by the disease to the global community.
According to him, as cases of infection from the disease continue to spread across the world, it has become clear that governments alone cannot solve all the problems posed by the pandemic.
He, therefore, suggested that it is 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, adding: "In these times, citizens worldwide are seeking more information, engagement, and support from their governments."
The president told the summit that his administration would continue to explore its membership of OGP as a platform to deploy open government initiatives to strengthen the management of the pandemic.
He added that the Nigerian government would sustain its consultations and engagements with citizens through civil society organisations as well as the organised private sector on COVID-19 response and recovery plan.
"These consultations are in line with the effort of our administration to encourage public participation in government policies and programmes.
"Our recovery package includes support to businesses, to vulnerable communities and an expansion of public works. Our aim is to make all these efforts more effective by making them open," he said.
Buhari recalled that shortly after joining OGP, Nigeria had the privilege of being elected to the OGP Global Steering Committee.
He explained that as a leader in the OGP Steering Committee, Nigeria has learnt from both government and non-government counterparts on international best practices.
He said: "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.
"We aim 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. "
Buhari thanked the leadership and staff of the OGP Global Support Unit for working assiduously to ensure that voices are not only heard but valued.
He also encouraged Nigerians to be involved in OGP initiative and assist in shaping and sustaining the country's democracy both now and in future.
The statement listed participants in the virtual event to include leaders of Canada, France, Georgia and Germany as well as civil society leaders who have assisted their countries to pursue a full, fair, and inclusive response and recovery.
Buhari Pledges Continuous Support for Guinea-Bissau
Meanwhile, Buhari yesterday pledged that Nigeria would continue to assist Guinea-Bissau in any way possible, saying "a peaceful and prosperous Guinea-Bissau is a win for West Africa and for Africa."
He made this pledge when he joined his counterparts from Senegal, Mauritania and Burkinafaso to celebrate the 47th independence anniversary of Guinea Bissau at the 24 de Setembro National Stadium, Bissau.
According to a separate statement by Adesina, Buhari, while speaking at the event, said he was proud of the support Nigeria provided for the country's past electoral processes in its efforts to entrench democracy.
"This support can only be increased under my tenure," he said.
Adesina said the president also placed on record Nigeria's deployment of troops under the auspices of ECOWAS Mission in Guinea Bissau (ECOMIB), saying the troops played an important role in maintaining peace and security.
Buhari congratulated President Umaro Sissocco Embalo, the government and people of Guinea Bissau on the occasion of their 47th independence anniversary, praying that Guinea-Bissau and its people will continue to grow in strength and prosperity.
Noting that it was his first official visit to the country since he became president in 2015, Buhari expressed his good wishes for greater achievements in the years ahead for the West African country.
The president recalled how Guinea Bissau obtained its independence from Portugal, after a protracted struggle for freedom, which brought Portuguese colonisation to an end.
"It is fitting on this august occasion to remember your forebears and to celebrate them for the sacrifices they made for you to be free.
"The highest tribute we can pay them is to build on the gains of independence. It is my sincere prayer that your country will continue on the path of national cohesion, growth and unity," he said.
He used the occasion to reflect on Nigeria's relations with Guinea, pledging that his administration will take it to a new height.
"Relations between Nigeria and the Republic of Guinea Bissau which dates back to the country's liberation struggle against Portugal have been extremely warm.
"I am determined to carry this excellent relationship to the next level of fruitful cooperation and partnership, together with my brother Umaro Embalo," he said.
On regional integration, Buhari emphasised the need for ECOWAS member countries to remain committed to the realisation of the vision of its founding fathers.
"It is my desire that Nigeria and Guinea-Bissau as well as other member countries of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) will continue to provide the impetus in realizing the objectives and ideals of its Founding Fathers and to ensure security, peace and development of our region," he said.
The statement said later in the capital city of Bissau, Buhari commissioned a road named in his honour.